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Saturday, July 31, 2010

GOULDINGS LODGE -- MONUMENT VALLEY UTAH


GOULDINGS LODGE & CAMPGROUND

Gouldings Lodge ain't fancy.

But that's the point.

Do we really want condo hotels and the pinot noir-sipping crowd to destroy the price point at this famous trading post at the edge of Monument Valley Tribal Park?

The rooms are simple and clean. We even managed to make one fairly wheelchair-accessible, even with two beds in a smallish room.

The restaurant is simple, but you can get fat on Navajo fry bread (butter & honey), fried chicken, real beef stew and lots of other simple, out west food.

Book a jeep or plane tour of Monument Valley -- we took the jeep and even with arthritic joints that require the use of a wheelchair for mobility, we weren't bounced around too much.

Can't say enough about this majestic place. Make sure to strike up a conversation with Ronnie Baird, the innkeeper.

Friday, July 30, 2010

DISNEY BY WHEELCHAIR


FOUR DISNEYWORLD PARKS ON FOUR (WHEELCHAIR) WHEELS

By Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson Wright

We are confessed Disney skeptics.

We are suspicious of corporate giants. Since we don’t have kids, we don’t feel that overwhelming pressure to fulfill the little ones’ dreams by taking them to see Cinderella Castle. Because one of us has fragile joints, we’re not big on rides that bump, jolt and otherwise thrash us about.

While we will probably never be lock, stock and barrel devotees of The Mouse, we found plenty of things on and off the grounds of Mighty Disney to keep us coming back. Best of all, we found outstanding wheelchair access at Disney’s empire and a surprisingly tranquil hotel.

Wheelchair access is important to us because Heidi, who has rheumatoid arthritis, has used a wheelchair for mobility for a quarter century. She is far from alone. With more than 50 million Americans reporting some kind of physical disability that impacts their daily life, accessibility is a growing consideration for many families planning an outing to a giant theme park or anywhere.

A weekend visit to Disney’s four theme parks proves the point, because thousands of people using manual wheelchairs, scooters, power wheelchairs and other powered mobility devices can be seen wheeling around the fabled fun palaces.

On the plus side, Disney has accessibility guides to each of its four parks. The foldout map-style guides explain what rides are accessible and give lots of handy planning information. We strongly suggest ordering them before going to the parks. More advanced planning can be done via the Disney section in the book Wheelchairs on the Go: Accessible Fun in Florida by Michelle Stigleman and Deborah Van Brunt.

“Walt Disney World is very easy to get around - from lodging to the theme parks, shopping, restaurants and night spots. All locations, including the hotels on Disney’s grounds, have free, regular bus service with lifts and tie-downs,’’ said Van Brunt when we caught up with her and asked for her Disney accessibility pluses and minuses.

“While Disney has accessible vehicles for several rides, the entrances to those attractions are not always wheelchair friendly,” author Van Brunt continued. “For example, Magic Kingdom’s Small World has a very long, steep entrance. Of the 36 rides and major attractions at Magic Kingdom, only 19 are accessible by wheelchair.”

We agree that since Magic Kingdom is the oldest park, it is Disney’s least wheelchair-accessible.

We do give high points to the barrier-free accessibility of the river boat that ferries you across a man-made lake to the Magic Kingdom entrance. Boarding and disembarking are easy and fast. Soon visitors are entering the park, catching a glimpse of the Cinderella Castle, whose towers, turrets and blue roofs have become iconic of the Disney experience.

Another favorite is the train ride at the Magic Kingdom gates. The train station is accessible via a long ramp and wheelchair users can board the train itself safely. Besides the chance to enjoy the features of a genuine steam train – complete with whistle, steam smell and chugging sounds – riders get a tour of other park areas they may wish to later explore on foot or wheels.

Main Street USA also has excellent zero-step entrances to its restaurants and emporiums. The shops here sell countless items featuring Disney characters. We saved our shopping until last, so we wouldn’t have to tote our purchases throughout the park. Steve was charmed by the plethora of snow globes, while Heidi had to look at every T-shirt on display.

A monorail links the Magic Kingdom to Epcot and the ride itself is smooth and very accessible. However, Van Brunt points out that “After a magical but exhausting day at the Magic Kingdom, the steep 100-foot ramp to the Monorail seems a most unmagical mountain!”

Thankfully, the Epcot end of the monorail has a nice elevator from the platform to the ground level entrance of the park.

“At Epcot, you can enjoy 17 of 19 major attractions in your own wheelchair --although a few include an inaccessible activity,” Van Brunt told us.

We were most interested in The Living Seas attraction, which entices with a promise of descending to Sea Base Alpha, an “awe-inspiring” under-sea research facility where you can view dolphins, sharks, manatees and thousands of tropical fish.

We started out in a cattle call herding area of a waiting room, a perfectly round room where the voice on the loudspeaker told us to move to our left – huh, which way is left in perfectly round room?, we thought.

When we finally made our way through a strategically-placed giant gift shop and thought we were making our way toward a viewing area of fantastic marine life, we were stopped and told the elevator to the accessible observation area was broken.

Heidi was asked “Can you walk up steps? Would you like to be carried?” She answered “no” and “no” and we made our way out of that attraction. We’ll take their word for it that when the elevator is working, there’s really cool stuff to see. We just thought a city within a city like Disney could have come up with some manpower capable of fixing elevators 24/7.

We made our way next toward the giant circular man-made lake that spans the globe, sort of. This area is very popular with most of our over-50 friends. They love the international pavilions and marvel at the way they recreate the architecture, food, dress and other aspects of culture ranging from Japan to Germany, Mexico to Morocco.

While the walkways are nice, wide and barrier-free and the shops are generally accommodating to people with disabilities, we were not enthralled. And we could have used a few more shade trees to cool the miles of concrete pavement broiling under a sweltering summer Florida sun.

Somehow, a fake United Kingdom Pavilion with an overpriced pub an even more expensive gift shop and some faux tudor buildings didn’t quite wow us when we’d spent the previous month visiting the real thing across the pond.

Rather than being wowed by the croissants and mimes of the France Pavilion, we felt a little bit like Homer and Marge in a Simpson’s episode that pokes fun at crass American consumerism and over-the-top theme park pomp.

Needless to say, the Disney’s two newest parks are our favorites.

“Animal Kingdom is a delightful reprieve from the intensity of the other parks,” Van Brunt observed. “But the distances and the hills can take a toll on those not using a motorized ride,” was her only caveat. “Because the different areas spoke out via bridges from the center, you must backtrack then cross another bridge to get to the next region.”

Animal Kingdom has some really cool faux architecture. Most walkways are smooth and very disability-friendly. Unquestionably our favorite area was the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Here man-made, yet surprisingly realistic, palace ruins lie among a recreation of the Anandapur Royal Forest of Southeast Asia. Walkers and wheelers wind their way through the lush, dense landscaping, feeling a bit like the discoverers of a marvelous archeological find.

Here is a world inhabited by Komodo dragons, tapirs and majestic tigers (all at a safe distance behind barriers, of course.) Virtually all of the exhibits can be seen easily from the line of sight of a wheelchair user, including our very favorite: the bats. Large reddish brown bats – lethargic in daytime -- hang upside down, not in a darkened cave but in a sunlit alcove. No need for infrared camera gear here in order to get some great shots of these mysterious winged mammals.

To get to the African section, we took a barrier-free ride on the Eastern Star Railway. The cars have care-worn but charming luggage and bicycles strapped on top of the cars for an authentic look. The staff is excellent at assisting wheelchair users in boarding the train from an accessible platform. The seating area has no tie downs, but the train moves so slowly and smoothly, none are needed.

Disney also deserves high praise for having several locations with family/unisex restrooms, where companions can assist a disabled visitor in a private setting. There are several of these facilities located in each of Disney’s theme parks. Each has outstanding raised commodes, automatic faucets, accessible sinks, grab bars and other gear to accommodate people with limited mobility.

The Flights of Wonder bird show in a canopied outdoor amphitheater earns high marks for have plenty of locations for wheelchair seating plus adjacent companion seating. The staff directs wheelers to seating without hesitation and aisles are gently sloped for ease of access.

The show is amusing enough for kids without insulting the intelligence of adults. Handlers work with many different birds, including eagles, hawks and tropical birds with gorgeously colorful plumage. They impart wisdom about conservation mixed with a good dose of humor to make for a delightful experience.

The Disney-MGM Studios park, with its recreated old Hollywood art deco streetscape at the entrance and its celebration of film from corner to corner, is our pick of the litter for adult appeal.

The Great Movie Ride Tour takes you on a gentle, slow moving tram ride through some of the most famous scenes in cinema history. The tram requires wheelchair users to transfer to a seat, but on the plus side, your foldable manual wheelchair can be stowed right beside you.

During the ride, life-size animated figures move and talk, making riders feel as if they’ve stepped into a scene from The Wizard of Oz or Raiders of the Lost Ark. At times, the tour guides even leap from the tram and play out scenes as well. The effect is a bit campy, but what would Hollywood be without a healthy dose of camp now and then?

The Backlot Tour is another excellent attraction for entertainment and accessibility. You start off walking and rolling through an area where park visitors are cast in a military movie, complete with exploding depth charges, large splashes of water and other special effects.

The main tour through the backlot takes place on a tram that is well-equipped with much-needed four-point tie downs. Park staffers assist accessible boarding with the surgical precision of Swiss watchmakers.

The tram goes through a backlot tour of facades, props and other movie backdrops. The highlight is a ride through Catastrophe Canyon, where the tram shakes, a tanker catches fire and water rushes by. The good news is the four point tie downs do a good job of securing wheelchair users during the bumpy ride. The bad news is the tie down set up faces the opposite direction of all the action, meaning wheelers have a difficult time twisting around to see the colorful display.

