Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Data disorganization

The Internet and personal computer have been around for what seems like a long time now, and the ease of accessing digital information, as well as the digitization of what once were traditional data libraries into databases, is offset by the disorganization of it all, as well as everyone's own attempts at sorting and organizing the data you have - pictures, documents, old saved emails and attachments, music, and so on.

I know for a fact that ever since I first got a computer, some 14 years ago, that the files on my harddrive have been a completely chaotic mishmash of files and folders downloaded and created at different times, sometimes with no hope of finding a file or document. With the explosion of web content in Web 2.0, things have just gotten worse.

And I'm not alone! Thanks to a nytimes column, "defeating bedlam," one scientist explores the crisis of data management, particularly evident in the realm of research. How does one go about reconciling the ever-growing piles of printed text, mysteriously-named pdfs, and random folders?

I'm rather hopeful that one of the new pieces of software will help us organize and sort through the Internets, and am going to be trying out "Zotero" - which is in fact a firefox plugin that, although similar to a search engine, allows US to categorize the data (in multiple ways).

Now if more people would just use those tags in blogposts, I might actually be able to find relevant topics!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bush not popular?

Well, it looks like Bush isn't so popular anymore. Especially with world leaders...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Change is coming

Obama is already at work behind the scenes, and poised to enact executive orders to reverse much of the terrible EO's that Bush implemented. Should be an interesting first year, as Congress and Obama's mandate from the people should help to bring a change of how things work in Washington.

In fact, Obama even has a website, to hear the voice of the people:

Friday, November 7, 2008

The socio-political landscapes of America

Fascinating read over at BLDGBLOG. Why are one demographics deemed more important politcally than others? Organization, of course, plays a huge role in this. But lets relax our narrowed view of Obama and McCain's political race, filled with photo ops and interviews staged in Old America, those almost-forgotten small rural towns and landscapes rapidly fading into a distant memory and increasingly losing relevance in our post-industrial, information-age globalized economy.

They find small towns that, by definition, are under-populated and thus unrepresentative of the United States as a whole; they find "old-fashioned" restaurants that seem on the verge of closing for lack of interested customers; they tour "Main Streets" that lost their inhabitants and their businesses long ago.
All along they pretend that these landscapes are politically relevant.

Fungus makes biodiesel?! Sign us up!

Ooh, more good news! Kind of hailing from obscurity, but are our fuel woes a thing of the past? A newly discovered fungus makes, as a byproduct of decomposing plant matter, biodiesel! It can even directly convert cellulose directly to biodiesel, which was one of the main challenges facing the next gen of biodiesel adoption - being able to convert plant waste, such as stems (the wasted part of crops) directly into fuel.

The fungus, called Gliocladium roseum and discovered growing inside the ulmo tree (Eucryphia cordifolia) in northern Patagonia, produces a range of long-chain hydrocarbon molecules that are virtually identical to the fuel-grade compounds in existing fossil fuels.

"It's another piece of evidence that there is real potential to adapt such processes to provide energy sources that can help reduce our need for, and dependence on, fossil fuels."

Such a timely developments such as this may dramatically impact where we get our energy and fuels from.

Yah! Obama won!

...8 years of horror are over.

Now, it would be nice if the economy would pick up, but it looks like I'll have to hold my breath for a few more years.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Insightful economics

Interesting story on the Daily Kos about the mergers being fueled by the government's quest to prop up every failing bank and investment company in the current economic downfall. I have always been rather suspicious of large corporations myself, growing up with the software industry and Microsoft's borg-like domination of the industry (and subsequent failure to provide much more innovation as of late).

The article brings up a book, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, a book I read many years ago for an Economics class at college, that looks at economics in a more holistic light than a purely statistical one. It makes me think of different strategies being pursued to improve standards of living in third world countries: wait for a large Western corporation to operate a strip-mining operation in the rainforest, or should you instead help local farmers by improving their access to global markets and improve the quality and yield of their coffee crops?

Which one is the better route? Which one has less adverse impacts on the environment, health and welfare of the people in the poor nation?

