Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Georgia Legislature, are you listening? Get Georgia Moving!

After reading this article on the snail's pace (no pun intended) that the Georgia Legislature is acting to pass a transportation funding mechanism, all I can say is:

This is ridiculous.

Our state legislature only meets for 40 days a year, and they put off such a critical issue until the last minute. What is even more ridiculous is that they got to the same point last year, and adjourned without passing anything.

I am especially incensed about this particular issue: The Federal government has $87 million set aside for funding commuter rail between Atlanta and Griffin, and has been waiting for years for Georgia to provide $15 million to make it happen. Last year, it ALMOST happened, again, being held up another year as a result of the impasse in the Georgia Legislature. This year, again, the money has been left out of the budget.

No wonder Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the nation. We rank close to the very bottom in per capita investments in transportation infrastructure, yet we are one of the fastest growing states in the nation.

For more information on this issue, visit Get Georgia Moving.

I especially like that Get Georgia Moving provides Denver as a valuable case study. Denver is aggressively building light rail and other transportation infrastructure as a result of the FasTracks Program, partially funded by a regional (let me say that again, R-E-G-I-O-N-A-L, this means YOU, Gwinnett and Cobb!) 0.4% increase in sales tax and issuance of bonds.

More coverage on this issue through Forbes Magazine.

Friday, March 27, 2009

All the fun stuff happens when I'm in class

The ULI held a forum with the top four mayoral candidates. Maria Saporta has the goods:
State Sen. Kasim Reed (D-Atlanta) said the key issue will be restoring the city’s finances to pay for police and fire personnel.

“Nothing else matters if you have a city that’s unsafe,” Reed said. If public safety is not addressed, then citizen will move out of the city and visitors will stop coming to Atlanta.
Kasim's statement isn't fundamentally different than what Ceasar Mitchell said, but it focused more on the public safety aspect:
“If you’re not focused on finance, you can’t do anything about public safety, the streets or clean water,” Mitchell said.
Mary Norwood said transportation wast he number one issue. Um, no. It is important, but not even close to being number one.

Also, I was VERY pleased to read this:
Reed, however, said he would like to speed up the timetable for the Beltline rather than having it be a 25-year project.
Glad someone is making this point.

And, finally, Maria says:
As I report in today’s Atlanta Business Chronicle, Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders is expected to announce next week that she is re-entering the mayor’s race.
Good news. I am trying to keep an open mind about Kasim and Ceasar. Kasim's statements yesterday are generally good, in my book. Read the whole article, it's good info.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

CCHR panel not idiots, choose design I liked

Surely to avoid the heaping scorn this blog would have dished out had they chosen any other design, the Center for Civil and Human Rights has chosen the Freelon/HOK team as their design team.

Here is what I had to say previously about the design:
If I had to choose one group right now, I'd probably go with the Freelon / HOK design. I think the interlocking pieces addresses a key problem/opportunity with the site, which is that the design has to address both Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., Centennial Olympic Park Drive, and the interior plaza going toward the Coke museum and the park. Most of the other designs focused too much on the park entrance, which is already a problem on Ivan Allen because the Aquarium did the same thing. The Freelon / HOK design addresses the challenge by giving the CCHR two public faces.

Also, I find the terracotta more inviting and more appropriate for the subject matter. I can't say exactly why, but I feel that a civil rights museum should have a warmer, more humane facade. Glass, steel, and marble can feel sterile and disconnected at times.

Biggest missed opportunities

This is my short list of the biggest missed opportunities for smart development in intown Atlanta. These are the buildings that annoy me every single time I drive by them, no matter how many times I've seen them.

These are all suburban developments in completely inappropriate places. They are also prime locations, and successful enough that they likely won't be redeveloped any time soon, so the opportunity cost for these lots is huge.
  • Sembler's Publix on Piedmont and North Avenue - Like most of Sembler's deals, they nailed what the neighborhood needed, but screwed up the urban design. I can't help think that this site could support a much greater density, as well as how the parking lot in front breaks up the walkability of the the area. It is on the border of Downtown and Midtown, and could have been the a building block for connecting the two more. The site is also large enough that it could have supported a parking deck and mixed-use a la Plaza Midtown.

  • Junkman's Daughter - Little Five's appeal comes in many ways from the traditional design of the buildings. Junkman's daughter is one of the busiest stores in Little Five, but it still doesn't really feel a part of Little Five. The cultural heart is around the corner on Euclid. I don't think this location needs anything denser, but there is no reason whatsoever (beyond zoning at the time, IIRC) that the parking couldn't be all behind the building.