The gift shop at the end of the backlot tour gift shop is very cool because it has a low Disney factor. Collectibles from I Love Lucy, the Wizard of Oz, Get Smart, Hitchcock, James Bond and other classics rule. Minnie and Mickey are barely seen. We picked up some cool retro, wooden clap sticks.

Despite the hundreds of offerings, we passed on the high prices and low culinary excellence of the in-park restaurants and cafes. But we didn’t stray far from the Mouse for our meals, choosing Downtown Disney for a pair of healthy sit-down dinners.

The colorfully-tiled Wolfgang Puck Café filled the bill with excellent wheelchair access to different seating levels and lots of the standard thin crust pizzas and nouveau Asian entrees that are a hallmark of his empire.

Somewhat more interesting, though no less corporate and contrived, is the House of Blues in Downtown Disney. Made to look like an old house honky-tonk at the edge of the bayou, it has a big front porch with a couple steps up in front. Access is made easy via a ramp to the side of the porch.

Ramped areas also provide access to various raised and lowered levels inside, where the ceiling is decorated with famous bluesmen in bas relief. Vividly colored painted furniture with religious symbols and voodoo stylings add a nice touch. The menu is pure southern soul and Cajun, with giant portions of gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp po boys, catfish, ribs and the like.

Downtown Disney also is home to Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba. The custom-made theater for the avant-garde troupe has outstanding accessible wheelchair and companion seating right in the middle of the theater.

According to the kind elevator attendant lady that transported us up to our seats, “La Nouba is the story of all stories, the site of all mysteries, where dreams and nightmares sleep side by side. La Nouba is memory, individual and universal. It beckons to us, challenges us to uncover passions we thought we'd lost long ago. Here, anything is possible.”

Who knows? We’ll take her word for it. As with all Cirque productions, the staging is mystical, the acrobatics captivating, the music mesmerizing, the storyline is somewhat hard to follow and no animals are harmed (or used) in the staging of this Euro-styled circus.

While we rode, looked, played, shopped, experienced, photographed, explored and dined Disney, we didn’t sleep at Walt’s place. Since we have happily navigated more than two decades of adulthood without children, we’re not keen on bedding down in one of the approximately one zillion family friendly resorts.

We chose a quirky place a good half hour’s drive from Disney. We bunked down at the Orlando Airport Hyatt, a real diamond in the rough property. Believe it or not, getting through the airport grounds and parking are not a hassle at all. Even more amazing, the rooms are so well built, we barely heard aircraft and we didn’t hear a peep from adjoining rooms or the connected air terminal concourse.

The room itself had excellent wheelchair access from the roll-in shower to the rare amenity of climate controls lowered to the height of a wheelchair user.

The rooftop pool is simply sublime, a strangely peaceful oasis in the middle of a busy, bustling airport. Better still, it is equipped with an outstanding pool lift. The lift has a seatbelt and footrest for extra safety. Best of all, we had the urban escape virtually all to ourselves, no mouse ear-clad little shavers in sight.

IF YOU GO:

Disney World, 1675 Buena Vista Dr., Lake Buena Vista. Phone 407 WDW-MAGIC. http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/

Wolfgang Puck Café Downtown Disney, 1482 E. Buena Vista Dr., Lake Buena Vista. 407 938-9653. www.wolfgangpuck.com

House of Blues Orlando, 1490 E. Buena Vista Dr., Lake Buena Vista. 407.934.BLUE. http://www.hob.com/venues/clubvenues/orlando/

Cirque du Soleil, 478 E. Buena Vista Dr. Lake Buena Vista. 407 939-7600. http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/CirqueDuSoleil/en/shows/resident/lanouba

Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport, 9300 Airport Boulevard
Orlando. Phone 407 825-1234. http://www.orlandoairport.hyatt.com/property/index.jhtml

Wheelchairs on the Go, 888 245-7300. www.wheelchairsonthego.com

Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 407 363-5872. www.orlandoinfo.com

Wright is a Pulitzer-nominated writer and Johnson-Wright is an Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator. The multiple award-winning couple live in Miami’s Little Havana. Contact them at: stevewright64@yahoo.com

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Marion Manley: Miami's First Woman Architect


MARION MANLEY BOOK REVIEW

Marion Manley didn't build Depression-era nautical Art Deco hotel gems on Miami Beach, nor did she fuel exuberant and multi-colored condo confections on Brickell Avenue by Arquitectonica and others and she did not elevate town planning to an art form like University of Miami School of Architecture and the Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ)have.

Perhaps that is why her name is not well-known in Miami, a city full of big names, headline grabbers and artful self-promoters.

Thank goodness for Marion Manley: Miami's First Woman Architect, a straightforward-titled biography of a straightforward architect who practiced in Miami for six decades.

Finally, the late Manley gets her due -- both as a fine architect and as a trailblazing female architect who practiced in a time when woman architects were almost unheard of. As the outstanding book authored by University of Miami School of Architecture Professors Catherine Lynn and Carie Penabad aptly point out -- architecture is still a male-dominated profession.

Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk -- longtime dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture, founding principal of DPZ, co-creator of the New Urbanism and one of the most successful female architects of the late 20th and early 21st centuries -- penned the foreword for the University of George Press book.

In it, Plater-Zyberk deftly points out that the renown School of Architecture occupies a series of postwar graduate student housing buildings that were designed by Manley and her associates in 1947. With renovations for academic use, the structures are still very functional and sustainable more than six decades later, where Plater-Zyberk praises "Their cantilevered eyebrows modulate the subtropical sunlight, minimizing need for artificial light, while allowing views into studios, offices, and the library."

Lynn and Penabad point out Manley (1893-1984) was building sustainably long before we all went green -- recycling military material for semi-permanent on the University of Miami's post WW II campus, designing houses to take advantage of local materials and natural breezes and situating a house to perfectly protect a densely-wooded lot.

When Manley was 74, a young couple approached her in 1967 with the dream of creating a special house that would interact with, not clear cut the verdant landscape around the lot in Palmetto Bay, an area about 20 miles south of Miami.

Instead of cutting down everything in sight, a so many production builders do, Manley worked with the Scott family to build a house that protected two natural Miami habitats -- pineland and seasonally-wet prairie.

The house, with a small footprint to protect its surroundings, was largely built from salvaged Dade County pine and cypress. The home still stands today, still enjoyed by the original family more than four decades later.

Sadly, some of Manley's vernacular houses have been torn down to make room for McMansions and others altered to the point of being unrecognizable.

Thankfully, much of her modern design for the University of Miami still exists, a living testament to what was widely heralded as the first modern university in the United States. Forty color and 70 black and white illustrations document every known building of Manley's illustrious career.

The 248-page, $34.95 book is a must have for the collection of anyone interested in Miami architecture in the 20th century and of the dynamic career of Florida's first woman architect.

http://www.ugapress.org/index.php/books/marion_manley/

Wright is the author of 5,000 published articles on urban life, architecture, public policy, planning and design. He is active in working to make sure universal design, which provides barrier-free access to people with disabilities, is incorporated to the essential and rapidly-evolving practice of sustainability.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stucco and Pastels: Scenes and Structures along Miami's Allapattah Rail Corridor


STUCCO AND PASTELS BOOK REVIEW

Stucco and Pastels: Scenes and Structures along Miami's Allapattah Rail Corridor is not likely to make its author -- Lance Mindheim -- wealthy, and he's fine with that.
The publication, mostly images, is sort of the anti-coffee table book.

It is neither the large format size of our the heavenly beauty of a traditional coffee table book.

Stucco and Pastels is a thin, softbound, but essential part of any respectable collection of books on Miami's visual history.

It is the first ever to document the heavily industrial and colorful Allapattah neighborhood, a three-block wide corridor that stretches north of the Miami River from Miami International Airport east to NW 7th Avenue.

"Faded pastel structures surrounded by palms and live oaks. Active rail branched running through narrow, cracked streets shielded by arching umbrellas of yet more palms and oaks," Mindheim opens in the introduction to his self-published book. "Open air produce markets. Narrow shipping channels carrying vessels from shippers with such exotic names as Antillean, Pioneer and Tropical."

Mindheim is the owner of Shelf Layouts Company, a Maryland-based custom model railroad consulting and building firm. His rail line fascination allows him, as photographer and writer, to see beyond the weeds, abandoned buildings and gritty nature of the Allapattah Corridor -- to lead us on a tour of colorful murals, classic art deco warehouse structures and other elements of raw urban beauty.

This is no South Beach glamour and neon book. This is Mindheim's loving look at a backbone of Miami neighborhood that probably 90 percent of South Florida doesn't know exists.

"Elements such as these are romantically linked to bygone eras characterized by movies such as Humphrey Bogart's Casablanca," Mindheim writes in Stucco and Pastels: Scenes and Structures along Miami's Allapattah Rail Corridor. "Casablanca still exists in Miami."

We couldn't agree more. And we wholeheartedly recommend Mindheim's $19.95 book on Allapattah.

http://www.shelflayouts.com/bookstore.htm

http://www.lancemindheim.com/

Wright is the author of 5,000 published articles on urban life, architecture, public policy, planning and design. He is active in working to make sure universal design, which provides barrier-free access to people with disabilities, is incorporated to the essential and rapidly-evolving practice of sustainability.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

CASA COQUINA BED AND BREAKFAST Titusville FLA


Funky, possibly haunted, definitely cluttered and just about
the perfect place you'll ever stay for under $100


If you want Double Tree-like sameness, you will not enjoy Casa Coquina. If you hate clutter or need a wheelchair-accessible room, you will wind up at a low end chain hotel.

But if you like funky stuff, if you appreciate and atmosphere of antiques/Fred Sanford's junkyard, you will love the place.

