SOM unveils two-tower proposal for former chicago spire site

located on the last waterfront site where lake michigan meets the chicago river, the towers include a mix of luxury apartment and condominium residences as well as a boutique hotel.

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These Are The Most Bikeable Cities in America

Bikers and walkers enjoying Nicollet Avenue, closed to traffic during Open Streets Minneapolis. (Credit: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr)

Minneapolis once again rules as the most bikeable city in America, according to an analysis by real estate company Redfin and its Bike Score tool.

Locations rated by Bike Score are scored on hilliness, connectivity and access to bike lanes, paths and sharrows. It also includes data on how many people are already biking, because, Bike Score says, “The ‘safety in numbers’ research indicates that more bikers on the road makes drivers more aware of bikers — and more drivers have had the experience of biking.” On those metrics, Minneapolis earned a score of 81.9 out of 100, making it the country’s most bikeable city.

“As both a mayor and a bicyclist, I place a high priority on sustainable and inclusive transit,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey in a statement. “Our greenway, our nationally-renowned parks, and our city’s commitment to creating streets safe for everyone have helped make Minneapolis a national model for bike and pedestrian embracing infrastructure.”

Following closely behind in the rankings is Portland, Oregon, which climbed into second place with a score of 81.2 (9.2 points higher than its score in Bike Score’s last city-by-city rankings, in 2015). Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle follow, with scores in the low 70s. Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Sacramento round out the top-ten list.

The algorithm doesn’t count bikeshare availability when scoring, and its count of cyclists on the roads is based on census data on bike commuting (meaning it doesn’t take into account cyclists running errands or riding recreationally). Nor does it account for the presence or absence of bike parking. But as imperfect as it is, cycling advocates have embraced the Bike Score tool since its launch in 2012.

So why does Minneapolis lead the rankings yet again? In 2015, the city updated its bicycle master plan, and plans to add 30 miles of protected bike lanes by 2020. While not explicitly factored into Bike Score’s rankings, the city also has invested in bikeshare and prioritized safety around high-crash locations.

Portland, Oregon, has also made strides through its plans to connect neighborhoods to the downtown core with bike lanes and greenways. A 2016 report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials points out that Portland’s policies “make protected bike lanes the default design for all separated bike lanes,” which improves safety (Portland’s cyclist fatality and injury rates are well below the average for similarly sized cities). In 2015, Portland officially adopted a Vision Zero plan, as Next City reported at the time.

Some cities fell in the rankings. Because the Bike Score algorithm no longer counts road shoulders as bike lanes, Kansas City (Missouri), Atlanta, and Las Vegas all saw significant score drops. (Detailed methodology is available here.)

The takeaway from the Bike Score release is perhaps the same as the takeaway from the NATCO report. As Next City reported, “building out bike infrastructure is central to increasing bike ridership and equity.”


OMA’s human-centric articulation of the levels of learning

The national library designed by OMA invites visitors into a light-filled space in honour of education and research.

the gulf’s secret garden of coral reveals surprises 1,000 years later

researchers found the garden during a 23-day expedition - a coral bed uncommon for the area and the first discovered this deep underwater.

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mecanoo proposes two contrasting volumes for taiwan national archive building

a large horizontal canopy protects the ground floor and establishes a relationship between interior and exterior space, while a perfect cube sits above.

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Why This Real Estate Investor Is in It for the Long Run

The typical residential street in Philadelphia is lined with rowhouses. (Photo by Ian Freimuth via flickr)

Tawan Davis doesn’t like to call himself a landlord. “I hate that word,” says the chief executive of real estate firm Steinbridge Group. Never mind that he’s the one behind a $60-million investment to buy up to 600 single-family homes in Philadelphia, with plans to rent them out to working-class residents.

Davis’ New York-based Steinbridge Group has profited off of investments from office properties to multi-family apartment buildings. When Davis took the helm in 2016, he pushed Steinbridge toward long-term investments in the rental market. In doing so, he singled out the type of renter getting squeezed out of many American cities: working-class individuals and families who don’t necessarily qualify for subsidized affordable housing but cannot afford the onslaught of new, luxury developments.