It seems to me that being small and nimble in today's globalizing world is not a liability, but an asset - particularly when it comes to transparency in the accounting department, flexibility in responding to a market (and not getting stuck trying to push a product line that is dying out - ala the Sport Utility Vehicle), and simply being a more humanizing place to work. This is anecdotal, but from all the people I have met, by far the ones that enjoy their careers more are the ones who work for the smaller, more innovative firms. I personally would hate to be one of the many hundreds of peons cut when one of the large "fortune 500" companies starts its regular payroll trimmings.

So why do we keep providing the incentive that generates big companies?

We seem to like bigger. There's something that's extremely satisfying about seeing companies expand, the number of employees increase, the bottom line fill up with larger and larger numbers. It not only scratches some deep psychological itch, it's practically the only way we measure success. Our measure for the standard of living is based on the amount of consumption, not knowledge or fulfillment or leisure. Our measure for efficiency is simply numbers over time, with little regard to quality, or pride, or environmental impact. Our measure for a company's success is simply size. After all, the Fortune 500 doesn't let you in because you're company is nice.

Whatever happened to compeitition?

Interestingly, 25% of all jobs in America are provided by companies with over 500 employees. (census)

Friday, October 24, 2008

The times we live in...

The past 30 days has been a roller coaster in the true sense of the term. From the second worst crash in the stock market in 100 years, to entering a depression and all of the politics surrounding the presidential election, the old phrase "may you live in interesting times" seems like a curse now more than ever. a result, I have been watching as much PBS, the Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and SNL to give a bit of depth and spin of newsworthy humor to the whole serious business.

Adding to all the fun, my birthday was in mid-September: one day after I was laid off, and two days after the economy hit the fan.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pure Bailout Genius

Its about time for another update...

Jon Stewart is just Golden in this one - if there were to be only one campaign video to watch this year, this would be it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Parking Paradise... Lost?

From The Stranger, Seattle's answer to our Mercury. Aah, the sweet scent of irony... They even have pictures!

Save Our Parking Lots

All across Seattle, cherished opens spaces offer residents a bucolic respite—places where hearts, minds, and spirits can soar. But Seattle’s parking lots are threatened. Seattle—formerly home to several square miles of pristine asphalt—has been losing its parking lots at an alarming rate.

Good stuff. I wish that Portland had the same "problem." Unfortunately, the Goodman family, which owns the majority of the surface parking lots in town, is not interested in selling them to developers. Instead, they offer 99-year leases to developers - but of course retain ownership of the land. To date, only a few have been redeveloped.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Perhaps we haven't made any progress after all.

via Inhabitat

Friday, July 18, 2008

Walkable Portland

PDX Green has a short post about the walkability score of Portland. In general, we do fairly well, but I question LA taking a higher overall score than Portland did.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

EPA report on the CRC

From the Oregonian - apparently the Feds (EPA) disagree with the whole charades that the CRC committee has been pulling with their so-called assessment of the bridge replacement project. Surprise, surprise, objective outside assessment from people with no bias have raised the issue of increased urban sprawl, as well as environmental issues not even thought of by anyone to date:

In a challenge to Northwest highway planners, the federal government has found inadequate study of air and water pollution that could come from a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finds that bridge planners did not adequately examine the potential for a bridge to induce sprawl, increase pollution and contaminate an aquifer that supplies Vancouver and Clark County's drinking water.

The critique is drawn from EPA's review of the Columbia River Crossing's 5,000-page environmental impact statement, and it extends to other areas as well. Among those are whether doubling the congested I-5 bridge from six to 12 lanes will promote suburban sprawl; whether the combination of air toxics, noise and other pollution will punish North Portland communities living close to the I-5; and whether massive pile-driving efforts will stir up toxic sediments, compromising federally protected migrating salmon.

The EPA makes clear in a cover letter to its 13-page account that it is "generally supportive" of replacing the I-5 bridge with new spans that include light rail. But its report is blunt in citing deficiencies in the study of how the I-5 bridge project would affect the region's traffic, growth, and quality of life.