  • Hand in Hand/Neighbors - prime location in a great neighborhood, but like Junkman's daughter it doesn't really feel like a part of the community to me. It is a little separate from the main drag. Like with the Publix on Piedmont, I think a denser development would be appropriate (say, three or four stories). The city's liquor license laws will never let that happen, of course. Nor will my neighborhood association.

  • San Francisco Coffee Roasting Company - both on N.Highland/Blue Ridge and on DeKalb Ave - I absolutely love SFCRC, and I can't say how many hours I've spent at the Blue Ridge location. Still, it angers me every time I drive up there that the building is not built up to the side walk. Also, the parking lot directly behind it (the Plaza Theater overflow) is NEVER full. I wish something could have been worked out so that San Francisco's front yard wasn't a parking lot.

    The new location on DeKalb.... all I can say is, WTF? This is a brand new building on a street where there is lots of zero lot line development nearby. At least most of the other things on this list are old enough they have some excuse. But traditional design would work fine here. WTF, man?

  • Sembler's Ponce de Leon Whole Foods/Home Depot development, and Midtown Promenade - this one should be painfully obvious to everyone who reads this blog. There were so many missed opportunities with both developments, it'd be its own post. Blame abounds - the neighborhood and the developer are both at fault on this one.
I have purposefully left out a few biggies like Sembler's Edgewood development and Atlantic Station. I think they are flawed developments, but they did enough things right and helped move other people in the right direction.

What are the developments that drive you crazy each time you pass them?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Beware, transit policy wonkery

This is one reason I love blogging. A few days ago I put up a post regarding MARTA operations, and whether to cut rail lines or buses. A commenter, Joel, has corrected the basic premise of my post, that buses are cheaper than rail to run. Please read his entire comment, but be aware it is pretty wonkish. As is the rest of this post. I really didn't know what to say about the latest news involving cutting a whole day of service, anyway. It is all too depressing.
Being a stubborn ass, I couldn't just take Joel's word for it. So I did some research. I should note, that I am NOT a policy expert, or even trained in this stuff in any way. I am just a layman taking a look at raw numbers to try and make sense of it all, because I find what gets reported in the AJC to be lacking (not a dig at the AJC, this sort of thing would bore the crap out of their readers).

Here is what I found on the National Transit Database for 2007 for MARTA. All of these numbers are in the thousands, btw (except for the number of vehicles).

What does that mean? It costs about the same to operate the bus lines and the rail lines, and the rail lines carry more than twice as many passengers. You can see the expense comparisons per vehicle, mile, and passenger mile here:

So Joel's basic point, that it cost less to operate heavy rail per passenger mile, is by far correct. It is in fact 1/3 as expensive.

However, in my defense, I'd like to point out that per vehicle, it is more expensive to operate rail. I have no idea how many vehicles run on a line, but for arguments sake, lets say we are talking about a quarter of the vehicles (let's say we are talking about the entire rail line from Five Points going west).

Vehicles Cut  Expenses Saved 
RAIL   46     $ 42,907 
BUS 120 $ 42,907

You would have to cut almost three times as many buses (or about 23% of the total bus lines) to save as much money. Joel is dead right that in terms of passenger miles, cutting rail would be far worse than because each rail car carries so many more passengers than a bus. Still, I at least had a something that I was right about.

Still, part of what makes MARTA work is that the buses provide a much larger network of service - I know that James, for example, takes two buses and a train to get to work. When I commuted to GSU, I took the #16 Noble.

Trains are the workhorse of the system, but the buses act as feeders. The numbers above are for passenger miles - if I take the bus 1 mile to the station, and then take the station 5 miles to somewhere else, the train counts 5 times the passenger miles. But if you cut my bus route, I can't take the train period. I don't think it is quite as simple as it appears.

Cutting the buses would make sense financially, but how many people lose complete access to transit? Sure, as Joel says, it is a political decision, but it matters. In raw numbers, it makes sense to cut bus service, but the "political" price is denying huge swaths of the city any access to transit.

At the end of the day, this still comes down to a broken funding mechanism. As much as Jill Chambers still wants to make political hay out of MARTA (and it has worked for her so far), I don't think this is a mis-management issue.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Just curious

I spotted something mildly interesting in an AJC article:
A thief who robbed in Northeast Atlanta apartment and fled in a victim’s car Saturday night went on to crash into another vehicle and a fountain downtown before being captured, police said....

