Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Monthly Archives: August 2013

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.


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)







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.

DVRPC Funding picture

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.



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

Urban Studies Fellowship: Week 6&7! (Cassandra Calderon)

Hello everyone!

Sorry for not posting last week, but I have been super busy putting together the final report. Between this week and last week I got about 25 new surveys in and I have been compiling all the answers in one big excel spreadsheet. Today is the deadline to turn in all the surveys. Let’s see how many I get. I have really enjoyed getting in new surveys and learning what residents and businesses have to say about the community. 

In order to start writing my final report, I have looked at other survey report findings online. I had not realized how much information one can gather from two short surveys. Both residents and businesses have praised The Woodlands area for its uniqueness, but they all have also stated their main concerns. I decided to create my report on powerpoint because it is easier to edit as I am including numerous charts, graphs, and pictures. As of right now, I have 40 slides. Once I am finished with the report, I will print it in color and bind it.  

As I mentioned before, I have spent these two last weeks putting together my report. I have learned so much already from how to read other social scientific data to how to create and read graphics. I have also gained valuable data analysis skills that I did not have before. 

Before I go, I want to leave you with a sneak peak of two of my slides: 




Ma’ayan Dembo: Cycling in Berlin

This is the eighth post in a series chronicling Ma’ayan Dembo’s internship with the San Francisco Bike Coalition, for the Internship Capstone of the Urban Studies major at Stanford University.    

Although I finished my internship in late June with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the experience is still fresh in my head and occupying my thoughts. Wherever I go now, I know that I will be more mindful of bicycling infrastructure, usage, bike parking, and other related programs. These are now things that I notice whenever simply observing the urban fabric of a city.

For the next two months, I find myself in Berlin, Germany. My senior project relates to the criminalization of graffiti/ street art, comparing San Francisco and Berlin to see how the two progressive cities can learn from one another. Although I am here officially for this purpose, I can’t help but also notice how San Francisco can learn from Berlin’s attitude towards bicycles as well.

One of the main goals of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is to promote the bicycle as a viable method of daily transportation. Drawing its roots from a highly advanced infrastructure and sustainably-oriented culture, Berlin has wholly achieved this. People of all ages are constantly riding their bicycles for pleasure, running errands, and as part of their commute. Despite the incredible subway system, in these warm months cyclists are busily gliding throughout the city, to parks, grocery stores, and office buildings. Wearing spandex, suits, and/or bathing suits, Berlin’s cycling scene puts San Francisco’s to shame.

One of the main differences I’ve noticed is that cyclist’s lanes are on the sidewalks. Marked by red brick, these are usually one way (or marked as two-way by a striped white line) and run alongside the pedestrian sidewalk, usually with a cobblestone buffer, as seen below. When I first arrived, I was almost run over many times by cyclists, usually followed by an angry bell ringing or “allo?!” as they rode by. My friend explained to me this unusual road system and upon reflection, it does make more sense to place pedestrians and cyclists in the same sphere rather than cars and cyclists. Cyclists are generally biking at a pace (14 mph) closer to cars (25-35 mph) than walkers (2-4 mph). However, cyclists and pedestrians are much more nimble than cars– a pedestrian could easily step aside to allow a biker to pass, and a cyclist can more easily avoid a darting pedestrian than a darting car– in both instances, pedestrian surprises cause less bodily harm to cyclists than automobile surprises. Both cyclists and pedestrians are lighter and have fewer fatal accidents with each other than two-three ton automobiles. Having pedestrians and cyclists share roadspace reduces the number of fatal incidents, much lower than when automobiles and bicycles share the road.

In 2005, the Berlin Senate decided to make 15% of all trips by bicycles by 2010. In 2013, they have reached and wholly surpassed their goal, creating an inspiring cycling network as well. Including a plethora of on road bicycle lanes (the type found in most American cities), bicycle paths, shared bus lanes, and non-exclusive bike lanes/ bike priority streets, the network tops a whopping 390 miles of devoted spaces. In comparison, San Francisco’s bicycle network includes around 129 miles, 64 of which are only bike sharrows and provide cyclists little safety. Berlin has infrastructure within the city center, but also a radial structure of 8 paths linking to the suburbs of the city. San Francisco has a high concentration of cycling infrastructure in the North East quadrant of the city, with few paths linking the San Francisco to its surrounding counties or cities.

I look forward to discussing more differences in another blog post regarding Berlin and San Francisco’s cycling infrastructure, and how San Francisco can learn from this cycling-heavy city. In my next post, I will discuss bicycle parking, bicycle thefts, bicycles on the U-Bahn, and bicycle sharing programs that have been established here. Indeed, on Saturday, I am participating in a bike sharing program and receiving a fixie (never ridden one before, should be interesting) for 0.50 Euro/ day, for four days. I’ll also report back on the experience of cycling within the city then.

Its times like this when I reflect to see how much my internship experience affected the way I see cities. Throughout my coursework at Stanford, I’ve noticed how each class slightly shaped my perceptions of the built environment, but never before has something really taken over in such a drastic way. Its a cool feeling to notice that I’ve grown to become so passionate about urban cycling. Its something I can imagine myself doing on a day to day basis and wholly enjoy.

Sources: SFMTA State of Cycling 2012,  Bicycle Routes and Facilities by the Senate Dept for Urban Development and the Environment- Berlin, Bike City Berlin by Christine Lepisto for Treehugger.com