EPA's findings
To view a copy of the EPA's letter, see

None of the findings were a surprise, said Heather Gundersen, environmental manager for the CRC project.

"We have heard most of that from the EPA throughout our coordination process," Gundersen said. "It's something we're going to work through with them. It's something we're going to address point by point."

But the findings reinforced the objections of many local environmental groups, which have argued a new bridge would promote sprawl and undermine the region's efforts to curb global warming.

And the agency's critique underscored concern about the bridge's health effects on poor and racial minorities living nearby, and its impact on children living or attending school near the I-5 - subjects receiving less public attention.

"There was no indication (in the CRC environmental impact statement) of how these vulnerable populations might be impacted by air pollution, noise, diesel construction vehicles and increased traffic," the EPA wrote.

EPA's letter, dated July 1 and addressed to federal highway and mass transit officials managing the CRC project, surfaced Thursday as the bridge won conditional endorsement from a panel of 17 regional leaders. The panel, which controls spending of federal transportation money in the region, includes the mayors of Vancouver, Beaverton, Milwaukie, and Troutdale; three councilors of the Metro regional planning agency; Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams and Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler.

As momentum on the new bridge picks up, it's unclear what effect EPA's assessments will have.

Tom Buchele, a Lewis & Clark law professor representing some critics of the project, said it would take years for the highway planners to address EPA's concerns. He called EPA's assessment "a pretty low grade."

"They can fix it," he said, "but there's a lot of new analysis EPA is asking for."

A key EPA concern centers on the Troutdale Sole Source Aquifer, which extends beneath the Columbia River and supplies 99 percent of Clark County's residents with drinking water. But bridge planners did not examine whether bridge pilings would intrude into water channels within the aquifer, bringing contaminated sections of the aquifer into contact with clean ones, the EPA found.

Air pollution and sprawl are also federal worries.

The CRC's analysis "focuses on emissions trends that are not influenced by the project," EPA writes, and ignore wind, weather and proximity of people to bridge emissions. Those projections also assume a future that features cleaner-burning cars.

The CRC staff had assumed a 12-lane toll bridge would not promote housing or job growth in the I-5 corridor, The Oregonian has reported. In its environmental impact statement, the CRC had concluded land use controls now in place could keep sprawl -and side effects such pollution - in check.

The EPA disagrees.

"Roadway expansion of this magnitude, even with tolls and transit, may stimulate travel demand for use of privately owned vehicles and may contribute to pressures for dispersed development," the letter says, referring to sprawl.

The EPA raises concern that construction noise and vibration could kill or hurt fish if it's too loud. Endangered Steller Sea Lions and 13 species of endangered or threatened fish are found in the Columbia River. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which has responsibility for protecting such animals, did not meet a July 1 deadline to comment on CRC's assessment of the bridge's impact on fish.

Fisheries Service officials on Thursday said they will have their comments will be finished in a few weeks.

Dylan Rivera: 503-221-8532; For environment news, go to:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Public Policy?

After reading the unanimous approval of the new Columbia River Crossing replacement bridge project, in which a team of so-called 'experts' have been at work for several years now pushing a proposal for a new bridge across the Columbia River for I-5 between Portland and Vancouver, Washington... I must say, I'm not really surprised anymore.

I would just like to ask the government officials exactly what the point of all this 'stuff' is - and by stuff, I mean infrastructure: sewers, roads, transit, schools, hospitals, parks, bridges, and the like. I mean... we're in the middle of a massive population boom in the state of Oregon right now, but noone really has been able to grasp or direct any energy at, or articulating a vision, at what our region - and our cities - are going to become.

At the same time, with plans on spending billions of dollars on new bridges, light rail, freeways, and schools, it seems like the political process is the dominant force for directing all this work. Unfortunately, many people have a conflicting vision of what we'd like our city, our state, our homes to become.

