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Thursday, September 30, 2010

MICROPOLITANS: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS Part 2



MICROPOLITANS: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

With their small cores but sometimes expansive boundaries, micros are more rural and less intense than cities but more civilized and less rustic than traditional rural areas. They frequently come with the promise of cheap land and lower construction costs, plus fewer bureaucratic hoops to jump through than urban centers.

One in 10 Americans lives in a micropolitan. One out of five U.S. counties is a micro. Micropolitans grew by nearly 8 percent in the 1990s.

Lang is careful to differentiate micros from exurbs, a concept with which they are sometimes confused.

“Exurbs are a subset of the suburbs, and are still part of the metropolitan community and economy. Exurbs are within the metropolitan area, on its fringe. Micros are a fringe metropolitan area,” he explained.

People living in exurbs tend to commute back and forth to the core city, while micropolitan residents can and often do live, work and play within the boundaries of the micro, without venturing into the nearest metropolitan area. That is what makes them attractive as growth areas.

While micros lack a large central city of over 50,000 residents, they often contain central cities akin to modest-sized towns, according to census analysis of 567 micros in the continental U.S. published by Lang and co-author Dawn Dhavale. Yet some of the country’s largest micros are more than just overgrown towns; they are better characterized as a new decentralized or countrified city.

“Micropolitans are as diverse as cities, as different as Detroit and Los Angeles,” Lang said.

“Some are poor, some affluent. Some are politically conservative, some liberal. Some are racially homogenous, some very ethnically diverse.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

MICROPOLITANS: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS Part 1



MICROPOLITANS: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

A peaceful view of mountains from the office where big city business deals are made. Acres of development-ready infrastructure unfettered by urban bureaucracy and red tape. Savvy business proprietors plying their trades Monday through Friday, then fly fishing and hiking on the weekends in their own backyards.

What may sound like non-sensical contradictions or a novelist’s flight of fancy are realities in communities all across the country. Such communities – called micropolitans – exist throughout the United States and are attracting the attention of developers and residents alike, particularly those who want big city conveniences and a small town feel.

But just exactly what is a micropolitan and why are they factoring into America’s growth trends? The US Office of Management and Budget in June 2003 introduced the following definition: “at least one urban cluster of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000 in population.”

To put this in real terms, a true expert is essential and Robert Lang fits the bill.

Robert Lang, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was the director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech as well as an associate professor in Urban Affairs and Planning. He has researched and written about micropolitans (or micros) extensively.

“Micros are a fringe metropolitan area, not in a metro area. And it’s the size of the micro’s core -- the principle city or cities -- that matters. A micropolitan can be comprised of one or more counties, but they are there own distinct places,” he said.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

MARC BAUTIL : Santo Domingo Urbanist


MARC BAUTIL : Santo Domingo Urbanist

By Steve Wright

Ask an urbanist to name cities in the Americas with a great sense of place, human scale and a functioning core worthy of old world Europe and you’re likely to hear a common refrain of “New York, Charleston, Boston, Savannah…”

Even if the list grows to a top 25, you will never hear “Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic” blurted out.

Marc Bautil -- trained as a civil engineer, experienced as a diplomat, raised in exotic cities in Africa and in love with the grand old cities of Andalusian Spain – is working to make the oldest city in the New World one of the most desirable urban experiences in the Americas.

Neither politician nor planner, he worked tirelessly to convert a significant but severely neglected building into a boutique hotel in the heart of Santo Domingo’s urban core – the Zona Colonial, or Colonial Zone: an area rich with churches, ruins and structures dating back to the 1500s.

“The construction was financed by Dona Elvira de Mendoza -- a noble dame, the first poetess of the New World,” Bautil said of what today is the 14-room Dona Elvira hotel that fits right into the old city’s urban fabric halfway between a long, pedestrian, commercial street and the waterfront Malecon where ancient buildings await restoration while presiding over the blue Caribbean waters where Christopher Columbus sailed into port in 1492.

“It was built around 1550. She also financed the church next door, Iglesia Regina Angelorum, an historic structure run by the Order of Malta nuns and where all big weddings take place,” he continued.

Despite such a grand beginning, the old colonial mansion was split into two parts and a modern part was added on. In the early 1900s, the once regal building was used as a Pepsi Cola warehouse.