I was going through some anxious times -- aren't we all in this economy? -- and needed a couple days to sort things out.

What could be more perfect than a one of a kind B&B with a fabulous and laid back innkeeper?

I arrived early from Miami and the innkeeper let me check in very early -- even though my room was occupied the night before and I think she's a one woman show for cooking, cleaning, etc.

The room was very quiet. I slept like a baby -- at nap time and overnight.
The breakfast was decent....nothing spectacular, but all the coffee, juice, pancakes, ham, muffin, eggs usuals were there for free the next morning.

The entire price, with tax, was less than $90. The parking is free, use of internet is free -- even with a handsome tip to the innkeeper, I got out for under $100.

Where else can you get a large bedroom, large sitting room, perfectly functional full bathroom, all a stone's throw from the Indian River and Kennedy Space Center -- for less than $100?

Titusville is just the place to sort out things, because it is very quiet.
The area around the inn is peaceful & the large Mexican-Cuban restaurant next door is quiet even at night when the booze flows.

There's a gas station very nearby for fueling up and stock up on water, snacks, etc.
Titusville's downtown is tiny and quiet. It's a good place to rest and eat BBQ and catfish.

I didn't go to the fairly expensive space center, but I did love the nature preserve around it ($3 to enter by car & make sure a shuttle launch isn't pending, as they shut off access to the natural area during and just before launches.)

There's a pristine beach, hammocks, a wildlife loop drive, inlets, mangroves -- all the stuff between barrier islands and mainland that used to protect Florida from hurricanes before development took over.

As for Casa Coquina, I did get the rundown at check-in that all million pieces of antiques were for sale, but I was never pressured.

The guests are quiet and well-behaved.
The deck is spectacular place to see the sun rising from the Atlantic Ocean just to the east.

I had a blast, but then I've loved funky little inns throughout North, Central and South America.

I suppose if I expected everything to be a bland Holiday Inn, maybe I'd not give Casa such high marks.

But I love funky, so this place is on my must list for places to revisit in the Sunshine State.

www.casacoquina.com
4010 Coquina Avenue
Titusville, FL 32780-6614
(321) 268-4653

Monday, July 26, 2010

LAND CONSERVATION RESOURCES


LAND CONSERVATION WEB LINKS


Land Trust Alliance: www.lta.org

The Nature Conservancy: www.nature.org

Trust for Public Land: www.tpl.org

National Park Trust: http://www.parktrust.org/

Florida Forever: www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/acquisition/FloridaForever

South Florida Water Management District/U.S. Sugar purchase:
https://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/page?_pageid=2814,21528603&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

Land for Maine’s Future: http://www.state.me.us/spo/lmf/

State of Maryland Land Conservation: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/land/index.asp

Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources: http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/

National Association of Counties: http://www.naco.org/

Hill Country Conservancy: http://www.hillcountryconservancy.org/

Florida Division of Forestry/Blackwater River State Forest:
http://www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/blackwater_river.html

Realtor Dean Saunders’ Guide to Conservation Easements: http://www.saundersrealestate.com/brochure.php

Beartooth Capital Partners: http://www.beartoothcap.com

Clark Stevens, conservation architect: www.newwestland.com
http://www.beartoothcap.com/

Eshenbaugh Land Company: http://www.thedirtdog.com

Sunday, July 25, 2010

NATIONAL PARK TRUST


WASHINGTON FAMILY LEGACY NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK

By Steve Wright

The National Park Trust (NPT) is a private land trust organization founded in 1983 that focuses on land acquisition and the protection of the national parks. At the heart of its vision is for everyone to have a national park experience.

“We want to get kids back to nature because there’s a correlation between outside activity and lowered rates of obesity and ADHD. There’s also a correlation between early positive experiences (at national parks) and desire to preserve later on,” said Kit McGinnis, NPT’s Land Projects Manager.

NPT also strives to protect parkland from residential and commercial development. Threats to the continued existence and quality of the national parks include 4.3 million acres of land that are privately held within parks.

NPT is currently setting its sites on four properties in Jefferson County, West Virginia, the state’s easternmost county and home to portions of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

This is George Washington country. Washington surveyed the area’s wildlands and was enchanted by its beauty and fertility. He bought his first property, comprised of about 500 acres, and founded Bullskin Plantation in 1750.

Washington convinced his brothers to buy land there as well. At one point, there were 12 Washington family homes located in the county. The Washington’s were the area’s most prominent family throughout the 1800s.

This NPT project would create a National Historical Park based on the George Washington Family Legacy by linking the four non-contiguous sites as part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

The cornerstone property is Bullskin. Brother Charles’ Happy Retreat (built in 1780), and two other properties (Claymont Court and Blakeley), both built in the 1820s by Washington’s grand nephews, round out the quartet.

“Washington had no biological children, so these were his heirs and a big part of who inherited his legacy,” McGinnis said.

NPT has four property owners willing to be part of a study – which will take six months to three years to complete -- on whether the sites merit inclusion in the National Park Service. Two of the properties are already on the market and the owners of the other two are interested in selling to the right buyer.

To make the properties more attractive to the NPS, NPT is raising private funding to acquire and restore the properties to their former grandeur.

Wright frequently writes about smart growth and sustainable communities. He and his wife live in a restored historic home in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana. Contact him at: stevewright64@yahoo.com

Saturday, July 24, 2010

LAND TRUSTS PLAY VALUABLE ROLE IN CONSERVATION


LAND TRUSTS PLAY VALUABLE ROLE IN CONSERVATION

By Steve Wright

West Virginia’s New River Gorge, world renowned for its white water rafting and scenic views, is one of the most popular natural areas in all of Middle America.

Any government agency on earth would just about leap off a gorge’s cliffs to add thousands of acres of preserved land to a famed wild and wonderful river.
Last year, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources had a willing seller ready to part with 4,600 picture perfect acres overlooking the New River Gorge.

The seller wanted quick payment in one lump sum. But the state of West Virginia, though salivating over the chances to add the huge tract to its Beury Mountain Wildlife Management Area, didn’t have the financial resources to write one big check on the spot.

Enter The Nature Conservancy, (TNC) a leading conservation organization whose more than one million members have been responsible for protecting more than 15 million acres in the United States. The nonprofit land trust stepped in and purchased the largest preservation property acquired in West Virginia in more than two decades.

“The Nature Conservancy has the ability to step in, borrow funds internally to pick up the property, and then sell the property back to a government agency as funding becomes available,” said Rodney Bartgis, state director for the Nature Conservancy in West Virginia. “TNC gets reimbursed for the cost of the land and direct expenses like survey and appraisal.”

Such land-saving deals are taking place each day as more than 1,700 land trusts in America work with federal, state and local governments plus developers, investors, individual landowners and heirs to conserve crucial natural areas.

“Conserving this forest along the New River Gorge is a conservation success story for all of West Virginia,” West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III said in TNC release announcing the New River Gorge deal’s closing early this year. “This project is an excellent example of a wise state investment in our natural resources. It provides a new place for public recreation, continuing to make West Virginia a destination for hunters and tourists and improving the quality of life for West Virginians.”

The Mountain State will pay back TNC over time, using funds generated each year from hunting and fishing license fees. The property, formerly owned by Mountain Top Management, Inc., borders National Park Service lands of the New River Gorge National River for more than 4.5 miles.

“We had completed a land transaction with the owner in Maryland and they indicated they had this property available in West Virginia and inquired if we were interested. We were, because it buffered the forests owned by the National Park Service in the New River Gorge, which we had identified as being important because it is one of the least fragmented large forested blocks in the Central Appalachians,” said Bartgis, noting that the new purchase, added to existing conserved lands, protects a total of 10,000 acres of state-owned land on the plateau overlooking the gorge.

According to the TNC, a National Park Service study concluded that tourists spend more than $75 million a year in the four-county area surrounding the New River.

"I see conservation of land and economic development as symbiotic," Dave Arnold, member of the West Virginia Tourism Commission and co-owner of Class VI River Runners, one of the New River Gorge's largest rafting companies, said in a statement released by TNC. "The acquisition of this tract shows that we can strike a balance between development and conservation. Assuring these lands will be available for enjoyment of the public spurs economic growth by drawing sportsmen to local businesses and by providing another amenity that can attract visitors to the region."
Bartgis concluded “The Nature Conservancy used its abilities to marshal financial resources at the speed of business, enabling the State to undertake a transaction it otherwise could not.”

Land trusts -- ranging from the giants such as TNC, the National Parks Trust and the Trust for Public Land down to little local nonprofits created simply to save a little park from being paved over or to ensure that a stream is protected from agricultural or industrial pollution – are growing throughout this nation as a hedge against land misuse and urban sprawl.

The Land Trust Alliance (LTA), a Washington D.C.-based organization that coordinates procedure, information, ethical standards, technology, policy, training and more for 1,700 land trusts across America, counted fewer than 450 state and local land trusts nationwide when it was created 25 years ago.

“America’s 1,700 land trusts are local, citizen-led charities that work to protect special places in their communities, said LTA President Rand Wentworth. “Voters are increasingly demanding clean drinking water, local farms, parks, and wildlife habitat. Instead of meeting these needs through government condemnation or regulation, land trusts are politically attractive since they respect private property rights and offer tax incentives for landowners to voluntarily conserve their property.”

The LTA worked with Congress to pass a major increase in federal conservation tax incentives to help many farmers and ranchers to be relieved of paying federal income taxes for 16 years in exchange for donating a conservation easement on their land. The extension for the increased incentive expires in 2009 and LTA is lobbying hard to make the law permanent.

“Private land conservation makes economic sense,” Wentworth said. “Unlike a new subdivision, farms and green space do not require expensive public services like schools, fire protection, water and sewer. So land conservation can help keep property taxes from increasing: cows don’t go to school.”

