urbanter

Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Hon. Rodney Slater Talk at the Stanford “Transportation 2025 and Beyond” Event

On March 13, 2014 Honorable Rodney Slater, former US Secretary of Transportation during the Clinton Administration (in office 1997 – 2001), addressed the policies and innovations behind the present transformation of America’s transportation systems, and the leadership that will be required to finish the job. Secretary Slater offered historical perspective from his executive roles at the Federal Highway Administration and Department of Transportation (DOT), during which, among other significant developments, key public-private partnerships and cohesive visions of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) emerged. Now an advisor to current national transportation leaders, major corporations, state governments and international organizations, Secretary Slater shared his perspective on key developments over recent years and the opportunities and challenges ahead as new innovations continue to transform America’s transportation landscape towards 2025 and beyond.
“Transportation 2025 and Beyond” was co-hosted by the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. The event was recorded by Labiba Boyd, and the audio was edited by Ma’ayan Dembo, both representing KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM.

Rally at Highway 1 to Stop the Widening Saturday March 29, 11:00 -12:00pm

Point person: Cynthia Kaufman— kaufman.cynthia13@riseup.net  650.557.9797
 
On March 29 at 11:00 at the corner of Highway 1 and Rockaway Beach Avenue, Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives (PH1A) will be rallying to inform the citizens of Pacifica about the Caltrans plan to double the width of Highway 1 between Reina del Mar and Fassler. 
The group has been engaging the public in front of shops and going door to door. They have found overwhelming opposition to the project.
 
The volunteers are asking for signatures on a petition that reads:
“To the Pacifica City Council: The Caltrans plan to widen Highway 1 is not good for Pacifica. It will cause more problems than it will solve. I support pursuing a combination of alternatives that can improve traffic congestion on Highway 1 and that will be less damaging to Pacifica.”
PH1A opposes the plan for a number of reasons:  The present plan from Caltrans is vague and does not address the needs for safe pedestrian crossing at these crucial sites; it does not have good bicycle lanes. The plan calls for huge retaining walls and does not rule out the possibility of sound walls blocking coastal views. In short, it will destroy some of Pacifica’s unique beauty and our quality of life.
Moreover, the plan seems destined not to reduce traffic in the long range but to increase it, since 4 lanes would go to 6 lanes and then back to 4 – permanent bottlenecks. The increased traffic during years of construction will generate more traffic congestion, as well as air and noise pollution. Most likely, it will never lead to shortened traffic after that multi-year process.
 
PH1A has been organizing for over a year to get the Pacifica City Council to hold public hearings on the proposed widening of Highway 1. So far the city has not acted, and the plan is moving forward, with Caltrans taking the lead. PH1A also wants City Council to hire a traffic consultant to investigate what alternatives would be best for Pacifica. The group has already suggested synchronization of the lights, more resources for carpooling by the schools, better public transportation, and other alternatives that are better for pedestrians and bicycles, more likely to reduce traffic, less massive, and less invasive to the lives of Pacificans.
If you’d like to volunteer or for more information, please contact PH1A email ph1a@gmail.com or visit http://ph1a-pacifica.weebly.com

Ma’ayan Dembo: Abstract for Senior Capstone Project

Even though Hip-Hop graffiti first surfaced 45 years ago, city governments still struggle to come up with policies to address it. While researchers have discussed the negative, unintended consequences of city policies regarding graffiti/street art, none have explored the implications of these laws on the content and processes of the artists.  To do so, an international study was chosen between San Francisco, California, and Berlin, Germany, due to graffiti’s ubiquitous nature today. By looking at different countries, unique cultural and historic factors can be highlighted that affect the consistent core characteristics of this global movement. Both Berlin and San Francisco have had a thriving graffiti culture for over thirty years, and each city has differences in their regulatory approach.