The truck struck another vehicle and a fountain in downtown’s Central City Park, police said.
Most of you are probably asking yourself, "Where the hell is Central City Park?" Central City Park is the old name for Woodruff Park - when Woodruff was alive, all his donations were anonymous (even though everyone knew where the money came from). Most of the stuff with his name on it was named after his death. Woodruff helped buy much of the land that became Central City Park.

What I'm wondering is, how the name ends up getting used in an AJC article? I think the only previous time I have come across the name was was in an older book that was written before the name change. I had no idea what it was talking about, and had to do a little research to figure it out. I would bet most people in town only know the park as Woodruff Park - it was renamed in 1985, according to Atlanta Time Machine (of course he would know).

So ho is still using the name? Is the writer? I would have thought Furman Bisher was the only person at the AJC who would remember the name (he'd get a whole column out of that fact, of course). Did the writer just copy the name from a police report? This seems likely, since the usage is just before "police said." So the police department is still using the old name? If so, did the writer not ask, "Central City what?"

I'm very curious about this. I mean, who really cares, but, still.... how odd.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sonic-death-scream mode on transportation funding

Reader Ciambellina dropped me a note regarding MARTA's dire funding situation, where they are considering axing an entire rail line to make their budget. Part of me wonders whether that is just trumped up rhetoric that they are using to try and get through to GOP legislators, but it also highlights a conundrum with public transit. Heavy and light rail lines generally do more for communities - people prefer using them over buses, they stimulate development, they help contribute to an area's 'sense of place', and they increase property values (see: land around the BeltLine). However, I'm pretty sure that buses are more economical to operate, as well as being more flexible in a budget crisis.

This means that MARTA could cut one rail line, or they could cut a ton of bus routes, which might actually serve more people. For example, you can see on this map I posted a while back that much of southeast Atlanta has pretty good MARTA access despite the fact that there isn't a rail line serving the area:

Back to the MARTA issue - what I found most interesting about the article was the history lesson from former Mayor Sam Massell. The short of it is that the current cap on operations spending was the result of Lester Maddox wanting to keep "winos" off the system, so he advocated for the cap on spending to force MARTA to charge for tickets. It wasn't about trying to force MARTA to be 'wise' in its spending or anything, but about the state wanting to control who had access to the system - not entirely dissimilar from how Cobb and Gwinnett wanted to keep out "that element".

This is also a good chance to link to Pecanne Log's absolutely awesome post on an old GQ magazine featuring Atlanta. Some of the money quotes Christa picks out:
If you want to sell something to Atlanta, just convince a handful of the right people that Atlanta can’t be a Big League City without it, and the proposition is as good as taken....

Civic-minded Atlantans are sensitive about their city’s progressive reputation. It’s not a chip that they carry on their shoulders, but an earnest sweat on their brows. Criticize Atlanta for what it lacks and the response is less likely to be “Whaddaya mean?” than “Okay, we’ll get one.”
Atlantans may not have changed that much, but the difference is that we used to have a state government that worked with the city a lot more. Sure, some folks ran against "those liberals in Atlanta," but when they got in office they understood the importance of the city to the entire southeast region. The business community is going into sonic-death-scream mode when it comes to the regional transportation, but the GOP is too busy fighting with each other to hear. Pehaps they'll pass something, but I'm not optimistic.

Be afraid! Don't go out at night! Boo!

I was notified of this email sent to the Midtown Neighbors Association from Atlanta Police Major Khirus William:
Please read this e-mail and alert our citizens that we had robberies and multiple car jackings throughout the City of Atlanta (metro wide) last night, including your area.

Please, let us all keep our exterior lights on to illuminate the area. This makes the area unpopular for criminals!

Also, please have your family, friends, and neighbors to blow their horn when arriving. This allows us to watch for them until they arrive, inside, safely. Open the window dressings and hi-light them with a flash-light. Thus, the criminal element would be aware that someone is watching!

Furthermore, we have to minimize just visiting in the drive way, or sidewalks, at nights. I know that this is unfair, but the criminals are becoming more brazen and this is their method of attack.. Patrols throughout the City are not as common as they were in the past, as a result of furloughs.

In closing, we have to do things differently than we did in the past, until there is a change. Please, let us minimize the opportunity for us to become victims and assist others as they return home.

Major Khirus E. Williams | Zone 5 commander | 200 Spring Street | Atlanta, Ga. 30303 | 404.658.7054
It seems like there is a disconnect between top brass, who say that crime isn't rising, and the folks actually doing the police work. I guess Major Williams, as a zone commander, would be closer to "top brass" than a patrol officer, but his email seems to fly against Chief of Police Pennington's statements that crime isn't up, just people's perceptions of crime (he's never really going to live that one down).