The new mayor promotes cycling, then votes on a new bridge. Our governor calls for people to bike to work - then practices it just once, as if bicycling one day out of the year will really make much of a difference. What happened to action? What happened to backing up your talk with action, and real money? To me it seems like the classic bait and switch, calling on the progressive vote with false promise of change, only to spend money on the big-ticket 1960s-era infrastructure projects.

And as I last noted, we probably won't even need any of it. Especially now considering how much press and popularity alternative modes of transportation are getting, for instance.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Vacation Time!

It's been a long time, but I'm finally getting around to some more travel time. I suppose that my two days in Seattle last spring break counted as well, but this time I'll be in San Francisco for five days - a city I haven't visited since I was 12. Yes, I really don't get out that much. Definitely looking forward to some nice R&R - and visiting friends I haven't seen in a long time!

Should be interesting to see a real city for a change - and there is a lot of stuff to see as well!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Rethinking the City

So with the way gas prices and vehicle sales are going (see previous post), what does the future hold? Are we just going to continue as usual, but simply downsize our cars, switching to Smarts, scooters, and electrics? Or, as the city of Portland has been pursuing for the past several decades, are we going to start truly molding our cities' urban development patterns?

Of particular importance is the zoning system that has been in place in America for much of this century. Yes, that oh-so-Modern ideal of separation of function; discreet places for home, work, school, and shopping. Aside from the urban cores, like New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and all the others, the newer "cities" are dominated by suburban development patterns that preclude organic development and placement of different uses in close proximity. In other words, nothing is within walking or bicycling distance of each other.

The Overhead Wire has an excellent post on the topic, in regards to laying out a comprehensive transportation service to support such a mixed-use city. Think... New York, Paris, Barcelona, or Tokyo: a dense network of underground rail lines that can quickly whisk you between different sectors in a city.

This differs from the normal system of city center & suburban residential districts that dominated American metropolitan development patterns of the 19th century, however. In fact, a frequent, high capacity transit system will in fact promote mixed use high density development, as it allows people to live without relying on cars - which are a phenomenal waste of land. Not to mention expensive, too.

The Romance is Over

...or, the dominance of the SUV in America is about to end. No big surprise that large, inefficient vehicle sales are down - 55% for Ford alone.

By comparison, Ford's largest SUV, the Expedition, gets 12 miles per gallon in the city and 18 on the highway.

George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said retail -- or non-fleet -- sales of passenger cars exceeded those of trucks and sport-utility vehicles combined for the first time in at least 20 years.

Interesting CIBC report predicting $7/gallon gas within 2 years, among other things:

As gasoline prices climb inexorably, American driving habits are going to have to undergo a massive change, mimicking the driving habits long adopted by Europeans who have faced much higher gas prices.

Over the next four years, we are likely to witness the greatest mass exodus of vehicles off America’s highways in history.

CIBC Report

*The CIBC World Markets is the investment subsidiary of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce... not exactly a "looney left" group of hippies claiming doomsday scenarios.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Architectural Interviews

Gotta watch - should be interesting:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Just add water: overnight megacities

Very interesting article regarding instant mega-cities pop up literally overnight. How do we design for them? How do we do planning? How do you build? What precedents do you borrow from, and what cultural relevance do they hold... if any?

Check it out over at the

image of construction on the Burj Dubai, expected to top out at 2,650 ft

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The size of living

So I was just talking to my friend Stephanie the other day and she asked me if I am a big or small house person. The question really caught me off guard - not that I haven't thought about the concept before, being an architecture student and all, but I suppose that I haven't really been confronted by what I will term the ideology of the Big.

Just like a fast-food supersized meal, large houses, such as the McMansion pictured to the left, remind me of all that is inefficient and wrong with the stereotypified American dwelling. Perhaps antithetical to Heidegger's philosophy of dwelling, in which the square footage, number of rooms, and objectively identifiable "features" of a building - in this case, the detached single family dwelling - are objectified. External amenities - such as views and the neighborhood in which it resides - further perpetuate this disassociation of yourself from Being.