“We bought it in a dismal shape,” said Bautil, who tore down the out of place modern addition to recreate a proper colonial courtyard – which also serves a 21st century hostelry need by accommodating a small swimming pool. “We preserved the historical building entirely.”

“The fa├žade could not be changed, nor the roof, nor the wall’s location. It became the lobby, restaurant and the office of the consulate,” said Bautil, who still serves as the Belgian consul to the Dominican Republic. “We kept 90 percent of the 500-year-old wooden beams and we also restored the ancient water well.”


Bautil’s road to urbanist is an interesting one. He was born the son of a judge in the Belgian Congo in 1962. By the time he was 19, the family had lived in Tunisia, Rwanda and Burundi. He earned a civil engineering degree in Burundi then completed a master’s in construction in Belgium.

His first job was as an engineer in Agadir, Morocco working on an apartment complex and road construction before becoming a project manager in giant cement factory for the largest Danish construction group. Bautil also worked in the design department in the Dubai location of Besix, Belgium ’s largest construction firm.

By the early 1990s, he was fluent in six languages and began work as a diplomat for Belgium in Los Angeles. Bautil eventually started an international translation company – ilanguage.com – in the Dominican Republic in 1998.
He and his wife, Elvira, had become smitten with the Latin American nation during a 1992 visit that prompting them to build a beachfront vacation home in Cabarete on the island’s north coast. They moved to the Dominican permanently in 2001.

"In 2003, we took a tour of the old cities of Andalusia and fell in love with the historical districts of Granada, Cordoba and Sevilla. After staying in a few great historical inns in Andalusia, we decided to recreate a piece of Old Spain in Santo Domingo. The hotel opened in mid 2004," Bautil explained.

Along with historic preservation, Bautil is deeply involved in sustainability. The Dona Elvira heats its water by solar power and he is looking to solar cells to supply the electricity for the eclectic property. Bautil also is building a trio of apartment and villa developments in Samana, DR, with green buildings, renewable solar and wind energy and dozens of other eco-friendly features.
Bautil said Santo Domingo, like all urban areas built long before the automobile, has parking issues and also needs increased security. But its colonial charms far outweigh its challenges.
“Zona Colonial is a special urban area. Only Rome has a higher density of churches. The Zona Colonial, a tiny fraction of the Santo Domingo, has about 30 churches, convents and ruins,” he said.

Bautil has high hopes for the continued restoration and preservation of Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone, which was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1990.

He is pleased that Oscar de la Renta restored a grand old mansion across the street from him and he has faith that government stability can further preserve the historic core of North America’s seventh largest city.

“We have a peatonal (the grand east-west pedestrian boulevard of El Conde), parks, bars, restaurants, museums, churches, businesses, apartments, grand restored mansions -- all in place,” Bautil said of what attracts his family to the compact and walkable old town. “Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial allows you to restore the human and cultural dimension to the city.”

Visit the Dona Elvira website at: www.dona-elvira.com


Wright has written for a living for 25 years, with nearly 5,000 published articles. He lives in historic Little Havana and is very active in Miami’s urban issues. He and his wife of 20 years also are involved in making new and old towns more accessible for people with disabilities.

Monday, September 27, 2010

INCLUSIONARY ZONING part 8


INCLUSIONARY ZONING

Ted Koebel, professor of Urban Planning at Virginia Tech, is not opposed to Inclusionary Zoning, but believes the affordable housing gap would be better closed by citywide or regional zoning that allows for all ranges of housing price points and needs in several neighborhoods.
“Very few cities allow mixed density, mixed use development and if you want to do something creative, you slam into a wall of discouraging regulations,” he said. “We don’t do enough comprehensive planning to create applications of zoning that would allow you to do more complex development. Developers can do master planned developments and have them be very well representative of all housing needs.”

Koebel said American planning comes from a history of segregation of uses. Mixed use and mixed density development requires so many variances and zoning changes that developers throw in the towel before trying to serve a diverse market here.

“European zoning allows for mixed use by right. What they review are issues around massing of buildings, the relationships of building to its surroundings, how growth fits the transportation system,” said Koebel, noting that European cities maintained a mix of affordable housing for centuries.

Koebel said the idea that housing has to be segregated by income “is flat out wrong.”

