Putting the labor back in Labor Day weekend

August 29th, 2003 § One comment § permalink

I’ve added an RSS feed for the comments that y’all post on this site, so you can read the new ones in a newsreader. (Read my earlier post about newsreaders if you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about.) Please try it and let me know whether you like it.

Having finished that, I can start on the 771 pages of reading that I have to do for class next week. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

Cities and nature

August 28th, 2003 § Two comments § permalink

From Kevin Lynch, in Good City Form:

The affection for nature and the desire to be close to natural, living things are sentiments very widely held throughout the urbanized world. Settlements built according to the organic rule are attractive to us chiefly because they allow for this close contact. It is less tenable, however, that nature is what is nonhuman, and that the farther one gets from people and civilization, the more natural one becomes. By that rule, wilderness is more natural than hunting camp, hunting camp than farm, and farm than city. But people and their cities are as much natural phenomena as trees, streams, nests, and deer paths. It is crucial that we come to see ourselves as an integral part of the total living community.

In case you’re curious, the “organic rule” refers to the type of city favored by people like Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park, and Lewis Mumford. Their ideal cities are heavy on parks and other open space.

At your service

August 28th, 2003 § Three comments § permalink

Christie made an interesting suggestion after I posted a rather long excerpt from a book about city planning: “Each time you post an edifying passage such as this, you must also post a new drink recipe.” Well, I can’t promise that I’ll always be able to do that. As luck would have it, though, my brother invented a new drink last Saturday. It’s called an orange truffle, and here’s how you make it: Mix half a shot of Godiva chocolate liqueur with half a shot of triple sec. Sip or shoot, depending on your preference. I should warn you that this drink is ungodly sweet, although everyone who tried it enjoyed it.

Easements and property rights

August 24th, 2003 § Two comments § permalink

In his 1968 book The Last Landscape, William Whyte wrote this extraordinarily clear explanation of what easements are and how they relate to our historical conception of property rights:

…Through the ancient device of the easement, we can acquire from an owner a right in his property–the right that it remain open and undeveloped.

To understand the device, let us go back to the origin of the term “fee simple.” In medieval times, a great lord would grant a man a tract of land to use in return for which the man would be obligated to perform certain services, or fees. The land with the fewest strings attached–the simplest fee, you might say–was the closest to outright ownership. But there were always strings.

There still are. The fee simple has never been absolute or indivisible, nor, laissez-faire economics to the contrary, have landowners inherited license to do anything they please with the land. What the landowner has is a bundle of rights–the right to build on the land, for example, or the right to grow timber on it, or to farm the land. Some rights he does not have: his riparian rights to a stream running through his property may not include throwing a dam across it. All of his rights, furthermore, are subject to the eminent domain of the state.

When we wish to acquire a man’s property, we usually buy the whole bundle of rights from him–the fee simple. But we can buy less. To achieve a particular purpose, we may only need one or a few rights in the property. We buy these, in the form of an easement, and leave the rest of the bundle with the owner.

One class of easements is positive; that is, we acquire the right to do something with part of the man’s property. A public agency may buy a right of way for a public footpath or a hiking or bicycle trail; it may buy the fishing rights so the public may use the banks of a stream. Utilities may buy a right to lay a pipeline or high-tension wires across the property, and they have not the slightest qualms about using condemnation powers to do it. Businessmen may buy rights to cut timber on the land, to graze livestock on it, or to dig minerals under it. They may buy air rights to build a structure above it, or to make sure that nobody else does. When a property is being subdivided, municipalities require the developer to give easements for sewer lines and roads. There are few properties that do not have some sort of easement on them.

The other main category of easement is negative. In this case we do not ask for physical access to the property; what we do is to buy away from the owner his right to louse it up. Through a conservation or scenic easement we acquire from the owner a guarantee that he will not put up billboards, dig away hillsides, or chop down trees; with a wetland easement, we acquire a guarantee that he will not dike or fill his marshland. Except for the restrictions, he continues to farm or use the land just as he has before; one of the main points of the easements, indeed, is to encourage him to do just that.