Fully renovated homes — upgraded facades, roofs, interiors — will rent between $800 and $1,500 a month, according to Davis, aiming for families making between $45,000 and $65,000 annually. “The largest tenant base we’ve found are nurses,” he says. “There are only so many people that can pay $3,000 a month in rent … In all this, no one is addressing the average working person.”

There is an understandable concern about an outside investor firm swooping in to buy up single-family properties. Over the past few years, large investor firms have earned a poor reputation in cities across the country for buying up distressed single family homes in bulk, foreclosing on owners and flipping them or renting them out for hefty profits. Big firms haven’t been the greatest landlords, either — a 2016 study from the Atlanta Federal Reserve found that large corporate landlords in the Atlanta area were more likely than smaller landlords to evict tenants, with some corporate landlords filing evictions for a third of their properties in one year.

“That is not our business,” Davis says. “Because we’re not coming in and doing that, we’re not displacing families, we’ve been more well received … I like to think of us as members of the community. And there’s a couple ways we differentiate ourselves.”

To start with, Steinbridge purchases its homes one at a time; the firm has accumulated around a hundred so far in Philadelphia.

Davis is also strategic about earning the city’s trust. “You move to a new city, and you don’t know everything,” he says. “We do not believe we are a panacea … we’re in the process of learning.”

So far, Steinbridge has partnered with Philadelphia Community Corps to integrate job training with its renovation effort, as well as West Philadelphia’s Catalyst Church for community outreach. The firm is starting a summer internship program for local students interested in real estate and property management. Steinbridge also chose a local property manager, TCS Management, to maintain its building stock.

Tawan Davis. (Photo by Kate Devlin)

Another differentiating factor: Davis himself, raised by a single mother in Portland, Ore., who put himself through Georgetown University, followed by a stint at Goldman Sachs. That was followed by master’s degrees in sociology and economics at Oxford, before finishing with an MBA from Harvard Business School. He now lives in Philadelphia.

His real estate career includes a mix of private and public sector jobs, one of which being the vice president of real estate for the New York City Economic Development Corporation. “I could have stayed in politics,” Davis notes. But ultimately, he determined the lack of affordable housing in cities to be “a market failure by economic definition.”

“There is demand, and there’s plenty of land and resources to build affordable housing,” Davis says. “So the inability of the market to respond to that demand is a market failure.”

City, state and federal intervention can only go so far, Davis believes. “It’s very easy to exhaust the public sector. There’s only so much cash to go around and only so many tax incentives the city can bear,” he says. “There must be a private market solution.”

Steinbridge Group’s investment in Philadelphia’s single-family housing is just the first step to such a solution. The firm announced last November, it would be investing $425 million in the acquisition and refurbishment of single-family and small multi-family residences for rental housing in transitioning neighborhoods. Though the initiative starts in Philly, the firm plans to expand the model to Northern New Jersey, New York’s outer boroughs, Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, DC and Boston.

Philadelphia has ideal housing stock to get the work started. The city famously has a robust inventory of attached single-family housing (rowhouses), a legacy of the local real estate industry’s emphasis on homeownership. Due in large part to historical denial of credit, especially to working class borrowers of color, much of that single-family housing stock has been poorly maintained, abandoned or foreclosed upon. (The city has recently been expanding subsidized home repair loan programs for homeowners.)

To Davis, the investment makes good economic sense in Philadelphia and beyond. He’s quick to offer figures like the increase, from 2.2 to 6.6 years, in which couples rent after marriage. In Philly, he also points to the disparity in new housing development, with 4,000 higher-priced apartments hitting the market or under construction, and only 1,500 absorbed a year.

Davis knows the strategy will vary as Steinbridge expands to new communities, but he’s certain the business plan checks out — both economically and, to Davis, morally. “I consider it my calling,” he says. “And we have found people want to help us because this particular sector of the real estate market is broken.”

“These communities see flippers come in and out, in and out, over nine months,” Davis says. “And they’ve seen that we haven’t sold a single house. We’re in it for the long run.”


Paint the Town with Data in Boston’s New 3D Model

The Boston Planning and Development Agency recently unveiled a public version of its new 3D smart model. (Credit: Boston Planning and Development Agency)

Last year, a bitter battle arose over a proposed 775-foot downtown tower whose shadow would extend over historic Boston Common. A state law on shadows had to be changed to allow it, and the project eventually gained approval from the Boston Planning and Development Agency. (The developers have since revised the plan to satisfy the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the nearby Logan International Airport, slightly reducing the height of the tower.)