“This is not social experimenting. Developers can create a well-planned mixed product, but most zoning regulations demonize mixed income, mixed use development. Our local regulations speak to one market – middle income and above. True Inclusionary Housing starts with regulations that allow developers to build more diverse products.”

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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

INCLUSIONARY ZONING part 7


INCLUSIONARY ZONING

In San Diego, a voter-approved initiative made affordable housing a big part of the development plan for the urban growth area to the north of the core city. In that low-rise growth area, which started being developed in 2003, 20 percent of the housing must be affordable.

Todd Philips, director of the San Diego Housing Commission’s Policy and Public Affairs Department, said the Inclusionary Zoning program for the north growth area has created nearly 1,000 affordable units and has a goal of creating another 1,000 before build out is completed.

He said affordable is mixed with market rate in the new developments. Typically, single family homes are market-rate and a pair of developers team up to make garden-style apartment condominiums to fulfill the affordable requirement.

“We look at comparability with the market rate and the affordable. Not that if the market rate has granite, the affordable has to too. But we do want the housing to be comparable in quality and appearance,” he said.

In 2003, San Diego created a requirement of 10 percent affordable units in the infill redevelopment areas in the old city, but that phase endured a brutal legal battle before developers settled on a formula to calculate payments in lieu of building affordable units.

Despite the challenges, Philips counsels politicians, planners, Realtors and others interested in creating Inclusionary Zoning in their hometowns to “shoot for the moon.”

“Even a 10 percent fee probably isn’t enough. We need to truly address what it costs to house a working class person.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

INCLUSIONARY ZONING part 6


INCLUSIONARY ZONING
John McIlwain, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, said Inclusionary Zoning is a piece of the puzzle.

“It won’t produce the amount of affordable housing that’s needed by a long shot, but it’s still a very valuable tool if it’s done right.”

McIlwain said cities start with the premise that Inclusionary Zoning will provide affordable housing without hurting the market. He said that is true under two circumstances:

1) A market so strong, that Inclusionary Housing can be imposed on developers and they will still make a lot of money.
2) The more likely scenario that the city gives developers something in return to offset the loss of profits associated with selling units below market price.

“In most cases, bonus density is the key. That’s one way a city can do it without spending money,” he said.

McIlwain said because high rise condominiums are so expensive to build, it is often difficult to create affordable units within them. He also cautioned that a low income family will not be able to keep up with the high monthly fees levied by high rise condos

“The biggest pitfall is pushing income limits down too low,” McIlwain said. “The advice I can give is (to use Inlcusionary Zoning) for working people, the workforce earning 80 to 100 percent of area median income. Some other program can then be created to address affordable housing needs of people below 80 percent of median income.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

INCLUSIONARY ZONING part 5


INCLUSIONARY ZONING

Inland in Sacramento, where California’s capital city saw the percentage of affordable homes fall from 70 percent to less than 10, Inclusionary Zoning is applauded. Desmond Parrington, a planner with the City of Sacramento, said nearly 2,000 affordable houses and rental units have been created.

The city’s Mixed Income Ordinance, created in 2000, seeks to “prevent segregated communities through economic integration.” It also “aims to provide affordable housing that fits the character of market rate neighborhoods.”

“(The program) has been successful at creating new mixed income communities that might not otherwise be created when new housing is built, due to the high price of land and construction costs in California,” Parrington reported.
“It ensures that there are lower-income units that are part of market rate developments and that those units are built concurrently with the rest of the project.”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

INCLUSIONARY ZONING part 4


INCLUSIONARY ZONING

In Housing Supply and Affordability: Do Affordable Housing Mandates Work?,
published by the Reason Public Policy Institute funded by a grant from the Home Builders Association of Northern California, researchers Benjamin Powell and Edward Stringham found data that suggests Inclusionary Zoning is a failure in Northern California because it:

• Produces few units. “The 50 Bay Area cities with Inclusionary Zoning have produced fewer than 7,000 units.”

• Has high costs. “The total cost for all Inclusionary Units in the Bay Area to date (is) $2.2 billion.

• Makes market-priced homes more expensive. “In high market-rate cities…Inclusionary Zoning adds more than $100,000 to the price of each new home.”

• Restricts the supply of new homes. “In the 33 cities with data for seven years prior and seven years following Inclusionary Zoning, 10,662 fewer homes were produced during the seven years after the adoption of Inclusionary Zoning.”