Wentworth said the more than two million people that are land trust members and at the least 90,000 professionals that work for America’s land trusts are making unparalleled progress.

“During the 1990s America developed about 2.2 million acres per year, according to the USDA's Natural Resources Inventory,” he said. Since the late 1990s, permanent land protection by private landowners, working with land trusts, actually outpaced development. From 1998-2005, approximately 2.6 million acres per year were permanently conserved by private land trusts.”

Carl Palmer -- principal and co-founder of Bozeman, Montana-based Beartooth Capital Partners, a conservation-minded investment firm – cut his teeth in the preservation business while serving as Executive Director of the Ogden Nature Center, a land trust and education center in Northern Utah.

Land trusts continue to be an important cog in his successful group which makes private equity investments that generate competitive risk-adjusted returns while restoring and protecting ecologically important land in the Western United States.

“We make investments that create value and mitigate risk for our investors while having a compelling conservation impact,” Palmer said. “We work with leading conservation groups including The Nature Conservancy and others to enhance the amount of conservation they would otherwise be able to accomplish on their own.”

“In the past two years, we have helped restore miles of river and stream, return water rights to in-stream use, and permanently protect 5,000 acres -- with 7,500 more acres in process to be protected,” he continued. “We’re really just getting started. The potential to help protect tens and even hundreds of thousands of acres through private investments is very real. If we’re going to accomplish enough conservation in the next 10-20 years to protect places like the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, we had better realize that potential.”

Working with land trusts and land owners, Beartooth generates tax savings by placing conservation easements on properties that will remain private. It also has occasionally brokered the transfer of ownership of high priority conservation land to public agencies or nonprofits.

”We create value in a variety of ways, from fixing flaws with properties to enhancing their value as recreational ranches through restoration of rivers and streams.” Palmer explained. “Each project is unique – we simply look for opportunities to create financial value while doing what is right for the land and what our conservation partners want to see happen. It certainly doesn’t work for every property, but there are lots of opportunities to create financial value while protecting and enhancing ecological value – the two often go hand in hand if you bring the right perspective to bear on the problem.”

Palmer and his partners started Beartooth because of the tremendous potential they saw for private capital to play an important role increasing the amount of land conserved. He said Beartooth Capital is compiling a track record of achievement that demonstrates investors can earn strong returns while helping conservation groups fulfill their critical missions.

“The important work that nonprofits like The Nature Conservancy and Montana Land Reliance are doing is absolutely critical if we’re going to protect the West’s wide-open landscapes and the wildlife that live there,” he said. “But the pace of habitat conversion and development is such that everyone agrees we’re not getting enough done – we need to figure out ways to change the game and accomplish conservation at a greater scale. Since there is so much more private capital than there is philanthropic and government funding, the conservation community has long looked for vehicles that could effectively put private investment capital to work in a way that leads to real conservation results.”

Keith Fountain, director of land acquisition for The Nature Conservancy's Florida office, said land trusts can influence the decisions of large real estate holders to protect nature while also protecting their bottom line.

“Rayonier was auctioning a 3,000-acre block in the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama and to their credit, they pulled about one third land out of the auction package to sell it in a straight transaction to us,” Fountain said of the publicly-traded company that owns, leases or manages 2.6 million acres of timberland in the U.S. and New Zealand and sells timber for use in domestic and export markets.

“That company has a strong commitment to the sale of their lands that are important for conservation,” Fountain said of Rayonier, which is proud that -- as one of the largest private timberland owners in the U.S. -- its forests are certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative

Fountain said the former Rayonier lands were crucial because they were part of the “holes in the Swiss cheese” that represent private holdings within the huge Blackwater State Forest in Florida’s Panhandle.

Managed by the state’s Division of Forestry, the gigantic tract along the Blackwater River offers recreational opportunities such as hiking, swimming, camping, canoeing, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, horseback riding and nature study.

“There is a realization that green space and conservation land enhances the value of neighboring properties. As we often say, land is precious and they’re not making any more of it,” said John Sebree, head of public policy for the Florida Association of Realtors.

Sebree said Realtors are active with land trusts and understand that the environmental impacts of development can make it more difficult for communities to protect their natural resources.

“Where and how communities accommodate growth has a profound impact on the quality of their streams, rivers, lakes and beaches,” he said. “Development that uses land efficiently and protects undisturbed natural lands allows a community to grow and still protect its water resources.”

In Texas, the Hill Country Conservancy (HCC) just completed a deal to save a 1,318-acre section of the historic Storm Ranch located in northern Hays County. Through various phases working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Texas Parks & Wildlife staff, the HCC has conserved the “5,675-acre working cattle ranch with ancient rock fences separating pastures of native grasses, magnificent live oaks and numerous creeks and streams.”

George Cofer, executive director of the HCC, said the final phase, to preserve the entire ranch, should be completed in 2010.

“Conservation and enhancement of the many `public good’ values can be achieved through land trusts working collaboratively with land owners to ensure proper range management practices that will conserve and often enhance wildlife habitat, scenic vistas and open space, water resources and archeological, historical and cultural resources,” he said. “Land Conservation can also provide environmental learning and public recreational opportunities. Preservation of the rural ranching/agricultural legacy is important to many communities as well.”

Wright frequently writes about Smart Growth and sustainable communities. He and his wife live in a restored historic home in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana. Contact him at: stevewright64@yahoo.com

Friday, July 23, 2010

AFTER THE QUAKE BOOK REVIEW



After the Quake is a collection of stories by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin (Knopf, $21.00
By Heidi Johnson-Wright

Life can make us ignorant of ourselves, if we let it. The banalities of daily routines and schedules, the obligations of work and family can numb us, turning us into proverbial rats in a maze with little ability or desire to seek self-enlightenment. And thus, the same old neuroses and inner struggles play out with the same, tired outcomes.

Yet sometimes what seems to threaten us can save us. A spouse leaves, an unhealthy relationship ends, an unnerving encounter with a stranger shakes us out of our emotional slumber, and we catch a glimpse of how to better nurture ourselves and heal old wounds.

In After the Quake, a collection of a half-dozen masterfully-written short stories by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, the characters find themselves thrust into odd, precarious situations that force them to act instead of simply reacting. A man’s wife leaves him and he must look to himself to fathom why. A young man’s search for his real father becomes a search for himself. A milquetoast bank employee living a deadly-dull life gets a visit from a giant frog and a chance to save all of Tokyo.

While each story can stand splendidly on its own, all are connected by the same thread of the 1995 devastating earthquake in Kobe, Japan. Interestingly, the majority of the characters do not live in Kobe nor face the disaster first-hand. It’s the TV images, the newspaper headlines and the sadness hanging over Japan that jolts their hearts and psyches, something that Americans in this post-9/11 world can surely relate to.

In UFO in Kushiro, an outwardly successful electronics salesman finds his wife has abruptly left him with little more than memories and a note that says living with him was like “living with a chunk of air.” Clueless about what to do next, he takes a vacation centered around couriering a mystery package to another city for a friend.

Yoshiya, the protagonist in All God’s Children Can Dance, has a conflicted, quasi-incestuous relationship with his religious fanatic mother, and no idea who his father is. Like most children, he has hopes for happiness by making a deal with God.

“All he had ever prayed for was the ability to catch outfield flies, in answer to which God had bestowed upon him a penis that was bigger than anybody else’s. What kind of world came up with such idiotic bargains?”

As an adult, he self-medicates with booze, barely holds onto a job and muddles through until he gets a solid clue about his paternity. He later learns that perhaps he was searching for something else all along.

“Animals lurked in the forest like tromp l’oeil figures, some of them horrific beasts he had never seen before. He would eventually have to pass through the forest, but he felt no fear. Of course – the forest was inside him, he knew, and it made him who he was. The beasts were ones that he himself possessed.”

In the humorous yet poignant Super-Frog Saves Tokyo, an unremarkable loan collections officer with a potbelly, flat feet and no social life comes home to find a giant talking frog in his apartment.

“’Yes, of course, as you can see. A real frog is exactly what I am. A product neither of metaphor nor allusion nor deconstruction nor sampling nor any other such complex process, I am a genuine frog. Shall I croak for you?’”

Far from threatening, the frog is polite, well-spoken, quotes Nietzsche, is partial to Hemingway and Dostoevsky and makes a mean pot of green tea. The frog gives his newly-made nerd friend an opportunity to play a pivotal role in a tongue-in-cheek Godzilla vs. Megalon-like battle to save all of Tokyo from mass destruction.

Whether surreal or straight-forward, humorous or heart-breaking, Murakami’s stories hold up and hold together in this wonderfully-compelling collection.

Heidi Johnson-Wright resides in Miami, FL where she treasures the sea, sunshine and Cuban coffee.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability


ORIGINAL GREEN BOOK REVIEW

The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability is a simple book.

And in a world of over-designed buildings, highways, lifestyles, etc., simple better start sounding a lot more like a compliment and a lot less like a put-down.
That statement goes hand-in-hand with the philosophy shared in Stephen A. Mouzon's Original Green (The Guild Foundation Press. $29.95.)

Original Green succeeds in simplicity with large type, clear writing, easy to grasp concepts and hundreds of hauntingly beautiful photographs.

It's the kind of book you want to dog ear -- so you remember what page stated something so simply about the bad feelings you've been having about the commute our in-town neighbors bought into when they traded a modest old house in the city for a slapped up production built house 30 miles from where they work.

Original Green takes nerd-speak (let's be honest, even the urbanists among us must confess that it's more fun to talk about food, beverage and travel than building types, housing patterns and sustainability theories) and turns it into something as easy to comprehend as a breezy story in the best of onboard airline magazines.

Speaking of flight, Original Green is so compactly-presented and tightly written that one could easily crack it open, take a nap, then finish the entire 280 pages before the end of a three-hour flight from Miami to New York.