I shouldn't really try to read tea leaves to figure out what is going on at that place. I read that email and it felt like I should just buy a gun for when I'm walking the dog at night. And I'm pretty freaking liberal! Now, I'm not actually going to get a gun, but seriously, the message I got was, "Don't go out after dark, carry a flashlight, and be very afraid!" I know that citizens have to be a part of the solution, and keeping lights on is pretty common-sense behavior, but the cumulative effect of the email was rather alarming. Who wants to live somewhere where you feel like you can't go out at night and you have to constantly be on guard?

Combine that with the lady who got stabbed going for a jog in the morning.... what the fuck, man? It did not feel that dangerous growing up here, and I spent a LOT of time in my teens wandering around in areas I shouldn't at night. Maybe a lot of that was youthful ignorance and feelings of invincibility, but this city just did not feel that scary.

Maybe it is just all about perception, and alarmist emails and sensational stories about attacked joggers just inflame fears. That's the appeal of being a gun owner, I guess - not feeling like you are ignorant to the fact that crime exists, but refusing to sit passively by and be taken for a sap. Surely there is another option beyond what the police are offering, which is, "Be afraid to go out at night."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

This is how you know you are a dork

I noticed a cool feature on a New York Times article from earlier this week. It has a modern photo layered over a historical photo, and you can drag over it to reveal the historical photo, like so:

Go play with it, it's fun. Also, someone teach Atlanta Time Machine how to use Flash! Imagine how much more addictive his site would be if you had this feature on all the pictures...

Friday, March 13, 2009

New concert hall for Woodruff

The AJC reports this morning that the Woodruff Arts Center has come up with a new plan for a symphony hall:
The new concert hall would sit atop Callaway Plaza, now used for drop-offs and parking at the southern edge of the 41-year-old arts center. The plan requires demolishing some of the center, which houses the current Symphony Hall, the Alliance Theatre and other facilities.
This is the replacement site for the 14th street site, which never generated much excitement among donors (or, ahem, bloggers). Architect Santiago Calatrava is still on-board, apparently, which is good news. While the site didn't get much attention, his design did.

In terms of the new symphony hall, this location should get donors considerably more excited. Folks in Atlanta go crazy over a Peachtree Street address... there is an old saying that I think I read in Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn. It is something along these lines: there are two sure-fire ways to get rich in Atlanta:
  1. Buy Coca-Cola stock, and hold on to it
  2. Buy property on Peachtree Street, and hold on to it.
This site, of course, kind of combines both sayings.

I also like the new site since it addresses what I think was always a major shortcoming of the original center's design, which is the fairly useless plaza at the very visible intersection. I just felt it was way too suburban for such an urban site, although I recognize that Midtown was significantly less dense when this was built 41 years ago.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Good news on Crum and Forster building

Maria Saporta reports that the Board of Zoning Adjustment has denied the GT Foundation's appeal of it demolition permit for the Crum and Forster building, which the Bureau of Planning denied last year.

Just passing that along...

"More police" is not enough

I'm pleased by the passage of this bill allowing a referendum for Atlanta to raise taxes to hire more police officers. I slightly annoyed that the bill passed only 30-23 on opposition that sounded like this:
But the bill’s opponents argued that the city could fix its staffing shortages by resolving a dispute between Mayor Shirley Franklin and the city council over fiscal policy. Franklin recommended raising property taxes last year, partly to hire more public safety officers, but council members refused to go along.

“Folks have a way to force local government officials to do their job … vote them out of office or recall them,” said Sen. John Wiles, R-Marietta.
So glad to hear that from Sen. Wiles. of Marietta. Mar-i-ett-a. What the fuck does whether someone wants to raise taxes in Atlanta have anything to do with a Cobb County representative? Piss off.

Back to city politics - I'm afraid that the debate over public safety in the mayoral race will come down to hiring more cops. The problems related to crime in this city cannot possibly be that simple to solve, and I hope candidates don't try to talk down to citizens. I for one want to know what else they plan to do. When everyone is talking about more officers, it is almost a none issue. Sure, Reed gets this to run on, but I hope it isn't the only arrow in the quiver.

UPDATE: I shouldn't bitch about folks messing in Atlanta's affairs without giving due credit to the House for passing a tax exemption for constructing the CCHR. Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, was the only Rep to vote against the bill. I'm seeing a pattern here...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good reading for political junkies

I don't do a lot of posts where I just link to news stories - I have a big mouth and I'm opinionated, so I tend to write much longer posts than many other blogs. Some of it is me processing a story out loud - it helps me form an informed opinion if I have to dig in and come up with defensible reasons why I think one way or another. I think my traffic counts might be higher if I had more posts and less original content, but oh well.