• Costs government revenue. “The total present value of lost government revenue due to Bay Area Inclusionary Zoning Ordinances is upwards of $553 million.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

INCLUSIONARY ZONING part 3


INCLUSIONARY ZONING

Thomas M. Menino, mayor of Boston, has created affordable housing via Inclusionary Zoning since 2000.

“Neighborhoods accept them well and they are well scattered about,” Geoffrey Lewis, a project manager with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said of market rate buyer’s willingness to have affordable units created next to them.

“Our mayor wanted economic diversity throughout the neighborhoods,” he added. “They (city leaders) realize a strong middle class is going to be important to the continued vitality of Boston. The political leadership has been very strong. It understands that if we don’t get housing costs under control, it will be detrimental to our economy.”

Lewis cautioned that Inclusionary Zoning requires a strong housing market to make it work, noting “if the market isn’t strong, developers will look at Inclusionary as the thing that’s killing the project.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

INCLUSIONARY ZONING part 2


INCLUSIONARY ZONING

Susannah Levine and Adam Gross of Chicago’s Business and Professional People for the Public Interest believe in the power of Inclusionary Housing.

“Inclusionary housing is an extraordinarily effective and efficient way for cities to create affordable housing,” they said. (Author, consultant, former mayor of Albuquerque) David Rusk has calculated that if the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States had adopted typical Inclusionary Housing programs (a 15 percent set-aside on ten or more units), between 1980 and 2000 those 100 programs would have produced 2.6 million affordable units. That's almost twice as many units as were built using the most productive federal affordable housing program, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. Montgomery County, MD, which has the longest-running Inclusionary Housing program in the country, has created more than approximately 11,000 affordable units since its program began in 1974.”

Derek Camunez, a Denver Realtor, sees things differently.

“We believe that mandating affordable housing is not nearly as effective as providing builder incentives such as tax breaks, creative zoning for higher densities and speeding up the permitting process for providing access to affordable housing,” he said.

“Denver's annual report on the Inclusionary Building Ordinance is finding that the affordable housing stock is not significantly increasing. Moreover, the city is discovering that they are not getting the desired cross cultural families taking advantage of this housing stock that they had hoped.”

Monday, September 20, 2010

INCLUSIONARY ZONING part 1


INCLUSIONARY ZONING

By Steve Wright

Working as a firefighter, school teacher, retail salesperson or entry-level professional has never been considered dishonorable in America.

Wanting to live in a healthy community with access to the best jobs, schools, cultural activities, transit and more has always been viewed as a worthy pursuit in this nation.

But with a vast number of jobs offering middle to low wages and a great amount of new housing being built in price ranges reachable by only the middle and upper class, the gap between working class wages and desirable neighborhood affordability is widening each day.

From large urban centers to new growth areas, the police officer and the other backbones of the workforce cannot begin to dream of buying even a one bedroom condo or a small cottage.

To try to level the playing field, hundreds of cities have created Inclusionary Zoning (also known as Inclusionary Housing) as a way to create a percentage of affordable units intermingled with the market rate units and their skyrocketing price points.

Inclusionary Zoning has dozens of forms, but most typically a development with a certain threshold of units – often 10 or more – is required to offer affordable units – usually 15 percent --- to households earning roughly between 60 to 120 percent of the area median income.

Quite often, such mandatory Inclusionary Housing requirements come along with developer incentives such as increased density, expedited permitting and reduced or waived inspection fees.

To some, Inclusionary Zoning is the means to preserving a healthy mix of diverse incomes, ethnicities and work forces in increasingly pricey municipalities.

To others, Inclusionary Zoning is an impediment to growth, an interference on the free market and an exceedingly expensive cost-per-unit way of integrating lower incomes into high land value areas.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 12




WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM
BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN


Whether a trip is urban or rural, the key to finding wheelchair access is planning ahead.

The internet is a great start, but always call the air line, hotel, rental car agency, transit authority, park, attraction, etc. to get detailed specifics on accessibility.

Jetways and bulkhead seating -- easier to get to and has more legroom – is great for disabled flyers.

Cities with modern trains, trolleys and buses equipped for wheelchair users will save on transit expenses.

Calling ahead -- to confirm that taxis can accommodate wheelchair users, shuttle buses are barrier free and rental agencies that offer vehicles with accessibility modifications – can avoid a lot of headaches.