This is the first installment in the Pinchy Dot Org City Planning Virtual Symposium. Expect to see a lot more of this sort of thing now that I’m in graduate school.

Yesterday’s fuel today

August 18th, 2003 § 12 comments § permalink

Cognitive dissonance is reading Coal: A Human History while standing on a busy street. You look up and see six lanes of cars, trucks, SUVs, and buses roaring past you; you look down and read passages like this one:

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, we’ve burned enough fossil fuels to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by about one-third, already bringing it to a level probably not seen in the last several million years. …There is plenty of evidence that the warming has already begun; the 1990s were the warmest decade since global record keeping began, around 1860. Indirect data from temperature proxies, like tree rings and corals and ice cores, indicate that the 1990s were probably the warmest decade of the last thousand years. Plants and animals are already beginning to shift their ranges in their efforts to follow the climate that suits them; permafrost is thawing, and on nearly every continent ancient glaciers are in rapid retreat. …

[A group of over 2,000 scientists gathered by the United Nations] predicts warming over the next century ranging from 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. …Even at the high end of that range, it’s hard to be alarmed over such tiny numbers until you realize that these global averages can mask climatic changes of epic proportions. At the depth of the last ice age thousands of years ago, much of the land in the Northern Hemisphere was covered by an ice sheet about a mile high. The average global temperature at that time was only 5 or 6 degrees Celsius colder than today’s. At the high end of the warming range, we are looking at a warming in only a century about as great as the one that melted that ice sheet, with more warming in the centuries ahead.

Parentheses, exponents, multiply, divide, add, subtract

August 16th, 2003 § Three comments § permalink

Please excuse my dear aunt Sally the lack of posting. I have had one of those summer flus that drags on for a week, causing new and frustrating symptoms each day even as you feel generally better. On Thursday, for example, I woke up to discover that some miscreant had filled the left side of my head with cement. Not fun. I am almost over it now, I think.

Last Saturday, just as I was starting to get sick, I spent the afternoon tromping around in the Inner Richmond district in San Francisco, for no particular reason other than a desire to go someplace I had never been. The western part of the city is not densely developed at all, especially compared to the neighborhoods, like North Beach or the Financial District, that most people associate with San Francisco. Even though I knew what to expect in advance, the trip there on the 2 Clement (pronounced “Cluh-MENT,” according to the disembodied voice of Muni) was disorienting; when one is a stone’s throw away from downtown San Francisco, one does not expect to see boxy single-family houses with front yards and narrow sidewalks.

I never made it very far beyond Clement Street, which is sort of what Chinatown would be if you smooshed it out. Clement is known for its restaurants, so for lunch, I tried my first ever Vietnamese sandwich at Little Paris (444 Clement). It wasn’t that great–much too dry for my taste. Most of the other customers were eating steaming bowls of pho, and the smell made me wish I had ordered that instead. My next stop was Green Apple Books (506 Clement), which has an unusually wide range of both used and new books. It’s easily the best used bookstore I have seen in San Francisco (not that I have seen many). Before taking the bus back downtown, I went to one of the many grocery stores on Clement and bought some weird Asian candy, including a bag of those tamarind candies that come with the check at Thai restaurants. Am I the only person on the planet who likes those? Most people seem to think they are at best okay, and I have seen one or two people become nauseated after eating them.

Since my trip to the Richmond, I have been coughing up green goo and finishing my summer classes. Graduate orientation starts this coming Wednesday. Soon I will be planning cities like nobody’s business.

Quantitative analysis

August 5th, 2003 § Five comments § permalink

This idea came to me out of nowhere while I was standing in the deli section at Berkeley Bowl:

Berkeley = 0.5(Marin) + 0.3(Palo Alto) + 0.2(Sunnyvale)

The individual weights might be wrong, but I think I’m on to something here.

Where am I?

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