The ideology of the big is the commodification of the dwelling, changing the traditional view of the residential unit from a home, with cultural and familial relevance, to that of the primary investment unit of the middle class. In California, they ask you what car you drive. Here, they ask you what house you own. In this, it reflects the domination of the consumerist society inherent in our society... what happens when ideas of art and function give way to a detachment of any emotional or humanistic values we might find in our homes.

Kind of scary - it seems like the opposite of Modernism, where the people become the machines, and the buildings become a mockery of the cultural landscape that becomes swallowed up by the vagaraties of the construction industry as it caters to mere aesthetic whim spread on the toasty balloon frame of bloated square footage.

Coming from a background in which I grew up in a large, open floor-planned house set high on a hill in the countryside, I suppose that my idea of space is much different than the average American. I even lived in a sub-200 sq ft apartment in NW Portland, the bane of many a suburbanite! What I found, interestingly, is that I am only able to occupy so much space, which becomes a sort of dwelling space for myself. Beyond this zone of freedom, an extension of my being, is left over, empty space. If I lived in a shared house with roommates, this communal space becomes shared and a much used area for congregating, eating, entertaining, and so on. If I lived alone in a house - I'm not sure what it would become. Thoughts of the bachelor living in a 100 room mansion come to mind, space lost and forgotten to the owner...

In any event, I found more and more that I wish to mold my primary spaces into as compact and efficient for my needs as possible, to keep everything accessible, and also to reflect my own personal tastes - from the amount of natural light, to the height of the bookshelves and accessibility of my computer workstation and kitchen utensils - as I can.

I loathe the idea of extra rooms for no purpose but to be extra rooms. Like my father's concept of wealth: "to have more rooms in your house than you can occupy, leaving them empty in your house."

After my trip in Europe, with its densely compacted villages perched picturesquely on the hillsides, I find that I simply prefer small living.

And this doesn't even touch on the cost.
Small living in 117 square feet ^^^

Monday, May 12, 2008

This just in...

Oregon has seen a reduction in miles driven to 2005 levels, transit usage in Portland is up 2.6% this quarter over last year, and of course burning less gas.

Read it at Oreognlive.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

pure awesomeness

In other words, epic:

Obama tours Oregon

Article in the local paper today talks about his two-day tour of Oregon. Interestingly, it looks as though this primary race will last till the very end - and my state will actually have some relevance. Obama, as usual, had some very intelligent things to say about the current fuel and energy issue we have (I'd call it a crisis, but that implies that it is a temporary phenomenon).

"We can't all be driving Chevy Suburbans at eight miles per gallon," Obama said. "That's no slight against Chevys," he quickly added, "because I want us to drive American-made cars" -- but they need to be built to get better gas mileage.

He said the Arizona senator opposed a windfall profit tax on oil companies, and he called McCain's proposal for a summerlong break from federal gas taxes "a stunt."

"This is a bad idea. I don't care how it polls," he said.

"We've been talking about high prices at the pump and our dependence on foreign oil since the gas lines of the 1970s," Obama said. "We've been talking about our environmental problems for even longer. And yet here we are, all these decades later -- and the only thing that's changed is that we're even more dependent on foreign oil."

This is pretty amazing that he can take the logical, tempered view like this - it is such a stark change from the other candidates approach in politicizing these these very real issues (not to mention Bush's "head in the sand" policies) that are not simply going to go away by claiming to give away tax-free gas. As if that would solve anything anyways.

In other news, mass transit usage is up, largely because of gas prices.

“In almost every transit system I talk to, we’re seeing very high rates of growth the last few months,” said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

“It’s very clear that a significant portion of the increase in transit use is directly caused by people who are looking for alternatives to paying $3.50 a gallon for gas.”

Anything to help break the cycle of addiction to the automobile.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Transportation in America

Some good news about America's infrastructure, for a change. The freight railroad system in America is expanding with billions of dollars of private investment, as freight is being shifted from truck to the vastly more energy efficient rail system.

This year alone, the railroads will spend nearly $10 billion to add track, build switchyards and terminals, and open tunnels to handle the coming flood of traffic. Freight rail tonnage will rise nearly 90 percent by 2035, according to the Transportation Department.