Getting explicit details on hotel access – does “disabled room” mean wide doors; lowered peepholes, climate controls and closet rods; and roll-in showers?, or does it mean the property is clueless about the needs of wheelers? – can lead to worry-free lodging.

Wright is an award-winning writer-photographer-policy adviser. Johnson-Wright is an Americans with Disabilities Act expert who has used a wheelchair for three decades. Contact the Little Havana couple at stevewright64@yahoo.com

Saturday, September 18, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 11


TRANQUIL ADVENTURES

Captain Mick Nealy, who has post polio syndrome and sometimes uses a wheelchair for mobility, has more insight into barrier-free boating than any charter boat captain in the Keys.

From the back of his Key Largo home, he launches a ramp- and lift-equipped pontoon boat that is perfect for wheelchair users.

The boat has a hydraulic lift that can lower disabled swimmers, snorkelers and kayakers into the water and it even has an improvised barrier-free restroom: a portable flush toilet, shower curtains for privacy.

The Captain, who knows Largo’s waters from gulf to bay, reef to mangrove-lined backwaters, is an expert angler and who has figured out all kinds of ways of rigging fishing poles and equipment to accommodate even high level quadriplegics.

Tranquil Adventures, Key Largo Florida, 305-451-2102, www.tranquiladventures.com

Tomorrow: Tips on barrier-free travel planning

Friday, September 17, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 10



BIG ISLAND

Wheelchair-accessible wonders abound on this intriguing isle.

Near the northern tip, the Pololu Valley Lookout’s paved parking provides access to stunning views.

In one direction, a lush valley appears to go on forever, untouched by development.

Look the other way and see 400-foot vertical cliffs and waves of the blue Pacific crashing against exotic black sand below.

On the Hamakua Coast, locals and visitors alike line up at Tex Drive-In for malassadas.

The Portuguese “donuts” are served warm and with chocolate, cream and preserves filling where the hole would be.

On the Hilo side, a paved sidewalk leads ramped raised platform for viewing Rainbow Falls.

Wheelers gaze at the shiny, silvery waters gush into the serene and verdant gorge below.

On the Kona side you can hear the “singing” of Kona Nightingales – wild braying burros whose forbearers worked at the island’s coffee plantations.

Pololu Lookout, North Kohala. Tex Drive-in, Hamakua Coast, 808-775-0598.

Rainbow Falls, Hilo, 808-587-0400, www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dsp/hawaii.html

Tomorrow: TRANQUIL ADVENTURES

Thursday, September 16, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 9



ZION NATIONAL PARK

As National Parks go, Zion is perhaps the most accessible park of Utah's natural treasures.

It has the best wheelchair access and most barrier-free trails.

The Lower Emerald Pools Trail provides both the best views and most challenging inclines of the bunch.

Visitors taking the paved one-mile trail may be treated to glimpses of mule deer and wild turkeys.

The trail’s occasional steep inclines eventually bring hikers several hundred feet from the canyon bottom.

The Pa’rus Trail is the easiest to negotiate.

The two-mile paved trail stays on flat terrain along the canyon floor and offers views of blooming cacti.

The stupendous one-mile paved Riverside Walk has gentle inclines that hug the eastern wall of a great, towering sheet of rock on one side and the roiling Virgin River on the other.

Zion National Park, Springdale Utah, 435-772-3256, www.nps.gov/zion

Tomorrow: BIG ISLAND of Hawaii

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 8


EASTERN MARKET

Since 1891, through very good and very bad times, Detroit rich blend of people have flocked to this 43-acre marketplace.

On warm summer Saturdays, upwards of 50,000 pack the various buildings to find the freshest produce, meat, spices, flowers and hundreds of other products.

The cluster of pavilions is completely wheelchair-accessible and longtime fans arrive at 7 a.m. to buy their goods fresh off the trucks.

The old, reasonably accessible buildings along the edge of the sprawling marketplace house diners, bakeries, candy stores and more.

At lunchtime, the some of the best barbecue and Detroit-style Coney Island hotdogs can be had for rock bottom prices.

Eastern Market, Detroit Michigan, 586-393-8800, www.easternmarket.org

Tomorrow: ZION NATIONAL PARK

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 7


HOCKING HILLS

Located in Southeastern Ohio, the Hocking Hills are a pristine collection of caves, trails and foothills of the Appalachians, formed by glacial action millennia ago.