According to agency director Brian Golden, the controversy over the tower’s long shadow came as an “unwelcome surprise” after proposals were submitted. The shadow dispute helped spur the agency to develop greater capacity to perform its own analyses, earlier in the process. That included developing a 3D smart model, providing an interactive, detailed view of some 129,000 buildings across the entire city. As of this month, it’s freely available to the public.

Officials say the digital tool will not only aid the agency in its internal planning and increase transparency in the development approval process, but also allow ordinary residents to inform themselves on existing land use, building heights, shadow effects and flooding projections.

“There can be antagonism when we engage communities, because it’s not clear to the outside world what we know and what we’re thinking,” Golden said at a press event unveiling the tool. “Adding this sophisticated tool allows the public to see what we see, increasing transparency.”

By selecting various layers, users can alter the map to show zoning districts, trees, buildings by land use, transit lines, and points of interest such as schools, health centers and supermarkets. The 3D map is divided into one-kilometer squares that can be downloaded for use with design-oriented software such as AutoCAD and SketchUp, but much of the functionality is accessible with nothing more than a web browser. A ruler tool enables measurement of the dimensions of existing and some under-construction buildings, and a daylight slider reveals where shadows will fall at various times throughout a day and over the seasons.

Boston is among the first cities to present such a model and to make it publicly accessible. (San Francisco also has one) What’s groundbreaking, said Carolyn Bennett, the agency’s GIS manager, is integration of a 3D model with other GIS data layers such as development review and zoning, along with incorporation of information from other city departments and models from architects and developers.

The map available to the public doesn’t include developments for which construction has not begun, but an internal version lets planning agency staff see proposed buildings as well. Potential uses of the new model, officials said, include being able to show proposed projects and alternate scenarios at community meetings where development plans are presented and discussed.

One of the most up-to-date pieces is a street flooding map showing the specific downtown, Seaport and East Boston streets that took on water during the heavy rains and high tides of early January 2018.

David Queeley, eco-innovation director at Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, has taken an initial look at the new model’s base map, flooding maps, and some of the features reflecting data from a 2016 citywide community energy study. The model’s topography lines could be valuable for planning project locations in flood-prone areas, he says, and maps indicating potential community solar projects are of interest, so long as they prove to be accurate and current.

Queeley and others say they see potential for the model’s public use and benefit, but also noted room for improvement in such areas as sufficiently updated information, additional features and user-friendliness.

Kay Mathew, who co-founded a grassroots group working to save mature trees along a boulevard slated for a major street redesign, sees the tool as useful for CDCs and neighborhood groups, but suggests that most citizen users would need some training to access it fully.

“The concept and the hope for it is great, getting more information to neighborhood groups working with the city around development or road design projects,” she says. “My feeling is, there needs to be some technical assistance. If it’s accessible to everyone, that’s useful.”

As of now, the model’s base map is current as of February 2017. Larger developments now under construction have been added, but some smaller ones — often the subject of intense community interest and debate — are not yet visible.

Bennett says she will be adding further description of the 3D model to the website more information on how to use it. In addition, she said the planning agency is working now to update the model to be current as of Spring 2018. While the agency is not promising the tool will be able to show development in “real time,” they are developing a process to update the model every six months or so, according to Bennett.

Meanwhile, it’s not too soon for neighborhood groups to study existing buildings and agency-owned land parcels, and for wedding photographers and picnic planners to start poring over exactly what time to expect shadows over the Boston Public Library courtyard or the Rose Kennedy Greenway on that early summer weekend.


Things to see and do at Clerkenwell Design Week 2018

Clerkenwell Design Week is back for 2018 – and from unique installations to products that can transform a room, we have rounded up our personal highlights of the design world’s most talked about event.

jonas pettersson, CEO of form us with love, discusses circular economy

at MINDPARK 2018, designboom interviews jonas pettersson about his background as a designer, the philosophies of form us with love, and their past and future projects.

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Cozi Lounge

ARTTA Concept Studio design a stunning lounge and bar interior for Hotel Cozi.

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Architect Mahmood Fallahian

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