Anyway, I was able to do a lot of posting last week because it was spring break. Spring break is over, and I'm busy with school, so I'll cop out and just link to this article on the mayoral race by Maynard Eaton at GONSO.
But what now appears to be a dicey duel between perceived frontrunners state Sen. Kasim Reed and Councilwoman Mary Norwood could soon evolve into a hotly contested Kentucky Derby-like horse race featuring a plethora of political thoroughbreds.

That, combined with the arrival of about 100,000 new Atlanta residents since 2000, says Georgia State University professor Harvey Newman, who has studied city politics, is "going to make for one of the most interesting races in a long time."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Senate passes GDOT restructuring, and a new wrinkle

I wanted to highlight this bit from GONSO, a start-up news service available via email, regarding Perdue's GDOT restructuring:
As far as GDOT's annual budget, which bill sponsor Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) supposed at $2.5 billion annually, supporters note that rural districts are in for more money.

The bill allows the General Assembly to earmark 10 percent of the total annual transportation budget, ...

Another quarter of the budget would be sent to local governments.

The General Assembly would appropriate the rest as it sees fit: for new construction, maintenance or more local grants, according to Williams.

"You'll be able to fund locals like never before," Williams told his Senate colleagues, trying to win their votes with just those funds.
Now, there is a little editorializing with the writing, but it is an important wrinkle in the GDOT bill that I haven't heard before. A newsletter (which I cannot link to) that Sen. Williams put out adds this:
The bill allows for a new, transparent funding model much like the way other agencies in Georgia are funded and governed. As legislators, we will be able to represent our constituents’ needs much better by having a greater say in the appropriations process and directing what projects are funded. Local governments will also see increased funding, as a minimum of 25 percent of the State Motor Fuel Funds collected annually will be deposited into a Local Grant fund and will be dedicated to local transportation projects. This more than doubles the amount of funding local governments are currently receiving.
Another way to read this, of course, is, "more pork". I'm not sure that it really changes that much as far as the Atlanta region is concerned, since it at least makes it all transparent. This sort of political funding goes on currently, only it goes on through the GDOT board and clogs up the department's actual operations. I'd rather political fights stay in the political arena, which is partly what elected representatives are there to do.

Certainly I don't like the idea of rural legislators having more influence - I think they currently have too much. However, Thomas Wheatley's article on the GDOT mess has Doug Stoner saying rural legislators would lose influence.
Sen. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna, told lawmakers the bill would send Georgia back to the Dark Ages — aka the days before GDOT existed — when transportation decisions were allegedly made in the governor’s office and then relayed based on political preference. Anecdotes of lawmakers having to “kiss the governor’s ring” to get a road built in their districts serve now as warnings rather than old yarns.
WTF? Which is it?

As I read the short-hand version of the bill (pdf, via Political Insider), Perdue's plan has the new STA develops appropriations for Motor Fuel Funds according to a fund allocation formula, submits the requests to the Governor, who then includes them in the budget which the Legislature then passes into law.

I can't see how this is fundamentally different from the current set-up. The GDOT website lists the GDOT board's duties, none of which include appropriations. As far as I can tell, the legislature currently has control over the DOT budget and ultimately would still have control via the appropriations process going forward.

The difference is the make-up of the board that is approving projects. It goes from a legislature-elected board to an executive-appointed board. This is where the loss of influence would come in for the rural lawmakers, since they wouldn't get a say in who is on the board anymore. The earmark provision and the local fund provision that Sen. Williams mentions would seem to give legislators more control over what gets funded, however.

So they are both right? Perhaps - it would take lawmakers out of the big-picture decisions, since those would get made by the STA board for the most part. If the metro area can dominate state-wide elections, then it would indeed mean less power for rural lawmakers. However, the bill would still let lawmakers get their pet projects funded through the earmarks. If rural legislators can keep more power in the House and Senate than in state-wide elections (historically true), then they would be able to dominate these funds. If Dems ever re-took control of the House or Senate, then it is possible that urban legislators could get a piece of these earmark funds (ha, like that will ever happen).

At the end of the day, I can't see how it really changes my view of the bill - it is a risk to put more power in the hands of the governor, but the current system isn't doing anything for us.