Much here is accessible, even famed Ash Cave, a 90-foot high sandstone recess cave reachable by a paved trail through a woodland wonderland.

Hikers through this part of the Ohio State Parks system glimpse songbirds perched amongst the majestic hardwood trees and in the spring can view a waterfall cascading over the cave’s roof.

Nearby, a paved, wheelchair accessible trail was built in the picturesque valley floor of Conkles Hollow, also a part of Hocking Hills State Park.

The half-mile barrier-free trail gives wheelers a stunning look at the cool hemlock gorge, as well as views of the rock edifice of Blackhand sandstone towering above.

Hocking Hills State Park, Logan Ohio, 740-385-6842, http://www.ohiodnr.com/parks/parks/hocking.htm

Tomorrow: EASTERN MARKET IN DETROIT

Monday, September 13, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 6



NATURAL WONDERS JUST AN HOUR OUTSIDE LAS VEGAS

Mount Charleston is just 50 miles from the casino cacophony of the The Strip.

The temperatures drop as the altitude rises – to more than 12,000 feet, on the tree-covered mountain.

Its Desert Overlook Trail, up at an elevation above 8,000 feet, is an paved, wheelchair-accessible path that leads to a spectacular view of mountains and the desert floor below.

People used to come to this site to watch nuclear bombing at the Nevada Test Site.

Area 51 is also off in the far horizon.

Valley of Fire State Park is less than 60 miles from Vegas, but a world away in tranquility and environment.

Petrified logs, sandstone that looks like beehives and another that looks like an elephant can easily be seen from the car or several accessible parking spaces.

These bizarre tangerine/crimson/ochre rock formations (some with petroglyphs) have passed for Mars in many a grade B sci-fi film.

Mount Charleston, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, 702-515-5400, www.fs.fed.us/r4/htnf/districts/smnra.shtml

Valley of Fire State Park, 702-397-2088, http://parks.nv.gov/vf.htm

Tomorrow: HOCKING HILLS

Sunday, September 12, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 5


PIERCE BROS WESTWOOD VILLAGE MEMORIAL PARK

Of all the final resting places of the stars in Tinseltown, nothing comes close to boasting so many luminaries in such little space as Pierce Bros.

Hidden behind a cluster of Westwood Village high rises this cemetery accommodates wheelchair-using visitors with paved paths and level ground.

Above ground crypts host Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote and Dean Martin – his marker inscribed with “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime."

Interred celebs who met untimely deaths include: Frank Zappa, Bob Crane, Roy Orbison, Natalie Wood, Minnie Ripperton and Dorothy Stratten. Classic pairings include Odd Couple Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau plus Family Affair’s Brian Keith and Sebastian Cabot.

Baby Boomer favorites at rest are: Carroll O’Connor, Burt Lancaster, George C. Scott, Robert Stack and Rodney Dangerfield – with his apropos epitaph: “there goes the neighborhood.”

Pierce Bros Westwood Village Memorial Park, Los Angeles California, 310-474-1579. Best unofficial website: www.seeing-stars.com/Buried2/PierceBros.shtml

Tomorrow: NATURAL WONDERS JUST AN HOUR OUTSIDE LAS VEGAS

Saturday, September 11, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 4



WOLF PARK

In this Wi-Fi, workaday world, an encounter with things feral is all too rare.

But in a corner of rural Indiana, an accessible-to-all sanctuary beckons to the wild thing in all of us.

Located in Battle Ground just 70 miles from Indianapolis, Wolf Park is precisely what it says: a park where wolves can be not merely observed, but understood and sometimes even petted.

People who truly love wolves work here, teaching visitors about wolf behavior and social order, as well as dispelling myths about aggression and savagery.

The focus at this modest, comforting place is conservation, not exploitation. An enclosed observation area is ramped and visitors of all abilities can travel the hard-packed trails that lead throughout the park. The gift shop and restrooms are also barrier-free.

Wolf Park, Battleground Indiana, 765-567-2265, www.wolfpark.com

Tomorrow: PIERCE BROS WESTWOOD VILLAGE MEMORIAL PARK

Friday, September 10, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 3


MONUMENT VALLEY

Monument Valley, with its iconic buttes and mesas, sits on the border of Utah and Arizona, contained wholly within Navajo Tribal lands.

