I found this rendering of 222 Hennepin earlier today, after reading Bill’s post on architecture. The part that I liked best is the traffic light. First it is sideways, a design that is used in some places in the world, but not Minneapolis, for a lot of good reasons.
I grew up in Columbia, Maryland, which for many years had sideways traffic lights, mainly as an architectural distinction, but which were abandoned because of the confusion created.
A major problem of such uncommon lights is that color-blind person might not know if the green is on the left or on the right. In Wisconsin (as everywhere else in the US where it is done, and standardized in the MUTCD, it is red on the left, green on the right.
In the rendering, it is the opposite.
It makes you wonder what other tricks and graphical shortcuts are going on to make the rendering desirable to approve and move into, but won’t really turn out as implied.
My thoughts on the Saint Paul Union Depot at Streets.MN: SPUD :
“We entered the dimly authentically-lit Saint Paul Union Depot (SPUD), a large but not magnificent space. A train station with no trains. The restoration is nice, and I am sure a better space than the restorers found it in, but the original structure was really nothing special at all. Having only been to the front of the station previously (the acoustically challenged headhouse), I was actually disappointed at the rest of it given how much fuss and money have been expended on the project.”
After a thunderstorm, I was disempowered for about 5 hours today. Certainly not the end of civilization, but perhaps its foreshadowing. A few moments ago, the power truck rolled down my alley, made some adjustment, and my house roared back to life. I have been re-empowered.
This raises the question, why are power lines still above ground? Richard Layman sends me to this Electrical Industry discussion of the issue. My sense is they would be happy enough to put utilities underground so long as someone else pays. While underground utilities are less likely to fail due to storm, they may take longer to restore.
If electricity costs me about $0.10 an hour, ($2.40/ day, $876 year), then I would be willing to pay at least $0.10 to avoid an hour of blackout. In all likelihood, I would pay much more than that. In a typical year I am probably blacked out for 24 hours.
If converting to underground distribution cables for utilities costs $723,000 per mile (let’s round to $750K, there is a very wide range of suburban costs of new distribution construction according to the report), and there are about 100 houses per linear mile (a convenient guess, 10 houses per block * 10 blocks per mile (at uniform density, assuming square lots, this implies a density of 10,000 houses per square mile of residentially developed area or 23,000 persons per square mile, which seems high, but we are ignoring areas that don’t have houses as they don’t need residentially-oriented electricity wires), and the line can serve two row of houses (i.e. it runs in the alley) the cost is about $3750 per customer.
I would need to avoid 1562 days of blackout at $0.10 per hour to justify this on blackout avoidance. (In other words, ignoring discounting, if I can avoid 1 blackout day per year, it would take 1562 years to pay back). Obviously I am probably willing to pay more (reducing the payback time), I might even pay $100 per blackout day in extreme cases (maybe the cost of a hotel stay), but that still requires a 37.5 year payback, which is far more than most people would be willing to tolerate. Given the differences in reliability between above and below ground, undergrounding is not economically justified as retrofit for the purposes of continuous electricity unless power outages get much worse.
There are other advantages. Aesthetics for one. And I think this is important, though everyone will weight this themselves. One study in Australia suggests that underground networks increases house prices by 2.9 percent. For an average house price of at least $129,310 this would mean it is worth at least $3750. Now it pays for itself. A stated preference survey by one of the same authors also in Canberra estimates value of $6883 per house. James Fallows discusses electric infrastructure reliability in the wake of the derecho back east.
“One problem with the otherwise impressive Tysons Corner redevelopment plan is that the two main streets, Route 7 and Route 123, will continue to function as suburban arterial highways. They’ll be so hard to cross that the neighborhoods on either side will be effectively cut off from each other. Rather than main streets, they are de facto freeways, barriers that divide the community in two. Fairfax County proposes to address this problem by adding 4 pedestrian bridges. But a better solution would be to deck over these roads wherever possible, and then stitch together the neighborhood fragments with air rights development.”
“It’s difficult to categorize Jarrett Walker’s excellent new book, Human Transit. It’s not quite for a popular audience, though it’s written with engaging ease. It’s not for academics, though it’s as thorough as most published research and far more approachable. It’s not strictly for a policy audience, though it’s fresh grist for any transit wonk’s mill. Its closest literary cousin may be a good language book, for it feels capable of teaching anyone, beginner or beyond, to speak Transit more fluently.”
Architecture in one sense deals with the most material of human creations, structures. Buildings are physical entities in the realm of atoms as much as bits. The physical layout of buildings, their mass, structural elements, and so on are the work of architects. But there is another aspect of architecture which is primarily aesthetic. The surface form of structures, the gargoyles appended to buildings. This art lies firmly in the realm of information, even though it has historically been presented in concrete, wood, and masonry, rather than on paper, vinyl, or plastic.
The advent of augmented reality will allow us to dematerialize this aesthetic aspect of architecture. Instead of seeing the building as the architect designed it, we can see it according to our preference, with the skin we wish to attach. In a world of augmented reality, no one will pay for any ephemerally fashionable aesthetic attachments when they can subscribe to a set of aesthetics in software.
The form will still matter, as we still need to be inside buildings to stay dry, and need to know where the entrances and exits are to avoid walking into walls. Buildings as housers of beds and containers of furniture and tools will remain important, as will their spatial location. But ornament will not, as that will be in the eye (or the AR glasses) of the beholder. We can expect a new construction based on the plainest surface which will be the easiest to adapt to computer models.
We will no longer need worry about historic preservation, bridges with egregious sight lines, or other offenses to our sensibilities. We will simply need to don the appropriate goggles (or farther into the future, jack our brains into the appropriate computers), and find ourselves presented with the world as we wish it to be.
I imagine a new art form, recoding existing cities with more beautiful ones. As I walk down the streets of Minneapolis with my new Augmented Reality glasses, it looks like Paris or Venice, as someone has carefully remapped Parisian buildings to Minneapolitan ones. It will be much cheaper to draw nice buildings digitally than to actually build them. We can now have a new way to avoid the negative externality of ugliness. We can further subscribe to the city of our choice, I want to be in Tokyo today, I just download the Tokyo skin ($0.99 at the Apple AugmentedRealityStore) and I feel like I am in Tokyo. Even the plants are Japanese, all the Maple Trees are now Japanese Maples.
We could just let our cities crumble, since all that matters is their virtuality.