Interviews with artists (ranging from traditional muralists, taggers, wheatpasters, stickerers, and chalk artists) were the best research method. Artists seldom have an opportunity to be in dialogue with city policies, and have to maintain anonymity due to the illegal nature of their work. Artists gave descriptive answers to the open ended questions that allowed common themes to be drawn across, or within, each city. While in San Francisco, artists were recruited through snowball sampling, in Berlin, artists were selected through a different process. I contacted subjects by recording signed works throughout the city and finding the corresponding email addresses or social media accounts. Berlin required a different sampling methodology because there were fewer initial contacts there than in San Francisco. Eleven artists from Berlin and ten artists from San Francisco were interviewed, all focusing in a variety of media. To gain perspective from the city’s side, one representative of the San Francisco Arts Commission was interview, and the Berlin Anti-Graffiti task force referred me to a series of documents outlining Berlin’s stance towards vandalism and street art.

In both San Francisco and Berlin, cultural and historical factors largely explain where graffiti/street artists’ prefer to create their works. While Berlin’s policies and programs also contribute to these artists’ spatial preferences, San Francisco’s robust programs have little influence on artists. In San Francisco, the majority of artists interviewed created works in alleyways, while most Berlin artists mentioned painting in abandoned buildings. These differing spatial preferences in turn inform each city’s scale and content of artists’ pieces, as well as potential barriers to creating legal works for younger artists. San Francisco’s artists focused more on creating works that were relevant, or at least acknowledged, the community. Local artists worked on a smaller scale, preventing them from painting many of the city’s large-scale works. Moreover in San Francisco there are greater barriers to making legal pieces for younger artists due to the lack of free space available for experimentation. In Berlin, artists did not have the same connection to the community in San Francisco because their preferred spaces– abandoned buildings– are outside of the public eye. Berlin artists, though, have more access to larger surfaces and thus are experienced at painting large murals. In addition, by painting in abandoned buildings, Berlin artists can paint on the same scale as San Francisco artists, but have more opportunities to play with the architecture and niches of a specific space. Finally, in Berlin, making legal works is easier since there is an abundance of empty and secluded wall space, as well as many legal Halls of Fame.

In 2014, graffiti is 45 years old– having already started a family and now raising children, it’s viewing the world through a different lens. In a similar life stage, traditional muralism is witnessing younger generations using its techniques and modifying the content and purpose of their works. Graffiti/street art forms are being re-defined right now, and cities must critically evaluate the laws they put in place regarding these urban art forms to fully understand both the consequences and the implications of these policies.

Ma’ayan Dembo: Studies on Public Spaces

In 1969, William Whyte began a massive research project alongside the New York City Planning Commission. His goal– to observe and document how people interact with themselves, each other, and space in the setting of urban areas, plazas, and parks. Called ‘The Street Life Project’, Whyte and his team of researchers took to the streets with video cameras, still cameras, and notebooks for documentation. Whyte was one of the first researchers to research pedestrian behavioral phenomena in an objective and measurable way in part by using new modern technologies. 

 

In 2009, Keith Hampton saw current modern technologies as perhaps alienating today’s social interactions. Converting roughly 3,273 reels of Whyte’s original footage into a digital format, Hampton chose sites in three cities– New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston– that had the best footage and conditions allowed for replication (i.e. the sites still existed today). 

Between 2008 and 2010, Hampton’s team collected and analyzed roughly 38 hours of film– coding individuals and interactions based on sex, group size, “loitering”, and phone use. Overall, the study showed a lower amount of texting and phone use than expected. Moreover, phone users tended to be alone instead of in groups. To the researchers, phone use was prevalent if individuals were passing time while waiting for someone, or as a way to enjoy a solo lunch break. 

Moreover, the study showed that today there is a significantly higher proportion of females in public urban settings in relation to men. The only place where females decreased proportionally? Boston’s Downtown crossing– a major shopping hub in the city. As Hampton said in a recent New York Times article, “The decline in women within this setting could be interpreted as a shift in gender roles… [men seem to be] taking on an activity that was traditionally regarded as feminine”.