Peachtree-Pine for sale

Good news - the AJC reports that the Peachtree and Pine shelter is up for sale. They are asking for $10.5 million, or $109/building sf. That doesn't strike me as terribly excessive, although it has been a while since I've had access to good comp data and I have no idea how bad current market conditions have been to commerical property values. All I can do to is try and remember sales off the top of my head, and then look them up on the county assessor's webpage.
  • The closest near-empty, low-rise, former industrial building in Midtown that I can think of that sold recently is 563 Spring Street, which sold about a year and a half ago for $84/sf. I think that building might have had a few tenants at the time of the sale, I'm not sure, but I think it then underwent renovations. Given the prominance of the Peachtree and Pine site, $109/sf seems at least in the right ballpark, at first glance. Any brokers or agents with access to data, please let me know in the comments if I'm way off base.

  • As a land deal, the price is too high - the land for 1010 midtown sold for $217/sf in mid-2006, and this is for sale at $353/sf. You'd have to assume prime midtown land increased at something like 19.25% per year over the last 2.75 years. No one would buy this building at that price to tear it down. This is as it should be, because it has some historical value. It graces the cover of an Atlanta architecture book I mentioned some time ago, and is the work of a famous local architect. It was originally known as the Motor Services Building.
Anyway, I like to go through this little exercise to see how serious the Task Force is about selling. I have no idea if it is a "good deal" without doing a lot more work, but it doesn't appear as though the price is unrealisticlly high. You see that sort of thing when an owner doesn't really want to sell or has an inflated sense of what the land is worth and isn't going to be reasonable.

I'm not sure how many buyers are willing to put down $10 million on something they'll have to hold until the real estate market turns around, but I can think of one interested party who owns a bit of property nearby and who paid for a master plan for redeveloping the surrounding neighborhood.

When the city was cutting off the shelter's water, I laid out my thoughts on what I wanted to happen to the Peachtree-Pine shelter:
I certainly don't like the shelter, and I want it to close. I am not going to cackle with glee if they get shut down, though, and feel uncomfortable rooting for things like shutting the water off.

Ideally, I would like to see the people that run it realize they aren't helping, and close on their own.
I am sure the decision to sell is in some way a response to pressure from the city, but it is nice to think that the Task Force is seeing the situation in a reasonable light. Developer Gene Kansas is helping sell the building:
Kansas said that while he thinks the Task Force would “love to stay in the building, the fact of the matter is that the Task Force only uses about 30 percent of that entire building.

“It’s very under-utilized, and you’ve got a premium location and, frankly, a use that’s not desired on Peachtree,” Kansas said...

“We feel like it’s a great time to go out and look at the other options,” Kansas said of the effort to sell the property and relocate the shelter. “We can get a better building that’s a better fit for a lot less money.”
I hope someone buys the building, although it is disappointing that they decided to sell during the worst recession in a quarter century (so far). This blog will have a terriffic screed where my head explodes if no one buys the building and the Task Force claims that no one else wanted it, so they will just stay there forever.

h/t: Thomas Wheatley

I almost forgot

Mad props to the CCHR team for what by all accounts was a stellar event. I HATE this sort of event planning, and can imagine the nervous anticipation that comes before such an event. Congrats.

CCHR Designs - my first take

I intended to go to the CCHR design presentations, but alas, a poorly timed flat tire and other car issues prevented this. The CCHR blog has the five designs posted, and I'll link to them as I go through the designs below. The AJC has some more info on the designs, as well.

I don't want to jump to judgment on any of these designs (although I will anyway - huzzah, blogging!), and I certainly wish I had the benefit of hearing the team's presentations. I am positive that missing the presentations will leave me with lots of gaps. Readers who attended are encouraged to correct me or provided added information. Or to tell me how wrong I am.

My first impressions:
  • The Moody Nolan / Predock design is really weird and I can't tell what is going on on the street-facing sides. From one of the comments on the CCHR blog it seems there is an 80 ft. wall facing Ivan Allen. Sounds concerning. I personally prefer my buildings to look like buildings and not earth mounds. I didn't originally intend to say that snarkily, but upon reflection I think I do...
  • The Diller Scofidio Renfro design is open and looks fairly dynamic, although that may just be the angle of the rendering viewpoint. I can't really tell what else is going on with the actual building, though, and how it interacts with the city. Not really enough to go on, but I like what I see.
  • There are some good things going on with the Freelon / HOK design. I like the use of terracotta - it makes the design feel a lot warmer than the others. I also like that it has a more urban feel than some of the others. I am not a huge fan of the cantilevered bit at the street corner, though, and the Ivan Allen facade seems a little harsh.
  • Even more cantilever action with the Huff + Gooden design, but without the warm terracotta action. Blech.
  • The Polshek Partnership, Cooper Carry, Stanley Love-Stanley team is pretty interesting. I like the exterior materials and the clean lines. The large vertical piece in the interior plaza reminds me of the Coke museum, though, and there is still more cantileverd action on the street side, although it doesn't appear as severe (not as tall and set back some).
Of course, there are many other reasons to choose architects, apart from building design. You want an architect that agrees with how you see the goals of the project so that you won't be fighting with them over the vision all the time. You also want an architect that does projects with a budget in mind - this isn't to say you want a cheap team (not at all), but it is a real concern that you want the architects to be aware of. You need an architect that gets stuff done on time, too, and has good working relations with your other team members. I could go on, but my point is simply that I suspect design is just one factor these judges are weighing.