Its cyclopean rock formations -- familiar from myriad car commercials, movies and Marlboro ads -- thrust up from the desert floor with a majestic eternalness that captivates even the most world-weary among us.

Visitors with disabilities can drink in the stark beauty of the Mittens, Merrick Butte and many other formations from the wheelchair-accessible visitor center with its multi-level outdoor observation platforms.

For the red dust under your fingernails experience, tour the valley floor with a Navajo guide.

While wheelers can ride in the wagon caravan being pulled along, a gentler ride can be had in the cab of the pick-up truck next to the guide.

Monument Valley Tribal Park, Monument Valley Utah, 435-727-5874, www.navajonationparks.org/htm/monumentvalley.htm
Navajo backcountry tours, 435-727-3231, www.gouldings.com/english/tours.htm


Tomorrow: Wolf Park

Thursday, September 9, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN part 2


BROOKLYN BRIDGE

What American landmark could be more iconic than the Brooklyn Bridge?

And what could be more exhilarating for a disabled visitor to learn that the pedestrian pathway is 100 percent barrier-free?

The moment you start the ascent up the pedestrian path (above the parts for trains and cars), your heart skips a beat.

One could traverse John Roebling’s steel cable suspension bridge a thousand times and discover something new every 1,600-foot journey.

Rolling west into Manhattan an hour before sunset, one can gaze north for dazzling perspectives of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings illuminated by the low-hanging sun.

The fellow walkers on the 1883 masterpiece are pure New York street theater – fat, skinny, loud, private, friendly, hurried, strange, local, immigrant, tourist, banker, pauper.

Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan to Brooklyn New York, 212-360-3000., www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/dot/html/motorist/bridges.html

Tomorrow: Monument Valley

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN


WHEELING THROUGH AMERICA: 10 BARRIER-FREE TREASURES FROM
BIG CITIES TO NATIONAL PARKS TO EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN


By Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright

Travelers who use wheelchairs have travel tastes as diverse as any able-bodied vacationer.

Wheelers simply have to search a little farther to find barrier-free fun:

The big city with a world-famous landmark that can accommodate people with disabilities gets the booking over one that does not.

The National Park or natural area with trails and visitor centers capable of being traversed by wheelchair gets the nod over those that have neither.

The far flung or middle of nowhere destination with barrier-free attractions get visited, while the attraction that fails to remove barriers gets trimmed from the must see list.

Finding an unexpected treasure – a magnificent park not far from man made monstrosities, an almost too good to be true country inn – makes travel magical for everyone. If such a hidden gem readily accommodates people with physical impairments, that gem becomes the Hope Diamond to the disabled traveler.

During the next 10 days, we will profile 10 diverse wheelchair-accessible destinations across America. They may not be the top 10, but they certainly are barrier-free (Hope) diamonds in the rough.

Tomorrow: The Brooklyn Bridge

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

NEW URBANISM’S TRUE ROOTS part 5


NEW URBANISM’S TRUE ROOTS:
GREENFIELD TRADITIONAL TOWN PLANNING OR URBAN INFILL REVITALIZATION


By Steve Wright

As New Urbanism looks back over its first decade-plus of existence, a key question arises: are the movement’s true roots in building new towns such as Seaside and Kentlands, or should they lie in rebuilding Main Street America?

“New Urbanism is guiding development across the spectrum, including urban centers (both in the downtowns and the often decaying neighborhoods surrounding them) suburbs and exurbs, small cities and small towns. There will certainly continue to be substantial greenfield development across the country. If we turn our back on it, we lose the opportunity to design sustainable new towns, instead of continuing placeless sprawl. At the same time, New Urbanism is shaping the downtown revivals going on in many cities across the country, and this also is a chance not to be missed,” Don Johnson said.

Johnson gave these quotes during a 2004 interview back when he was a development associate with the architecture, planning and development firm Becker + Becker Fairfield, CT.

Johnson believed that most New Urbanists view the new towns vs. urban infill debate as a false dichotomy.

Johnson said it is clear that New Urbanist ideas are filtering into professions such as real estate development, community development, city planning, traffic engineering and ecology.