While Hampton set out to see how modern technologies are shaping human interaction, he found a completely different narrative. Today’s cities are not shaped by loneliness or ubiquitous connectivity, rather we see more gender equity.

 

 

For more information on the Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit planning, design, and educational organization expanding on the work of William Whyte, visit: http://www.pps.org

Ma’ayan Dembo: Reclaiming Public Spaces for the Public

Shortly after the American mass urbanization, city streets became infested with parking lots and spaces– great spans of pavement that have negative impacts on our environment (heat, run-off, etc). Recently, there has been a new initiative throughout many cities all over the world to convert some of these parking spaces into parklets in efforts to create a more livable urban environment. Spearheaded by the San Francisco Planning Department, in 2010 the first parklet was installed, with 38 more by the end of 2012. Parklets have been created along major thoroughfares, especially along the Valencia, Divisadero, and Columbus corridors.

Parklets repurpose street space to achieve greater utilitarian goals. These parklets also represent a wonderful public-private partnership– processes are expedited by city partnership, but funded mainly through residents, business owners, and community organizations. Moreover, achieving egalitarian goals, these parklets are open to the public and require no purchase necessary. Parklets accomplish four main goals: they reimagine the potential of city streets, encourage non-motorized transportation, encourage pedestrian activity, and support local businesses. These parklets are an ingenious and inexpensive way to turn ordinary streets into cozy and warmer public spaces.

If you have an under used space in mind by your house or in your community, check out the Pavement to Parks manual on the SFDP website for more information and ideas.

Philadelphia Planning Week 7 (Nick)

This week was the end of the Mayor’s Internship Program (not of my internship placement though). It was an amazing journey and a great end to the program. There were about 100 people in attendance from across the different departments to see the 10 presentations. All the work that my group put in to the paper and presentation really paid off, as we were received quite well by the audience and people had some great questions to ask as well. Here is a summary of what we learned and the presentation.

Our project was to do analysis on the economic revitalization process of the Germantown, Broad, and Erie commercial corridor in North Philadelphia. The goals were to assist with the preparation of a festival that the commerce department is heading in the area, to reassess the Mater Plan laid out for the area in 2010, and to give suggestions for future action by the city for the corridor and district in the future. We gave some context to the project by talking about the Lower North District which I had learned a lot about for the public meetings. I talked about the loss of industry in the district and the extreme loss of population between 1960 and today (250,000 people in 1960 to 95,000 in the 2010 census). We also talked about what some of the primary landmarks in the area are which included the SEPTA (transit network of South East PA) subway station and the Temple University Hospital. Then we went on to talk about what progress has been made in the corridor and what problems still exist. We also gave suggestions to the city on how to move forward in addressing the issues. We used a phrase that we learned from the head of the Dept. of Commerce, which was that it is not the the business of the government to create jobs, but to create the environment for job creation (someone stood up and started clapping when we mentioned that). We suggested that the city should fix broken sidewalks and trim trees as they would elsewhere, but their primary role in improving the commercial corridor and surrounding community would be to support the efforts of the newly formed business owners association and to help residents and business owners take more ownership of their neighborhood. 

For more information on the project there is a link to the presentation below. I will also try to figure out how to put in the paper for my final blog post.

http://www.phila.gov/experiencephila/pdfs/GermantownErieCommericalCorridorWP_pres.pdf

I also learned a lot about presenting and presentation making. We used a software called Prezi which I had never used before, but not feel quite comfortable using. It can make professional quality presentations while having an engaging format. The slides above are not how it would be presented, but I thin that people really liked it at the presentation. I also learned about the importance of professional presenting. We stood at a podium and had people in the room who had no clue what we were talking about, and our mission was to bring them up to speed quickly so that we could also go more in depth for the people who we had been working with the entire time. We also had to field questions that were extremely engaging, but answer concisely and with a political mindset. I think that it got me out of my comfort zone and helped me grow.