If I had to choose one group right now, I'd probably go with the Freelon / HOK design. I think the interlocking pieces addresses a key problem/opportunity with the site, which is that the design has to address both Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., Centennial Olympic Park Drive, and the interior plaza going toward the Coke museum and the park. Most of the other designs focused too much on the park entrance, which is already a problem on Ivan Allen because the Aquarium did the same thing. The Freelon / HOK design addresses the challenge by giving the CCHR two public faces.

Also, I find the terracotta more inviting and more appropriate for the subject matter. I can't say exactly why, but I feel that a civil rights museum should have a warmer, more humane facade. Glass, steel, and marble can feel sterile and disconnected at times. Of course, the grass mound design is a bit too natural... That might be the only design I actively dislike, although Huff + Gooden comes close. I'm obviously not a fan of cantilevered buildings, despite my affection for the Atlanta-Fulton County Central Library.

So that leaves 3 of the 5 designs that I could be satisfied with, although I have to say that none of these designs get me very exicited at the moment. By comparison, the Calatrava Symphony design got me super excited, even if the site itself leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully this underwheming impression is the result of the limited time provided for the RFP.

Anyway, thats my take. I'm no expert, just a dude with a blog. Most of my opinions come out of my own aesthetic sense, and are quite subjective. I know there are Tech students who read this - what is y'alls take?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

GSU keeps growing

Georgia State University got a record number of applications this year:
GSU got 10,504 applications for fall 2009 from freshmen -- up 25 percent over last year’s record of 8,409.
What should we do with all these freshman? Build them dorms!

Seriously, Georgia State produced an updated Master Plan in 2005 that included 1,500 housing units at Wall Street and Pryor Street. I have no idea if the University is still planning on this, but I say please go ahead and build them. I know money is tight right now, but isn't this the sort of capital improvement/job creation type of stuff we need the government to be doing during a recession? It isn't really "pork barrel" type funding - it is investing in education.

Evans departure a loss at GDOT

Thomas Wheatley's profile of Gina Evans is fantastic. Read the entire piece. I get the impression that Gina Evans understands the big picture with what needs to happen at GDOT and with transportation generally speaking in this state, even if I'm not pleased with how she has handle the BeltLine situation. I think GDOT will suffer from her departure. And yes, I can't believe I am writing this.

What I find particularly interesting is how she describes working with the GDOT board (that Perdue wants to gut):
“You’re trying to do a good job, you’re trying to lead change, you’re trying to change the paradigm, you’re trying to move a bureaucracy that’s been in place for 30 years — and you’re constantly counting votes. I asked some of the old DOT staffers, ‘Is this what the commissioner does? Sit around and count votes?’ How are you ever going to effect change if you have to sit and count votes every week?..."
Gov. Carl Sanders moved GDOT out of the governors office and gave it a high degree of autonomy in 1963 because of corruption. He still thinks it worked out well, but Evans paints a picture where the local politics of each commissioner make the department ungovernable.

Who would run a business this way? Certainly CEOs are accountable to a board of directors, but a well governed company should let the CEO do their job and not micro-manage everything. We've turned what should be a job about running an organization into a job about political maneuvering and baby-sitting.

Comissioners aren't concerned with what is good for the state, but whether their friends back home are getting what they need. I'm not saying they are corrupt - I'm saying that the culture at GDOT is one where Commissioners look out for their district and "constituent services" to the detriment of the department. This is because they are politicians and they are elected by politicians, and "constituent services" is what politicians are supposed to do. It is basically what the board is set up to do, so we shouldn't act surprised when they do it.

I think it is clear that we have reached a point where this set-up is holding the state back, and where GDOT needs to become a "functional" department rather than a political department. The state elects the Governor and the Lt. Governor, and in today's politics that is about electing a person to set a vision and a strategy for how the state will grow. I don't like what Gov. Perdue wants to do with transportation, but the state elected him to do it and I feel like agencies shouldn't constantly rebel when the elected executive of the state tries to do something.