That Mouzon, an architect, urbanist, author and photographer, can tackle items of such gravity with words that don't intimidate is a great tribute to his skills as a storyteller.

So, what did we dog ear?

A page with a map of Florida's projected growth (projections made before our home state became the poster child for foreclosures, job loss and every other consequence of sprawl and unmanaged growth) shows the not-that-long-ago pastoral Sunshine State turned into one giant City covering most of peninsula save for the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and a stretch of the Panhandle.

Worse yet, these are not compact cities with transit and walkability, these are endless sprawvilles that will make the worst of Los Angeles County look as compact as Cambridge Mass.

We got a kick out of Mouzon's musings on blind growth for the sake of growth. He makes the analogy that human beings reach their mature body height growth by age 20, but continue to grow "wiser, more talented, more athletic, more cultured," etc.

The obvious hint is our urban growth patterns need to do the same.

We love the book's depiction of Classical Architecture branching out into sound vernacular forms in Charleston, Nantucket, Santa Fe, New Orleans, Bermuda and the Cotswolds. We cheer the scolding over crazy houses that have nothing to do with the local vernacular and all to soon may be too expensive to maintain, depending on peak energy and other shrinking resources.

We love the colorful picture of Antigua, Guatemala and the point it proves that the brightly-colored courtyard houses of La Antigua are not the product of Disneyesque tourism campaigns, but rather a wholesome and lasting example of" Spanish colonial architecture adapted to the climate and conditions (earthquakes, available materials, etc.) of Central America." Point well-made.

We also appreciate Mouzon's warnings about the Greenwashing of America : when every corporation with an advertising firm in New York and a lobbyist in Washington goes to great lengths to convince you that its product -- "cleaning supplies to cars to toilet paper" to coal and corn chips -- is the greenest.

Mouzon's carefully arranged chapters and subtopics teach us how to invest in real sustainability, not the fake version of it sold by the Madison Avenue brainwashing and Jack Abramoff influence peddling types.

Our only criticism, and we have already voiced this in person from mainland Miami to our sandbar cousin Mouzon out on Miami Beach, is that a book on sustainability must specifically address the issues of wheelchair access, visitability, aging in place and universal design.

We at Casa Wright are huge advocates of universal design and wish architects (who fully embrace stringent hurricane and other difficult codes and address them creatively) would stop fighting the Americans with Disabilities Act and start realizing that a big part of a urban sustainability has to do with everyone from child in stroller to professional using a wheelchair being able to conduct daily lives without encountering barriers in the built environment.

Full disclosure complete and stepping down from our soap box, we can now wholeheartedly recommend The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability to anyone who gives a damn about our the future of where we live.

www.theoriginalgreen.org

Wright is the author of 5,000 published articles on urban life, architecture, public policy, planning and design. He is active in working to make sure universal design, which provides barrier-free access to people with disabilities, is incorporated to the essential and rapidly-evolving practice of sustainability.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Flatiron -- The New York Landmark at the Incomparable City that Arose With It


THE FLATIRON book review

Alice Sparberg Alexiou, author of The Flatiron -- The New York Landmark at the Incomparable City that Arose With It -- understands that people make the story.
Even when the subject is a thing, in this case an building so iconic that an entire hip neighborhood in Lower Manhattan hitches its marketing on its name (Flatiron District), people are the essence of storytelling.

We learned that advice from Wil Haygood, the award winning author and journalist who taught us in our early journalism days to "report the hell out of the story, but make sure in the end to tell it through people."

So in Alexiou's Flatiron, we are introduced to Harry Black, an early 20th century multimillionaire whose name and story didn't not survive even a half year in New York's rich history.

Black -- the hard-charging born salesman who wouldn't know a cornice from a cornerstone, who couldn't care whether architecture was created by Luis Henry Sullivan or Sully from the corner bar -- is the backbone for Alexiou's realistic and loving portrayal of the now beloved, but once ridiculed Flatiron Building.

Her roots to building, where Broadway and Fifth Avenue meet at 23rd Street, are deep -- her immigrant grandfather bought a stake in the landmark in 1946 and the not-so-lucrative piece of the Flatiron pie remained in her family for decades.

In Flatiron, (Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99), we learn that the historic building never was intended to draw its name from the narrow piece of triangular property that reminded people of a similar-shaped stove iron.

The structure's official name was the Fuller Building, intended the be the New York City flagship of the huge and growing Fuller Company of Chicago. Black married the daugher George Fuller, the Chicago construction magnate semi-accurately described as the father of the skyscraper.

Fuller worked like a dog, but died young in 1900, two years before the Flatiron -- named Fuller Building in his honor -- opened under Black's (now president of Fuller's company) guidance in 1902.

Along the way, we are introduced to Daniel Burnham, the famed architect and city planner who butted heads with Black on every step of the way toward building the 22-story Beaux-Arts classic.

We also meet Frederick P. Dinkelberg, the long-forgotten architect who worked on-site to see the fruition of both Burnham's classic design and the late Fuller's dream of building tall buildings supported by steel skeletons rather than thick, load-bearing masonry walls.

In Flatiron, we read that savvy New Yorkers were not always that way, for most of Gotham either feared the narrow building would topple over in a wind gust or ridiculed it along with supposedly knowledgeable critics that failed to see the beauty of its terra-cotta bricks and tiles and its playful curves at the joints of an otherwise sharply triangular 285-foot skyscraper.

The drama also follows the rise and fall and rebirth of Madison Square -- the shady city park immediately north of the Flatiron's narrow lot. The Square was fashionable, seedy and fashionable again through the years -- while Manhattan's department stores and well-off residential crowd moved northward.

A visitor today will notice an extremely popular Madison Square Park, where people wait in line an hour for a Shake Shack burger and tourists compete with workers and locals for the shadiest benches in an area recently enhanced with pedestrian areas to tame the busy north-south traffic.

Through it all, Alexiou weaves a clearly-written narrative of Black's triumphs and human frailties, as well as the Flatiron's various lives as: a host to publishers and small businesses, elite office space and third rate office space, a victim or real estate manipulation by Harry Helmsley and apple of the eye of famed photographers including Alfred Stieglitz.

http://us.macmillan.com/theflatiron

Wright is the author of 5,000 published articles on urban life, architecture, public policy, planning and design. He is active in working to make sure universal design, which provides barrier-free access to people with disabilities, is incorporated to the essential and rapidly-evolving practice of sustainability.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

City Walks Architecture: New York, by Alissa Walker


BOOK REVIEW

The coolest urban book of the year isn't a book at all.

City Walks Architecture: New York, by Alissa Walker, is a "book" of 25 laminated cards, each leading to a walking tour in New York.

The 3 3/4 inch by 5 1/2 inch cards come in a deck, like playing cards, in a holder shaped like the old Crayola crayons beveled-top box.

Living up to her name, Walker loves to walk. She lives in Los Angeles, that most car-dependent of cities, and has a website dedicated to her beloved LA and the pursuit of happiness.

The not a resident of, she obviously is at home among the classical, modernist and everything in between architecture of the Big Apple.

The cards themselves are fabulously-designed. Each has a front cover photo, many taken by Walker, and a color walking map on the back cover.

The two inside pages contain a long paragraph of introduction to the neighborhood, then a step-by-step waking guide -- with exact addresses and the significance of each site the tour leads you to.

There also is quad-folded master card that explains the scale of the maps and how most of the 25 tours link into adjacent walking tours listed on the next information-packed card.

Our favorites are the High Line, the "reclaimed 1.5-mile elevated railway that snakes through New York's west side" that functions as a greenway and public park in the sky, hovering 30 feet above street level.

We get a kick out of Walker's keen eye for detail, noting that along with restored Chelsea and Meat Packing District warehouses, the High Line is now framed by "Starchitect Row" -- blocks of ultra modern structures designed by star architects such as Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano, Shigeru Ban, Robert A.M. Stern and Neil Denari.

Other favorites include: The Rising Lower East Side, Sustainable Skyscrapers, Hip Hotels in Times Square and Harlem Revival.

Manhattan dominates, but the boroughs are represented with tours of Art Moderne in the Bronx, A Land of Tomorrow in Queens, Brooklyn's Brownstones and Staten Island Victorian.

We love the Greenwich Village Tour (#7 of 25), which launches at the former house of late, great urbanist and author Jane Jacobs.

"The Village has long been home to alternative-minded folks of various kinds: writers, revolutionaries, and bohemians have always gathered here," starts Walker's intro. "But it's also known for the tenacity of its residents, who rallied against the city's "master builder" Robert Moses, when he slated the area to be bulldozed for a new expressway in the 1960s. The result is that, today, Greenwich Village is one of the most fiercely protected neighborhoods in the city."

At a list price of $18.95, this Chronicle books, City Walks Architecture: New York is super-affordable and essential for New York visitors, natives and souvenir seekers.

The entire set of walking tour cards fit easily into even a small handbag or messenger bag. So you can easily tote your graphically-pleasing guide to buildings, parks, monuments and more.

Better still, if you know you are going be in a certain area on a certain day, you can pull maybe three or four cards from Walker's deck and have a wealth of information and graphics that's light as a feather.

For those of us who still like to look at real pictures and feel real pages -- and dread a publishing world taken over by Kindles, I-Pads and forms of non-printed material -- City Walks Architecture: New York is a welcome touchstone.

www.chroniclebooks.com

www.gelatobaby.com (for Walker's wonderful world on a website)

Wright is the author of 5,000 published articles on urban life, architecture, public policy, planning and design. He is active in working to make sure universal design, which provides barrier-free access to people with disabilities, is incorporated to the essential and rapidly-evolving practice of sustainability.