v My group looking snazzy for presentations in front of the seal of Philadelphia

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v My group standing with Dr. Stanford, out supervisor for the Economic Revitalization project from Commerce

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v Me Presenting for my group

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We got to chat with the Mayor afterwards and he let us ask questions and asked us where we were from and if we were gonna stay in the city, and work in Philadelphia city government. I asked Mayor Nutter about frustrations he had with the job and where he felt restricted by the position. I hope to one day go into Philadelphia city politics, so I was interested in how I could prepare myself, and at what level, does the power to change things get limited by politics. He seemed to like the question, and talk more freely about it than with most of the other questions. He explained that the job is not easy, but that it is rewarding. I also asked him about his initiatives for the city and how they seem to not only be moving the city forward, but fixing the issues that past administrations had kicked down the road. He seemed happy to hear that I noticed that, because that was his plan. He wanted to bring a professionalism and passion to city government and that meant taking on as much of a challenge as possible, and rising to it without excuses. Nobody is perfect, but when it matters, I think Mayor Nutter tries to get as close to perfect as possible and sets the example for the rest of the city.

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This program was a great experience, and I move forward with new confidence in myself, new skills, and an invigorated passion to lead the change I want to see. As I finish up my internship I will miss meeting with other students every Friday to explore government, and I will miss working on the engaging group project which brought together so much learning and experience into one package.

v My fellow City Planning Commission interns through the Mayor’s Internship Program, Nabilla and Andreas

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Next week is my last week working at the Planning Commission, so till next time i leave you with my fellow group members being silly, Nick out.

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Philadelphia Planning Week 6 (Nick)

Another great week in Philadelphia. Things are really settling in, but remain interesting. I have been having fun working through the rezoning research and have been working on the central district of Philadelphia, more specifically the Northern Liberties area, and see how much work is needed to finish the full city zoning overhaul. I have also been spending a lot of time in the development section of the Planning Commission where people come in to get their development plans checked out in order to go through an approval process. The people on the development side seem extremely energetic and personable, which makes sense since they handle people’s plans and questions every day. The perspective I have gained working in development is what projects are actually being build in the city, what are the major challenges, and where bureaucracy succeeds and where it may need some work. Having people go through plans is great because even though there is a possibility for human error, there is an ability to understand circumstance and help to direct citizens through a long and pretty complicated process. There was also a cool moment when I realized that the government is thinking into the future with development through the future flood plan parameters used in the approval process. Development needs to meet certain standards if it is going to be built in the hundred or five-hundred year flood plane. It made me happy to realize that our government is thinking about the long term.

The new things that made there way into my summer experience were another Lower North District public meeting of a different variety than last week, Getting together our final presentation for the Mayor’s Internship Program, and going to see a Phillies game with MIP in the Mayor’s Box.

The public meeting this week took place at Cruz Recreation Center on the other side of the Lower North district than the meeting last week to get more input and from different communities within the district. This meeting was extremely well organized and also very productive. In contrast to the previous week’s meeting (also posted), this meeting was not as well attended (about 80 people), but in a good way that people were able to give back much more and better feedback and were able to learn a lot more about the planning process and what we could do for them. This meeting also had a presentation for people to get a broad overview and have a forum to ask questions and hear from others as well. Another major difference this time was that the weather was far more mild, which kept people a little more cool. So all in all, the meeting went extremely well. BUT! Nothing is perfect and I think it would be very valuable to talk about some other differences between the meetings. One was that this meeting took place right in between what would be considered a gentrified or gentrifying White neighborhood and a much less affluent, mostly Black and Hispanic area of the district. The community that seemed to come to this meeting in force was the more affluent one. While this in itself is not a problem because the meetings are meant to get the opinions of many populations in the district, this meeting (one of three) may have majorly skewed the data and understanding of life in the districts and the wants and needs of the many communities that inhabit the area. If the planning commission acts on the data acquired from this meeting, then the issues that would be addressed would be far off the target of the primary issues in the district. Luckily, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission understands the differences in different parts of the district and when people come they are asked to put a dot on a map of where they live. So there are some controls in place. It just lessens the significance of the data collected at this meeting as it pertains to the district as a whole. Never the less, it was a productive meeting and I could see people engaging critically with the planning process which was very exciting.