Now if we could only get some more passenger rail! Here in Portland, we've got the new Westside Express commuter rail line to open at the end of the year, and another commuter rail line - to link Newberg or perhaps McMinnville (small towns of 20,000 and 30,000, respectively) to Beaverton (which has a light rail line that connects to downtown Portland.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Decline of America

The $20 hourly wage, introduced on a huge scale in the middle of the last century, allowed masses of Americans with no more than a high school education to rise to the middle class. It was a marker, of sorts. And it is on its way to extinction.

Two very interesting articles in the NYtimes today - one regarding the decline of the middle class and the $20/hour wage, and the other regarding the fact that the US has the highest dropout rate of almost any industrialized country in the world - roughly 1/3 of all high schoolers dropout.

Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education.

When two-thirds of all teenagers old enough to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work, the nation is doing something awfully wrong.

It's no wonder that we have the largest disparity in wealth distribution in the world, and that the US suffered the largest growth in poverty of any nation in the world over the past 8 years.

Of course, its not like we entered the Bush Admin's era in the best of shape. Globalization and favorable tax policies for the wealthy had shifted the vast majority of wealth to the very wealthiest to begin with - but we've been seeing the bottom fall out over low-income and middle class wages over the past 8 years.

I don't even want to touch on the trillions spent on Iraq to date, and what that money could have been spent on.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Old bikes rule!

I am really digging the old vintage styled classic 1950s-era English bikes. Even found one on Craigslist in Portland - although I'm not sure if I would ever want to service one, apparently it can be a real pain.

Although with companies like Bianchi offering retro versions of these, and new internally-geared hubs offering between 8 and 14 gears, maybe its just time to bring the urban bike renaissance to fruition!

US doesn't have the highest debt rate!

I thought we had it bad. But apparently not - in the UK, personal debt exceeds their GDP!

I guess if we're going down, Britain will be even worse...

The future really is here

Cows are back, and better than ever. Remember Mad Max: Return to Thunderdrome?

That's right folks, we're already collecting methane from livestock manure to generate energy - although it also has a positive effect of eliminating one of the worst causes of global warming gases, that of animal-generated methane.

Seen on Inhabitat:

The manure from the cows in the article are from a dairy farm, not for meat consumption. So even if every US citizen became a vegetarian, everyone in the US would have to give up milk and we would have to kill every cow in the US to otherwise eliminate methane released into the atmosphere from cows in the US.

There is a lot of cow manure that is generated in the US, and it has a severe impact on global warming: dairy farms in California produce more greenhouse gas emissions than every car in the LA metropolitan area. This is largely because molecule per molecule, Methane is 21 TIMES more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. Thus, eliminating 1 pound of methane gas from the atmosphere eliminates the equivalent of 21 pounds of CO2. If all you do is burn that Methane and release the CO2 into the atmosphere, it will eliminated 95% of the greenhouse gas effect!

Frat boys have nothing on bovines, as it's estimated that a single cow can belch out anywhere from 25 to 130 gallons of methane a day.

Additionally, all this Methane is generated from food and grass, which grabbed its carbon from the atmosphere anyway. So it is carbon neutral - except for the small amount of oil that is used as pesticides/herbicides/fertilizer in growing the corn. However, that is already a sunk cost, as Americans consume a lot of milk.

"Livestock are responsible for 18% of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, according to the U.N. -- more than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet."

See source:'s_Long_Shadow

Pretty bad:

Also, total happiness:

Saturday, March 15, 2008


...are not so final. Oh, but the joys of designing!

see my other blog for details on this past term of architecture studio... once I finally finish updating it.

sneak peak:

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Trains rule in Iraq

This is crazy. I had no idea the Iraqis had passenger rail service only 2 weeks after we overthrew Saddam - and recently reopened a new major line between Baghdad and Basra.

Apparently it is also the most secure method of travelling in this violence-wracked nation:

Passengers are searched before boarding the train and the railway company's guards in blue uniforms patrol the carriages.