Monday, July 19, 2010

AIA GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY book review


AIA GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY (FIFTH ADDITION)

By Steve Wright

We wish all architecture guides were as well put together as the recently released AIA Guide to New York City (Fifth Edition, by Norval White & Elliot Willensky with Fran Leadon -- Oxford University Press.)

The $39.95 guide earns high praise for:

• Being well-organized by borough and neighborhood.

• Containing thousands of clear black and white photos.

• Clearly explaining various forms of architecture without being academic.

• Comprehensiveness that gives just as much history, detail and insight to a far-flung, low-rise structure in the Bronx or Brooklyn as a fabled masterpiece in Manhattan.

• Having dozens of maps and walking tours.

About the only negative is the 5-inch by 10-inch guidebook is so packed with information that it weighs a couple pounds. If you are going to take to the streets of New York armed with the guidebook, you might want to pack it in a book bag -- for it most surely will not fit in any pocket, or even most handbags.

The New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects first put out a guide to their own magnificent metropolis in 1968. Much has changed.
We say that with the knowing grin of a frequent visitor who has seen the real estate boom and bust be both kind -- in finding adaptive re-uses for aging structures -- and cruel -- toppling low-rise construction for out of proportion glass boxes for the "cool" people to live in.

The guide address those and other impacts of the economy, as well as recent civic spaces such as the tremendous success of the High Line -- a long-abandoned elevated freight rail now reborn as an urban paradise 30 feet above the street level and fueling both rehabilitation of old warehouses and placement of starchitect modernism along its Chelsea-Meat Packing District-points north westerly path.

The guides is warm and reads like it was published by a single architect with loving eyes for all that is New York. The fact is its two principal authors are deceased.
Willensky, an early preservationist and creator of the guide with his friend Norval White, died at age 56 in 1990 but so beloved is his bedrock material for this guidebook, that the AIA still credits him as principal author two decades after his untimely passing.

White died at age 83 in 2009, shortly after handing in the manuscript for the latest edition. White and Willensky are affectionately memorialized in essays at the front of the guide written by family and friends. The warmth sets the tone for a book that is exhaustive, but very approachable by the lay person architecture buff.

One of our favorite features is the necrologies, which give the history and lament the loss of demolished buildings great and significant. Sometimes reverent, sometimes cheeky, the necrologies pull no punches when a scolding is in order to make a point over a quality piece of the built environment allowed to collapse from neglect or razed so a lesser building could to up in its place.

The book's tone of speaking to you like a friend over the backyard fence (or in New York's case, from the next door stoop) continues in the introductions to various sub-neighborhoods of Manhattan and her sisters Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.

Delicious is the intro to the Gowanus neighborhood, identified by its association with the polluted from industry Gowanus Canal:

"Legends about the canal have grown like weeds along its fetid banks, including one tale of two thieves who fled police by walking across the canal's Jell-O-like surface. An excursion by boat is always instructive (mysterious, viscous bubbles rising to the surface appear to be 1/4th inch thick), affording excellent views of the canal's most interesting features: Its bridges and viaducts."

Such is the writing of authors brilliant in knowledge but also confident enough to not try to talk over the heads of a not as well-trained audience. Such is the strength, success and pure pleasure of the latest edition of the AIA Guide to New York City.

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS LINK TO THE BOOK:
http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ArtArchitecture/~~/dmlldz11c2EmY2k9OTc4MDE5NTM4Mzg2Nw==

Wright is the author of 5,000 published articles on urban life, architecture, public policy, planning and design. He is active in working to make sure universal design, which provides barrier-free access to people with disabilities, is incorporated to the essential and rapidly-evolving practice of sustainability.

OCEAN SPRINGS MAYOR CONNIE MORAN



CONNIE MORAN PROFILE

By Steve Wright

While the entire world linked Hurricane Katrina disaster, devastation, death and despair with one city – famous and fabled New Orleans – the mayor of a little Gulf Coast town of less than 20,000 slowly emerged as the voice of reason and rebuilding.

It would seem a long shot for the freshly sworn in mayor of tiny Ocean Springs, Mississippi to become the darling of NPR and other national media for her vocal advocacy for Katrina cottages, traditional town development and more.

But then, the world stage didn’t know Mayor Connie M. Moran before a killer category 5 hurricane swept away lives, livelihoods, livability and places to live through most of the Gulf.

But fate was preparing the Georgetown (master’s and bachelor’s degrees in finance/economics and international commerce) educated, Moran to be a great leader before Katrina dealt a nearly knockout blow to the Gulf of Mexico.

Before the hurricane made landfall, the Fulbright Scholar Moran had already endured a lifetime worth of challenges in the space of half a year.

In pre-Katrina 2005, Moran met her birth mother for the first time, filed to run for mayor of the city she grew up in with her adoptive family and cared for her only daughter, Magdeleine – who has cerebral palsy and autism -- as a newly single mother.

Moran, who had a 16-year track record of success in state and local government, capped by five years as Managing Director of the State of Mississippi European Office in Frankfurt , Germany , clearly emerged from the emotional ringer with a depth of character that prepared her to deal with Katrina as a turning point, not an insurmountable setback.

“I had been in office for only six weeks when Katrina hit,’’ she said. My (adoptive) grandfather was a county supervisor for 40 years and my (adoptive) father was a city alderman for years. The loved Ocean Springs so much, they fought hard for its improvement, they fought hard for its quality of life. I was inspired by that.”

With her background as an economic development expert, Moran was already thinking like a New Urbanist before the 150-mile-per hour winds hit.


“I was interested in retaining the best of what we had historically, containing urban sprawl, advocating for smart growth, assuring that we had unique main streets,’’ she recalled . “I had budgeted for a master plan. I understand planning, I understand that green brings green.”

When Katrina destroyed 150 miles of coastline on Aug. 29, 2005, it treated Ocean Springs with a relatively gentle hand. The waterfront was devastated, but the historic downtown suffered no storm surge, so damage was limited to roofs, windows, storefronts – not total losses of structures.

Moran wants to make sure that the oldest French Colony in America – Ocean Springs was founded in 1699 – sees traditionalism, not sprawl, in its rebuilding vision .

The mayor first gained national attention when she locked horns with FEMA, preferring the traditional and sustainable Katrina Cottages to the standard-issue mobile homes that she said were “creating trailer trash."

FEMA balked at paying for the cottages that were seen as permanent, not temporary housing, but the agency did allocate about $400 million to bring in structures that will be something better than trailers, Moran said.

Moran also fought the good fight to tame a monstrous bridge that connects Ocean Springs to Biloxi.

“They wanted to replace four lanes (severely damaged by Katrina) with 10 lanes -- six driving lanes and four emergency lanes -- slamming into our four-lane beach area,” Moran explained.

The state highway department still got its way on the scale of the bridge, but the mayor continues to press for people-friendly design elements such as fleur-de-lis and murals or mosaics crafted by local artists.

Rather than pursuing the glitz of casinos favored by nearby towns, Moran’s vision of a renewed Ocean Springs banks on antebellum homes, streets lined with live oaks, good schools, rebuilt parks, a tourist-friendly mix of art and fine dining, a main street that still is the center of town and an historic waterfront rebuilt for pedestrians with a small commercial center to most likely rooted in the areas shrimping and seafood traditions.

To replace the roughly 700 houses lost to Katrina’s fury, Ocean Springs is working with the Dover Kohl firm to emulate the typical coastal cottages, the Queen Annes, the Acadians, the Arts & Crafts and other housing types the city wants to emulate when rebuilding.

“For Ocean Springs, the New Urbanism vision was a godsend,” Moran said. “The whole idea to be able to walk to get some light groceries, a haircut, an ice cream -- that’s what Ocean Springs was. We’ve had hundreds participating in the charettes; it’s a slow process but worth it. Rebuilding isn’t about letting anything willy-nilly into your town. ”

Wright has written for a living for 25 years. He lives in historic Little Havana and is very active in Miami ’s urban issues. He and his wife of 22 years also are involved in making new and old towns more accessible for people with disabilities. Wright has published nearly 5,000 articles.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

AQUA MIAMI BEACH


TROPICAL URBANISM: Is Miami Beach’s unique Aqua urban development New Urbanism despite its exclusivity and gated entrance?

By Steve Wright

Beyond the porches, the garages hidden in alleys, the liner buildings and walkable neighborhoods, it seems that the hallmark of New Urbanism is seeing value where others see deterioration, vacant land, abandoned sites, blight.

Take Aqua, for example. The Miami Beach development has arguably created more pre-move in buzz than any New Urbanist project in history. Today, the Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company master-planned project is on a site that is a no-brainer, a certain cash cow.

But for years, hundreds of developers, architects, designers and jet setters drove past an 8.5-acre piece of ground and only saw an ugly collection of mid-century buildings sitting vacant on what was an island hospital complex in the north reaches of Miami Beach. No one had the urban vision to turn it into one of the most sought after urban sites on the planet.

That is, no one had the vision until a man who as born in St. Francis Hospital -- the very structure that sat abandoned on the southern tip of Alison Island for so many years – transformed this spit of land into Aqua. Aqua features 151 residences with modernist design and a setting that has been called a tropical East Village, because of its narrow streets, high density, and mid- to low-rise scale on a lush and green sitting in Miami Beach.

Craig Robins, a Miami Beach boy who entered this world in the birthing center at the former St. Francis Hospital, is the developer of Aqua. From a very young age, he established an unequaled track record of investing in edgy South Florida urban areas that soon turned to gold.

The South Beach of today – with its sleek deco hotels, high-end retail and seaside cafes – has some of the most prime real estate in the nation. But not that long ago, it was a forgotten retirement ghetto so deteriorated that the treasured art deco confections were slated for demolition to make way for characterless high rises. But the 47-year-old Robins saw value there, invested, reprogrammed aging deco delights and made himself a mint.