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My Supervisor Andy! (below)

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For the Mayor’s Internship Program, the summer is wrapping up and we are preparing to present our summer economic redevelopment project to members and heads of many departments in the city as well as to our supervisors in Commerce. We are tasked with writing a paper detailing the conclusion of our work and preparing a 10 minute presentation. Although these sound like relatively simple tasks, especially for college students who have to crank out a paper or presentation every week, it is hard to get 10 individuals to agree on things and work together efficiently and effectively on 2 deliverables. The group really gets along well at this point in the summer, so I have faith it will turn out well, it is just taking a long time to synthesize all of the thoughts, experiences, and knowledge of the group. I will let you know how it all goes next week. Knock on wood!

Finally, this week had a fun twist as MIP went to see the Phillies game in the Mayor’s box. It was a blast to get to hang with members of the program outside of a business context and outside of business clothes. Phillies have not been doing too hot lately… so the conclusion of the game was somewhat anti-climactic, but the experience i what matters, and t is why even when the team is doing poorly, the games are still full of people (granted much less than a few years ago). I would have liked to meet with the rest of the program like this earlier in the summer. It was fun, but I also feel like I networked by getting to know people more organically and sharing a fun experience. I will suggest that they do more social outings in the future.

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Until next week, wish me luck on our presentation and paper.

Nick

Philadelphia Planning Week 5 (Nick)

This week was another thrilling week at the Planning Commission and with the Mayor’s Internship Program. The highlights of the week were The first Lower North District public meeting at MLK Jr. Recreation Center and a trip to the Philadelphia International Airport to talk to some major players in transportation in the city.

The Airport panel was comprised of the CEO of the airport, one of the major players in the Airport renovations going on, and the head of the Streets Department. I learned a ton about how the airport plays into the economic vitality of the region. The airport hosts 30 million visitors per year. It is one of the busiest in the world, and it is also extremely out of date and under capacity. Because of this, the airport is undergoing a multi-billion dollar renovation to expand capacity and to bring the airport into the modern age. This  means that the terminals will be better connected so that patrons are not shuttled around the airport which is more than a mile long. Also, the runway capacity will be expanded so that larger planes can fly into the airport which means that we can be a hub for more direct international flights. I wondered where the airport was getting this money as the city really does not have capital like that, and found out that while the airport is a”Philly”ated with the city, it runs as its own business and has to borrow that money against the future income of the airport and it has to justify the expenses to the airlines that run through the airport as the airlines will have the costs passes on to them. It was interesting to learn about the workings of the airport as a business and as a resource for the city. We also took a tour of the airport and of the grounds and saw the command center which directs traffic and were able to see the air strips from above. It was amazing to see how many planes are taking off and landing so frequently and how streamlined they have gotten the process. Even with that, there is always a long line waiting to take off, and the airport is considered a 2 hour early arrival airport because the security gets tied up. It is definitely time for a much needed upgrade if Philadelphia wants more international traffic and connection to larger markets.