"When the train goes by, people feel safe and feel that things are going back to how they were," said Colonel Ali al-Tamimi, the railway company's head of security.

And apparently gives the people a semblance of a modern, non-sectarian society - something they have been ironically missing since the invasion by US forces and the subsequent rise of sectarian violence:

"The railways are for all of us ... Do you think passengers declare their sect when they get on the train?"

Women jiggled children on their knees and men chatted as the gleaming carriages pulled away from a spotless Baghdad platform, a picture of cleanliness and order in a country racked by chaos.
"Truth be told, we never really stopped the service," said Hashem. "Even when the situation was at its most dangerous, we kept going. It's our job."

Here's hoping...

The housing bubble: the beginning of a new era is already here

Sometimes you can just be too close to the flames to see the fire.

For several years now, doomsday theorists have been predicting the fall of suburbia as the "age of cheap oil comes to an end." The theory went that edge city housing stock in the exurbs would be the first to become devalued, as its only actual value relied on its newness and affordability for the original buyers, while still being within commuting distance to (most likely suburban) job centers.

However, this could already be happening. In an article by Christopher Leinberger brings to light the fallout of the subprime housing bubble. As housing values around the nation fall - and gas inches towards $4 a gallon - perhaps we have been too myopic: the predictions of the peak oil theorists may already be well in motion.

What connects the two is that housing values are falling the most in the outermost suburban ring - the latest tracts of land to be developed on the traditional suburban model. As has always been the case, suburban tract housing has been marketed to the middle class home buyer as the affordable housing option: big yards, big garages, lots of bedrooms.

It is unsurprising, then, that the subprime mortgage bubble - which helped those who were on the margins of being able to qualify for a mortgage, at best - would affect those most likely to purchase homes in these exurban areas.

By comparison, housing prices in centralized urban areas with actual employment centers have stayed much steadier. Portland and Seattle are the two leading cities in the USA for being the least hit by the bubble bursting - although we must not overestimate the degree to which "flippers" and speculative investment has played a part.

Although not very prevalent in Portland to nearly the degree as witnessed in other major cities, there has been an almost insane amount of appreciation in home values, particularly California. However, they are not facing the crash that the exurban areas are facing - there is still a massive demand for housing in this country, after all (the United States population is still increasing, after all).

credits to the Overhead Wire for the Atlantic story

Architectural Criticism

This is an awesome article, which holds tremendous relevancy in today's world of post-modern "cities" - it seems that we are so out of touch, so insular in our approach to the built and experienced environment, by focusing on individual projects we are in many ways losing scope of what really matters.

No surprise that many people are heralding the landscape architect as someone who really holds influence - as isn't that what we are making? Cities exist somewhere, in a landscape, an environment; the spaghetti-noodle twist of freeway ramps mixed with parks, farms, and tracts of houses, interspersed with pockets of urbanism; downtowns, shopping malls, and main streets, all interwoven together that is experienced not as separate and discreet moments, but as a continuous terrain in which we move and dwell.

Thus, criticize we must - and nothing should be safe from our sights. Of course, there is nothing wrong with delving into the deeper philosophical and academic insights in the better projects that are built - and indeed, they offer a sort of 'grand-prix' of the architectural world - but recognition that the other dreck of the modern city must also come under scrutiny. Thankfully, organizations like Portland's design review commission and the Congress of the New Urbanism exist, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Building Blog

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Corruption in the Bush Admin?

Not exactly much of a surprise, but watching this video... wow. Just wow. We need to be dragging them straight to court on this one: Bush Administration and his Attorney General appointees in Alabama targeted a highly successful Democrat Governor and barely get him convicted of "bribery." Politics as usual? I suggest watching the video for yourself.

Spotted on BlueOregon.

Flash Mob PDX!

This is awesome - wish I could have been there, or even been a part of it!

Oh well. Youtube video has to suffice...

They did this too, back in 2006

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse!

...was awesome last night. Pic from oregonlive:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Aah, the SUV driver...