When people gave up on the mainland, when they believed Miami was too similar to the TV show that portrayed cocaine cowboys, random violence and other urban ills, Robins bought up properties in a downtrodden area north of downtown Miami. He transformed it into the hip Design District, which now has designer showrooms, a few nightclubs and lots of creative people. It even has a rapidly developing residential element where not that long ago, people wouldn’t have lived there if you paid them to.

At Aqua, people are paying a lot of money to live there. Prices start at $700,000 for condominiums and soar to roughly $4 million for the best-located townhome. Robins himself is moving into one of the four-story townhomes at the southern tip of Aqua, which affords stunning views of tropical Indian Creek and the South Beach skyline.

“What we’re doing with Aqua is truly unique, not just to Miami Beach, but to the entire world,” said Robins, the president of Dacra development. “We’ve brought together some of the brightest and most innovative thinkers --- planners, architects, designers and artists --- and asked them to create a world class neighborhood that is of the highest quality, a neighborhood that has its own distinct characteristics yet one that is respectful of the area where it resides.”

“We’re combining New Urbanist principles with architecture inspired by mid-century Modernism in a way that is really defining 21st century living in Miami Beach. That approach has captured the attention of sophisticated buyers, along with the world’s art, design, and architecture media,” he continued.

By many standards, Aqua is New Urbanism. It is urban infill, of sorts. The old, ghastly-looking St. Francis parking garage was salvaged and converted into a screened parking structure and residences by New York architect Walter Chatham. In an area of Miami Beach not far from 42-story condo towers, Aqua’s tallest buildings are 11 stories, which blend more with the low and mid-rise neighborhoods immediately surrounding it.

But, with an almost exclusively residential area on a very compact site, Robins decided to develop Aqua as a gated community. The gates throw up red flags to several New Urbanism purists. The Pro-Urb listserv, a hotbed of commentary by notoriously obsessive NU nerds, has taken a negative approach toward otherwise well-planned projects that feature the exclusionary symbolism of gates or guardhouses.
“The gated community, it is very politically charged, but a lot of people choose to live in them,” Chatham said. “I can’t really comment on the evils of the gated community and whether they are socially negative.”

“I will say that first of all, you’re on an isolated piece of ground and it doesn’t allow commercial (other than a small neighborhood store with gourmet market, newsrack and dry clean dropoff),” he continued. “If the intention of New Urbanism is to reclaim areas and make them as urban as possible, part of that reclamation has to include security. Not everything is a downtown area. Sixty-Third Street (at the northern entrance to Aqua) is not pedestrian friendly and the site is not a contiguous downtown area.”

Chatham designed a mid-rise condominium in the International Style. It has a swimming pool surrounded by terraces.

“Mine was an existing building,” Chatham said of the old St. Francis garage and office structure. “I transformed it from the ugliest building in Miami Beach to one that at least fits in with the area. Art is super-important. A Richard Tuttle eight-story mural is going on my building where a blank wall was left over from the previous configuration.”

“The density of Aqua is very off-putting to a lot of people because people are used to seeing open spaces and a tower along the South Florida coast,” he added. “But once the landscaping is in, with a mango grove, it opens to a very nice view. The way they focused those streets at Indian Creek, the views are beautifully shocking and amazing. The whole island is so walkable.”

'Buyers are certainly connecting with Aqua’s design and urbanism. With condominiums ready for interior build out in September (projected move-in at end of the year) and with the first of the island homes ready for possession in December, 80 percent of Aqua’s residents have already sold.

“Aqua is about simplicity and good modern architecture,” said Alison Spear, a Miami architect who designed two linked residential buildings on a very tight sight only 25 feet from the old St. Francis structure that Chatham redid. “I was very keen on mine being modern, with nods to the Eden Roc and Miami Modern. Aqua is the perfect collaboration between great town planners, great architects and a great developer.”

New York architect Alexander Gorlin designed a very modern mid-rise condo with deep sunscreens to shade the structure from the subtropical sun.

“I believe New Urbanism doesn’t mean traditional architecture, I believe it can have modern buildings. The key concept of New Urbanism is density and urban spaces – the design doesn’t have to be Victorian,” said Gorlin, who is aware that some extreme traditionalists have knocked Aqua’s modernist design from the condos to the townhouses.

Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk of DPZ agrees that Aqua took its tone from “Miami Beach’s great tradition of 20th century design.”

While DPZ is best known for town planning and championing the principals of New Urbanism, the firm designed two of the Island Houses at Aqua.

“We actually designed all the floor plans for the taller buildings too,’’ Plater-Zyberk said. “The site is so tight, Craig (Robins) needed to know what could be built there, so DPZ planned all the floor plans for the mid-rise buildings. The
individual architects modified those drawings.”

She said the architecture of Aqua borrows from early 20th century modernism when Art Nouveau transitioned to Art Deco. It also plays off the Miami Modern Architecture of mid-century Miami legendary architect Morris Lapidus. Beyond that, the DPZ townhouses will be just plain fun to live in, Plater-Zyberk said.

“One of the fun things is the view outside from them,” she said. ”Everywhere you look, from every level, the view changes. You see greenery on the nearby developed areas, parts of the Miami Beach skyline, the waterway, other parts of Aqua. “Instead of looking at only landscaping, it is a very urban view.”

To the gated community critics, Plater-Zyberk answers that a guardhouse at Aqua is equivalent of a doorman at a highrise. She points out that many of Aqua’s residents will not live there year round, so they require the security of a gated entry. She also said that geography – the fact that Aqua is the tip of a narrow island surrounded by water on three sides – dictates that the development will not have total connectivity with the neighborhoods around it.

“One of the keys to remember is that Aqua is a redevelopment site,” she said. “We tried to save even more of the old hospital – we cost Craig a lot of money studying the structural soundness of the old hospital buildings and what could be done with them if they were transformed into residential structures. Everything looks so new there, but people have to remember that Aqua is a dense, compact urban redevelopment site.

Robins, who paid $12 million for the Aqua site and turned it into a $220 million urban development, says even with a private entrance at a guardhouse staffed 24-hours a day, Aqua is New Urbanism.

“Our town planners Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andres Duany of DPZ are considered the pioneers of New Urbanism,” he stated. “On this 8.5 acre private guarded island, they’ve created a completely walkable town plan with charming tree-lined streets and a nearly half-mile long promenade connecting residents to Aqua’s two community pools, gourmet market, fitness center and spa, business center, childrens’ learning center, two-story Aqua club room, concierge and valet services. So yes, Aqua is New Urbanism, but with its focus on luxury living, its proximity to Bal Harbour, South Beach, the world famous Miami Beaches, we like to call it Tropical Urbanism.”

Wright is an award-winning journalist who has written about growth, development, architecture, town planning and urban issues for more than a decade. He lives and works in a traditional, walkable, sustainable community in a restored historic home in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana

LONDON BY WHEELCHAIR


LONDON BY WHEELCHAIR

By Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright

Overseas air travel, no ADA and a city so ancient it still has remnants of a wall built during the Roman Empire. What could possibly present bigger challenges to a wheeler on vacation?

We planned our trip to London with mixed feelings: fascination and excitement with one of the world’s great capitals, and trepidation because of the (wrongly) anticipated lack of access. But London -- with its plentiful curb cuts, goodly number of accessible transportation options and myriad barrier-free attractions – won us over completely.

Wheelchair access is vitally important to us, because Heidi uses a wheelchair for mobility due to orthopedic limitations resulting from rheumatoid arthritis.

Our first hurdle was just getting there in reasonable condition. Long plane trips requiring lots of sitting can wreak havoc on Heidi’s joints. Airline staff insensitive to a person’s mobility needs can mean mobility aids tossed into the plane’s cargo hold and brought back up in more than one piece. We’d had such experiences before.

But, fortunately for us, this trip was destined to be different. We flew to London on Virgin Atlantic airlines, and were quite impressed with access, service and even the food. Virgin’s staff was very accommodating, offering assistance along the jetways and onto the aircraft. When requested, they made sure Heidi’s manual wheelchair was safely stowed on board the plane, where it was safe and at-the-ready upon arrival. While service in coach is very good, upper class is even better. Our upper class bulkhead seating allowed Heidi plenty of room to transfer into her comfortable, reclining seat, or to intermittently stand and stretch.

We arrived at Gatwick airport and made our way to the Gatwick Express train station adjacent to one of the concourses. We accessed the train platform level via elevator and the conductor adroitly put a portable ramp in place so we could board with ease. Porters are available to help with bags. We sat in a designated area for a wheeler and companion. Nearby was a large, very accessible unisex restroom with an automatic door, grab bars and plenty of room to accommodate a chair, wheeler and -- if needed -- a personal care attendant.
The Strand Palace Hotel, with its superb west end location near Covent Garden and the theater district, was our base of operations. Though the Art Deco-detailed property was a bit careworn, it featured satisfactory access with a portable ramp at the side entrance, an elevator and a portable bath bench for the shower. We had a good-sized room on the hotel's club floor, and had more than enough space to negotiate Heidi's wheelchair around the furniture.
Once in London, we set out to explore the city on foot and wheels. We’d heard that the city was eminently walkable, and soon confirmed it for ourselves. We found curb ramps at nearly every intersection, and wide, smooth sidewalks along many streets. And London has such a human scale. One feels comfortable walking through the city’s famous neighborhoods amongst the business people in suits on their lunch hours, students laden with backpacks on their way to class and delivery men unloading boxes at that back doors of restaurants and pubs. The streets are inviting, fascinating theaters of ever-changing daily dramas.