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What was more exciting about this week was the first Lower North District public meeting which was very different from the Central Northeast meeting from the week before. Before I start of the meeting, I would like to give some background on the district. The Lower North district is just north of the downtown central district. It was once a thriving industrial district home to about 250,000 people. We learn in urban studies that many cities experienced a loss of industry  and population since the 1960s and this district was hit the hardest by these trends out of any in the city. The population of the district now is under 100,000 which means that there is a lot of vacancy, a lot of services are not working at full capacity, and a lot of commercial districts are boarded up or struggling. Another issue is that a lot of the industrial jobs that once employed most of the district are gone and unemployment is a big issue. Finally, the district is primarily black which is in contrast to the mostly, but not totally, white planning commission. With this in mind, I knew that the public meeting would be interesting and it was. I think that I learned more from this meeting than any other event in my life. The purpose of the public meeting was to gather information and get the input of people living in the district about what changes they would like to see. There were more people than we expected who came to the meeting. A lot of the people came in already suspicious of the Planning Commission and thought that the commission was trying to to pull a fast one on them and make changes to kick the community out without them knowing while saying that we got their input. When I listened in on what people said, I felt that emotions were high and that these people were scared of the government and perceived the city planning commission as the city and wanted us to do things like reduce crime and pick up garbage. It was sad because the many of the things that people wanted to talk about were very real issues in the district, but they were things that the planning commission really had little to no ability to deal with. I was forced to understand the limits of city government and of urban planning to affect change in people’s lives. I was also forced to struggle with internal conflicts in understanding why people were angry at the city, but also confused because all the intentions of the public meeting were pure. I realized that the purest of intentions often become the worst nightmare to those that are being affected. If we were to help the people in the district make their neighborhoods nicer and more livable, than they could possibly be priced out and forced to move out of a place that many of them have lived in for their whole lives. If we do nothing, than we are not providing what the people want and ask of us as a city governing body. There is a fine line between helping and hurting when it comes to government especially when you can see the lives that you will effect. This is the start of an internal debate that I will most likely have for the rest of my life, and for that reason, this public meeting was the most influential event of my summer and maybe life. Even with all that being said, there was a lot learned from the meeting about how people want to see their neighborhood changed and how passionate people can be about the places they live.

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This meeting was eye opening to say the least. I think that as the summer goes on, my perceptions will be informed by this meeting.

Till week 6!

Nick

Final Week! (Cassandra Calderón)

Hello y’all!

I can’t believe this is my last week at the EDP. I guess it is really true what they say that time flies when you are having fun. The past eight weeks have been full of learning and new experiences from updating the database to attending board meetings to handing out surveys to writing blog posts.

Although the majority of my time was spent working on my survey research project, I am thankful that I really got to know the staff that I work with. There is nothing like being able to talk to your co-workers about anything and everything whether work related or not. I truly appreciate everything they did for me on a regular basis. Thanks so much to Rebecca, the executive assistant, for always being there across the room making sure everything was going smoothly and allowing me to help her with daily office duties. Thank you to Holly, the vice president of operations, for being my supervisor and helping me with all the administrative duties needed for the Fellowship. Thank you to Laura Lea, vice president of retention and expansion, for taking me to all your weekly meeting and allowing me to learn about the companies that serve our community and for sharing your stories with me. Thank you to Gil, CEO, for making me part of the team and always finding new ways to promote my project.

Anyway, this week I have been wrapping up my final report. The final report came out to 55 pages filled with graphics, pictures, and lots of words. I had a blast putting it together. I have also outlined several future action plans the EDP can take in order to better integrate the community and the businesses. I really enjoyed learning about what this community has to offer. I’ve met so many intelligent and driven individuals whom I hope I stay in contact with in the future.

I am very thankful for this opportunity.  A very special thank you to the Urban Studies department for sponsoring the Fellowship.

Best,

Cassandra Calderon

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Philadelphia Planning Week 4 (Nick)

This week I continued with a lot of the same projects that I have been working on this summer including the rezoning project and the commercial corridor revitalization project. These continue to go well and teach me a lot as I sit in on meetings and get an insider view into the political process and the connection between government, the market, and the public.

A new development (this will soon be a pun) is that I have started to manage a database for the development team in the Planning Commission (see what I did there). This entails a little bit of tedious data entry but has also served as a gateway to an entirely different set of processes that exist int he office and city. Development is the group that serves as the planning branch to developers and citizens who want to build or alter buildings within the city. I have had the pleasure of sitting in on a heated Zoning Board meeting in which a developer had written angry and aggressive letters to the residents of the area about a project that they did not want. The project went to the Zoning Board because it required variances in the zoning code about what height, size, and how many units could be built on the proposed lots. There was a room full of people, some in support, and many against the development. NBC was there to cover the story, and emotions were high in the room. It was amazing to see so much public participation in the public and private realm dealings.