Oldie but goodie article, definitely worth a read (its from 2002).
Not surprisingly, most SUV customers over the past decade hail from a group that is the embodiment of American narcissism: baby boomers. Affluent and often socially liberal, baby boomers have embraced the four-wheel-drive SUV as a symbol of their ability to defy the conventions of old age, of their independence and "outdoorsiness," making the off-road vehicle a force to be reckoned with on the American blacktop. In their attempt to appear youthful and hip, SUV owners have filled the American highways with vehicles that exact a distinctly human cost, frequently killing innocent drivers who would have survived a collision with a lesser vehicle. Bradsher quotes auto execs who concede that the self-centered lifestyle of SUV buyers is apparent in "their willingness to endanger other motorists so as to achieve small improvements in their personal safety."

Good quotes too:
The occupant death rate in SUVs is 6 percent higher than it is for cars -- 8 percent higher in the largest SUVs. The main reason is that SUVs carry a high risk of rollover; 62 percent of SUV deaths in 2000 occurred in rollover accidents.

Ironically, SUVs are particularly dangerous for children, whose safety is often the rationale for buying them in the first place. Because these beasts are so big and hard to see around (and often equipped with dark-tinted glass that's illegal in cars), SUV drivers have a troubling tendency to run over their own kids. Just recently, in October, a wealthy Long Island doctor made headlines after he ran over and killed his 2-year-old in the driveway with his BMW X5. He told police he thought he'd hit the curb.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Senate protects spying!

Wow - just read this on the Nytimes today - the Senate passed a bill that grants full immunity from any lawsuit against a telecommunications company that aided the government in spying under Bush's unconstitutional wiretapping program.

Democrats and Republicans alike pushed versions of the bill forward to protect these huge corporations (such as AT&T) from any actual responsibility for their actions, which in one case involved allowing the NSA to directly tap their network backbones to filter and tap their traffic.

Monday, February 4, 2008

New sustainable energy source?

Spotted on inhabitat:

harvesting kinetic energy from raindrops.

Say what? Interestingly, this would be great for Oregon, with our steady, constant rains.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Flash Mob - Grand Central NYC

Outstanding flash mob in Manhattan! Gotta love these staged events, wish PICA would do something more along these lines...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Found: Movies!

New Gus Van Sant movie trailer! Shot in Portland, it doesn't even hide which city it takes place in...

via Mercury's Blogtown

Saturday, January 5, 2008

CheatNeutral: Carbon Offsetting for Dummies

A roundabout, yet quite illustrative reasoning as to how carbon offsetting fails the 'common sense' test. Enjoy - via inhabitat:

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Grid and the River

Just got wind of a new hotel renovation project along Naito Parkway in downtown Portland today, and one of the forum posters brought up an interesting question: why does Naito, which fronts one of the best urban parks in the world, suck so much? There is practically no active street frontage (shops, doorways, etc) in use, and in fact hosts a lot of "backsides" to buildings, as well as parking garages and bridge on-ramps.

Well, then it hit me... this is not just an isolated phenomenon in Portland; in fact, it is so typical of Portland architecture. Our built environment largely consists of historic houses of an imported style, and places like South Waterfront was gridded off like the rest of the city, instead of actually responding to the water. Result? Cool urban environment, nice parks, but little interconnectivity between the two. "City in a bottle" or "oasis park in a city" are true descriptors, and unfortunately there is hardly any blurring of the edges.

In a way, it reminds me of Amsterdam... except that their little islands are already man-made and have a very artificial feeling to them, whereas we find a lot of soft-edged natural places still within the city limits - Forest Park and Ross Island come to mind (Swan Island, on the other hand, has totally given way to artificiality).

SoWa was a totally lost opportunity to finally break the grid and try something new - it would have offered developers a more flexible site to deal with, as well as architecture that could respond to the river more (say, a long and thing building). As it is, they're stuck with the same blocky 200' x 200' blocks like anywhere else in Portland. Where's the uniqueness? Just having a view doesn't make it all that special - even houses in "South Portland" and the West Hills have views.