Further, I am really pissed that Georgia Democrats seem to have banded together against Perdue's restructuring. It strikes me as a "screw you" to Perdue, and as a way of retaining some small measure of influence at GDOT via board elections. Never mind what is good for the state, we gots to get ours! Georgia Dems should be spending their time and energy finding out how to reconnect with Georgia voters instead of protecting their own turf. Maybe the metro area will keep getting trading small projects to win over a few legislators and commissioners, but we'll never get the kind of drastic change and reform that we need to make this state more competitive. Way to lead, guys.

Also, the state-wide sales tax is a ridiculous idea, and I have zero faith that metro Atlanta wouldn't get absolutely screwed by it for the exact reasons that GDOT is currently unmanageable. Georgia House Dems have shown so little vision beyond petty politics, I can't think of a worse person to run for governor than Dubose Porter.

The shorter version of this post could simply be: Hulk angry! Hulk Smash!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Depressing housing data

I mentally bookmarked an graph concerning the historical Case-Shiller price index a week or two ago, but am just now getting to posting on it. It is an interview with Prof. Robert Shiller, who created the Case-Shiller price index. The short take-away: we are only halfway through the decline in home value, relative to historical values. We probably still have a long way to fall.

I've seen this graph in other blogs, and I'll go ahead and reproduce it here to help show graphically just how ridiculous the recent boom was. It is a version of the Case-Shiller index going back to 1890, adjusted for inflation. Since WWII, the Case-Shiller index has seemed to have a natural index of about 110. Previous bubbles in the late 70's and 80's topped out at 125, while the recent boom topped out at over 200. Seeing visually how large the bubble was really drove home how bad things are, and how far we still have to go.

The graph originally comes from the NY Times via this article.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Underwhelming ideas

I haven't really had a take on the casino idea. I think Griftdrift said it best, though, when he said we were a half-ass city:
... instead of changing the state law which prevents casino gambling, Atlanta is exploring using a loophole in the lottery law which allows video gambling machines -and not even those poor pitiful video poker machines, but some half-ass lottery spewing chimera...

... we don't understand the concept of all-in. We'd rather cautiously play a little here and a little there - never making that breath gasping push. And every poker player of any skill knows the inevitable result of this strategy - no money left and out of the game.
I'm luke-warm to the idea of casinos at best, but not for the typical "negative social externalities" reason. I have repeatedly suggested that expanding GSU's student housing to Underground would be far better for the city overall. I think a casino would bring in a lot of money and something else to do, but I would be very concerned about the architectural design of the actual casino. I would not be supportive of a Portman-esque design which keeps people inside and away from the rest of the city. Given the business of casinos, I would most likely be disappointed.

That is my feeling about casinos under optimum circumstances. This half-ass idea does NOT get me excited. The news that the City Council is supportive of this idea is mildly disappointing. I guess I don't expect them to do anything different, but I had rather hoped this idea would not amount to much. What councilmember would reasonably vote against any sort of economic development for Underground?

Why do all the bad ideas seem to stick around?

Also, I find it slightly ridiculous that the City Council and the Mayor can support this all they want, but at the end of the day we have zero control over what happens downtown. Consider how many things the city of Atlanta wants to do where we do not control our own destiny:
  • BeltLine - had to get a constitutional amendment to secure funding, still hoping for state and federal funding.
  • Undergound casino - need approval of state lottery corporation or constitutional amendment to allow gambling
  • Commuter rail/multi-modal terminal - awaiting state and federal funding
  • Center for Civil and Human Rights - probably the only thing we can actually do, but we still needed that constitutional amendment for the TAD funding.
  • MARTA improvements - needed recent law to change operational budget funding, still need state funding

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Doggy + Thundersnow = Fun

The great Atlanta thundersnow was also Boss's first snow. So I went over to a friend's place and threw snowballs at him while my friend's dog chased him around. I'm working on video of that... UPDATE 11:21pm: Video available for Facebook peeps. Still working on getting it put up on Youtube.

Also, is it mean to play fetch with snowballs? He just kept looking for them.... Anyway, he loved the snow. Way more than the rain, which is good because two or three days of not getting to play with other dogs makes for a crazy puppy. He is pretty hyper on a good day, and I was about to lose it this morning. Thankfully, he is now crashed out on the sofa.

When I got him he was eight weeks old and 6 lbs. He is now about six months old and 23 lbs.