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This week I also attended the first public meeting for the Central Northeast District Plan. At this meeting I was able to see how community input might be gathered and what some of the concerns are of this district in the city. The meeting was held in a well known historical landmark called Knowlton Mansion and there were about 100 citizens in attendance and about 25 city planning staff. Something that I was able to gather from this meeting that reinforced my experience at the DVRPC public meeting (see week 2), is that most of the community that engages with planning processes that look decades into the future is the elderly with no youth and very little young population. This means that the input that the planning commission is getting is extremely skewed. The missing parties seemed to be young professionals and younger families who might be the ones living with the future plan that is being formed through these meetings. While that fact was a little concerning, the meeting was still a huge success with a high attendance, very few bumps in the road, and an amazing insight into the process and the passion of the people I am working with to help move it all forward. Yet again, NBC news was there to over the story which was pretty cool. (I was the photographer… lots of pictures)

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Another great experience this week was a luncheon between the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). During this lunch we got to know the other organization a little better, and the DVRPC also presented on their new 2040 plan. This was a great view into the collaboration between planning organizations and how they work together and try to stay on the same page. The most interesting thing that I learned at this meeting that was different from the previous one is about transportation funding structures. The most incredible fact I learned is that the Philadelphia region has one of the lowest local funding basses for transportation in the country. We provide about $21 per capita in the Philadelphia region whicle the national avg is about $120 per capita. When I did out the math, this means that if we were just to get to the national avg, we would have an extra billion dollars a year in transportation funding. With a 30 year budget currently around $53 billion, that $30 billion would do a lot for the region. At current funding levels there is a lot of maintenance left unfunded on bridges, roads, and rails and no money in the coffers for transit expansion. If we want to be able to compete as an urban region, we really need to step up our game. I also learned that this is largely due to PA taxing structure and policies. In a state that is mostly rural by land area and county representatives, with a Republican governor, and the most structurally deficient bridges in the country, it is going to take a lot for things to change for the most urban and democratic area in the state.

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Finally (long week to say the least!), the exploring government this week focused on the judicial system and finance department. We learned about how Philadelphia tightened its belt during the recession and why the city did not take advantage of cheap building costs during the recession where private companies and the federal government might have. The answer is that there were important priorities and the city can only handle so much debt service while not being able to raise taxes for projects. The director of Finance Rob Budow made the comment that government is public and political, and that is part of what makes it interesting for him. The panel also took us through how much the city’s government has changed in the past years and the level of responsibility the cities are taking on which requires them to tighten their belts and become more professional than ever before. The last thing they talked about is the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) which is the biggest project being undertaken by the government during this administration. This initiative is meant to overhaul the property tax system to make it more fair and accurate. An issue that has plagued the city for a long time is that property taxes were being raised in some areas and not in others as a way of increasing city revenue. This has left a broken system that makes no actual sense where properties are no longer evaluated under any common guidelines. Mayor Nutter is setting the goal to have the system completely redone by the end of his administration. This means some people may see higher taxes, and some lower, so the city is also putting through policy to make sure to not accidentally spur on gentrification, and also not to great a rush for property in any districts. It was an eye opening panel for sure.

For the judicial panel, we traveled to the civil court in city hall and met with Judge Rizzo who is one of the coolest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She pioneered initiatives in the judicial branch of government to try to control the foreclosure crisis during the start of the recession. She brought together banks and citizens to settle instead of getting kicked out of their housing in a win-win-win situation. The person was able to stay in their home, the bank in the long term would make much more money when the person was able to start paying their mortgages again, and the city did not have a flood of people who were made homeless that would need social services in a city already strapped for funding. The model has been copied all around the country and has been celebrated as a major success by the judicial system.

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Thank you so much for reading, and get ready for a mid-summer video update coming soon.

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