The Embankment with its parks along the River Thames is reachable from The Strand via cross streets such as funky Villiers Street, next to Charing Cross Station. Strolling here gives one a flavor of this majestic working river. Covent Garden has its colorful labyrinth of indoor and outdoor vendors selling everything from food to flowers to T-shirts to cufflinks. Soho still maintains its legendary Bohemian quality, though many of the shops are decidedly upscale in goods offered and prices charged. While not all shops are accessible, many have flush level entrances, though simple window-shopping can be a delightful way to pass the time.






Despite its walkability, London is a large city with a lot of ground to cover. For many wheelchair users, London’s famous wide-bodied cabs are a viable option. Most are equipped with ramps that pull down from the chassis, or the drivers have portable ramps in the boot that can be quickly installed. While the ramps are a bit steep, they allow wheelers to roll up directly into the cabs and remain in their chairs. Heidi and her lightweight manual chair rolled in with help from Steve, who also steadied the chair during trips since cabs usually don’t have tie-downs. Drivers generally know to park up against a curb so that the distance from ground to cab is reduced and are good at quickly readying the ramps.

One of our taxi trips included a search for an accessible Moroccan souk in the heart of Mayfair. Momo is a scintillatingly exotic, incense-tinged sojourn into 1,001 Arabian Nights. Here one becomes pleasantly entranced by the dark woodwork and Moorish-style decorative accents. Indoor and outdoor dining is wheelchair accessible, but plan a restroom trip elsewhere before or after your meal, as the loo is downstairs. Because the London weather was gently balmy that day, we chose to dine outside beneath sweeping canvas awnings.

Steve selected the tagine de poulet aux citrons confits et olives vertes: chicken tagine with lemon confits and green olives: a pungent stew of tender poultry and aromatic spices. The aroma and taste were heavenly. Heidi’s couscous brochette de poulet -- chicken couscous -- was magnificent. Expertly grilled, marinated boneless chicken arrived on a side plate. The pieces -- along with a side of lighter-than-air bulger wheat and golden raisins -- are then added to the mini-pot containing the delicious pieces of vegetables and the exquisitely flavorful stew-like sauce. We also sampled the hot-out-of-the-oven quince tart, with sweet, fleshy quince slices atop a scrumptious pie-like crust, served with a dollop of quince ice cream and mint leaves.

Though most of London’s most famous neighborhoods are north of the Thames, the South Bank has much to offer. One way to get there is via the iconic red double-decker buses that travel myriad routes. The newer buses are very wheelchair-accessible and are marked with the international access symbol. Wheelers board from the side, where an automatic ramp, controlled by the driver, deploys. Once inside, special designated areas are reserved for wheelchairs, and feature lowered blue buttons for signaling a desired stop. There are no tie-downs, but drivers generally know to avoid jackrabbit stops and starts with a wheeler on-board, thus minimizing unexpected chair sliding or pivoting.

The British Airways London Eye, an other-worldly, totally-wheelchair accessible experience, is on the South Bank. The Eye is the world’s tallest observation wheel and takes visitors on a gentle, 30-minute ride in transparent passenger capsules 450 feet above the ground. The capsules turn slowly, and allow for a 360-degree panorama view of the London skyline. We boarded from a gently-sloped ramp and were able to roll Heidi’s wheelchair directly into the capsule without encountering steps. Staff is well-trained in boarding wheelers and do so with non-chalant skill. The Eye’s facilities in County Hall – including the ticket office, restrooms and a coffee shop – are accessible as well.

If energy level permits, the Millennium Bridge is a wonderful and barrier-free way to cross back over the river. Accessible via elevator, this pedestrian bridge provides sweeping views of the Thames and the city. Once on the north side, a short cab ride delivers one to the grounds of one the world’s finest repositories of history and art, the British Museum.

Here is the place to see such treasures as limestone blocks from the Egyptian pyramids, the Rosetta stone, artifacts from Roman Britain and breath-taking artworks from Asia, the Islamic World and elsewhere. As we entered the main gate on Great Russell Street, a guard pointed us in the direction of a self-operable lift to the left of the steps where a bell is also available for visitors requiring assistance. The well-maintained lift provided a gentle ride up to the entrance level. Once inside, the rotunda impressed us with its grandeur, an artwork in itself. We picked up a map to get oriented, then began exploring. There are many different levels to the museum, but elevators and ramps provide access to most displays.

But man cannot live on history alone. And what would a trip to London be without sampling some Indian cuisine? We got a tip on an excellent eatery at Piccadilly, and just off the English equivalent of Times Square we entered an unremarkable office building. (Again, make a trip to the loo elsewhere, as the restroom is reachable only by many steps.) We took an elevator to the mezzanine level, and stepped into a cheerily lighted restaurant called Veeraswamy. No stale-smelling, curry joint carpet here: just blonde wood, luxe fabrics and sleek, modern lamps. Not what we expected from the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in the United Kingdom.


Steve selected the spicy crab cake appetizer and delighted in its dazzling flavor and heat. Steve’s more traditional chicken tikka entrée was done to other-worldly perfection, which he paired nicely with an understated pinot Grigio. Heidi feasted on a delicate chicken samosa appetizer, followed by wonderfully piquant and sizeable prawns in a red curry sauce, served with Basmati rice and complemented with an icy cold Cobra beer. Moist, fluffy naan bread rounded out the main course. But the topper was a multi-layered creamy cake, painstakingly created layer by individual layer, and garnished with black pepper ice cream.

We’d had several outstanding meals on our trip, but we couldn’t depart without enjoying that most civilized of English traditions: high tea. And where better to experience tea than the fabled Savoy Hotel? Though the Savoy was built long before disability access consciousness, the staff does an amazing job at accommodating guests with mobility impairments. When we made reservations by phone for our tea, Heidi mentioned her special needs. Upon arriving in the lobby, a bellman escorted us through several halls, down an elevator, and through a small part of the kitchen. We then arrived at the Thames Foyer, an opulent setting with a view of the river and a storied history. Here entertainers such as Noel Coward performed and Queen Elizabeth II had her coronation ball.

Several servers attended to our every need, bringing us each our own tea pots and a fabulous selection of tea sandwiches, including the classics, watercress and salmon. We nibbled these, then moved on to the succulent sweets and petit fours while enjoying live piano music. When it came time to depart, a staffer seamlessly escorted us back out to the lobby. All in all, excellent access for a hotel that opened its doors in 1889.

Departure day arrived all too quickly. We took one last cab ride to Victoria Station, where we boarded the Gatwick Express train back to the airport. Great dining, many transportation options, unforgettable attractions and walkable streets made our London vacation one to remember.

Wright is an award-winning journalist. Johnson-Wright, who has used a wheelchair for mobility for 25 years, is an Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator. They live in an accessible, restored historic home in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana. Contact them at: takingflight@msn.com


IF YOU GO:

Virgin Atlantic Air: Call 1-800-862-8621 for reservations, or go on-line at: www.virgin-atlantic.com
Gatwick Express trains: Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 0845 850-1530, or on the website at: www.gatwickexpress.com or upon arrival at Gatwick Airport or at Victoria Station.
Strand Palace Hotel: 372 Strand, London, WC2R 0JJ. Call for info at: +44 (0)20 7836 8080, or make reservations on-line at: Reservations@strandpalacehotel.co.uk. Website: www.strandpalacehotel.co.uk.
Cabs: The principal companies with radio-controlled cabs are: Computer Cab, phone: 0171 272-0272; Dial-a-Cab, phone: 0171 253-5000; and Radios Taxicabs, phone: 0171 272-0272. For info on-line, visit: http://www.transportforlondon.gov.uk/pco/ or contact the Public Carriage Office at: 15 Penton Street, London, N1 9PU, or by phone at: 0207 941-4500.
Buses: For info on-line, go to: www.transportforlondon.gov.uk/buses/index.shtml, or contact the Customer Services Department at: London Buses, 172 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9TN; phone: 0207 918-4300
Momo: 25 Heddon St., London, W1; phone: 0207 434-4040.

Veeraswamy: Mezzanine Floor, Victory House, 99 Regent St., London W1B 4RS, (entrance on Swallow St.); phone: 0207 734-401; on-line: www.veeraswamy.com

Thames Foyer at The Savoy: The Savoy, Strand, London WC2R 0EU; phone: 0207 836-4343; online: www.savoy-group.co.uk/Savoy

The British Airways London Eye, Jubilee Gardens South Bank (next to County Hall); phone: 0870 5000 600; on-line: www.londoneye.com


The British Museum, Great Russell Street; information desk: 0207323 8299; main website: www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk; web page with access info: www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/visit/access.html; e-mail: information@thebritishmuseum.ac.uk

London Pass: To save yourself the time and energy of standing in line, consider purchasing the London Pass, which provides fast, free entry to over 50 of the city’s popular attractions. Contact them on-line at: www.londonpass.com; by mail: The Leisure Pass Group, PO Box 2337, London W1A 5WE; or phone: 0166 450-0107.

London Tourist Board and Convention Bureau: 1 Warwick Row, London, SW1E 5ER; phone: 0207 932-2040; online: www.visitlondon.com

National Key System for accessible restrooms: The non-profit organization RADAR, which seeks to integrate people with disabilities into the community, operates the National Key System. The NKS is a program which provides keys to people with disabilities they can use over 4,000 accessible restrooms in the UK, which are otherwise unavailable to the general public. Write them at: RADAR, 12 City Forum, 250 City Road, London, EC1V 8AF; phone: 0207 250 3222; e-mail: radar@radar.org.uk

Access Project: For an excellent guide to accessible travel in London, contact the Access Project and ask about their book, Access in London. You can order a copy of the guide by sending an e-mail to: gordon.couch@virgin.net or by writing to: Access Project, 39 Bradley Gardens, West Ealing, London W13 8HE. The guides are distributed without charge, but donations are requested. Visit the Access Project on-line at: http://www.accessproject-phsp.org