“I think New Urbanism has definitely helped raise the standard of expectations of people when imagining what is possible,” he said. “I think New Urbanism will become more mainstream, and many of the ideas which seemed revolutionary 10 years ago and perhaps controversial now will be seen as accepted wisdom.”

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.

Monday, September 6, 2010

NEW URBANISM’S TRUE ROOTS part 4



NEW URBANISM’S TRUE ROOTS:
GREENFIELD TRADITIONAL TOWN PLANNING OR URBAN INFILL REVITALIZATION


By Steve Wright

As New Urbanism looks back over its first decade-plus of existence, a key question arises: are the movement’s true roots in building new towns such as Seaside and Kentlands, or should they lie in rebuilding Main Street America?

Will Selman, a senior planning analyst in charge of New Urbanist development for the Lancaster County, PA Planning Commission, believes said the movement’s focus should be in creating better places “and not giving over vast areas of suburban development to continued sprawl.”

“While most Americans are not willing to move back into traditional towns, no matter what New Urbanists might do there, a good percentage are willing to live in a greenfield TND setting,” he said. “This is a baby step back to urbanism; while the current generation of Americans may not be willing to live in historic town settings, the next generation, raised in the relatively more urban setting of a greenfield TND will have a greater appreciation of
urban settings.”

“Over time, I certainly hope that the trend is toward urban infill. The real challenge though is not infill of existing historic towns, but the retrofitting of late-20th century suburban sprawl,” he said.

Tomorrow: Don Johnson

Sunday, September 5, 2010

NEW URBANISM’S TRUE ROOTS part 3



NEW URBANISM’S TRUE ROOTS:
GREENFIELD TRADITIONAL TOWN PLANNING OR URBAN INFILL REVITALIZATION


By Steve Wright

As New Urbanism looks back over its first decade-plus of existence, a key question arises: are the movement’s true roots in building new towns such as Seaside and Kentlands, or should they lie in rebuilding Main Street America?

Michael Lander, founder and president of The Lander Group, a Minneapolis-based real estate development firm, is so rooted in urban infill projects, that his firm has done no greenfield work. Needless to say, he believes New Urbanism’s greatest accomplishments will take place in the city centers.

“We see transportation issues are huge all over the country,” he said, speaking of people fed up with hour-plus car commutes from suburbia. “We see the tremendous amenities in the core city: the arts, culture, sports. That’s pushing people back into the cities.”

But Lander said beyond brownfield issues and restrictive zoning, there are additional hurdles when doing infill redevelopment.

“The really interesting thing to me about infill development is if I go to a neighborhood meeting to propose a new project and I shut my eyes and listen to people, they complain about too much traffic, too much density,” he said. “They want a buffer, no stores near them. They ask for the prescription for suburbs, which is strange Even though my neighbors love the city, they describe suburbia, which is odd, because they say they are city people, that they’d never live in the suburbs.”

“With greenfield, the cows moo and you keep on going…there’s not much resistance to that. With infill, we do lots of neighborhood education. We meet a lot of resistance. Everyone is so fearful of their property values,” said Lander.

Tomorrow: Will Selman, a senior planning analyst in charge of New Urbanist development for the Lancaster County, PA Planning Commission

Saturday, September 4, 2010

NEW URBANISM’S TRUE ROOTS part 2



NEW URBANISM’S TRUE ROOTS:
GREENFIELD TRADITIONAL TOWN PLANNING OR URBAN INFILL REVITALIZATION


By Steve Wright

As New Urbanism looks back over its first decade-plus of existence, a key question arises: are the movement’s true roots in building new towns such as Seaside and Kentlands, or should they lie in rebuilding Main Street America?

John Norquist, president and CEO of CNU and the former mayor of Milwaukee, said infill “generates warm feelings,” but green sites must get attention because they are getting the lion’s share of development activity.

“If we take the attitude that if it’s not infill, it’s immoral, then you leave all the greenfield stuff to be developed without planning. Then you have the same sprawl taking place and it continues to be done in very ugly ways,” Norquist said.
Norquist believes that “the CNU is more focused on infill than any other organization.”

“The interesting thing about infill is the market is showing that there is lots of consumer interest in dense urban blocks. But the CNU also must be active in new town development. Well-developed greenfields, with an urban street grid and properly conserved land, compliment the center city,” he said.

Tomorrow: Michael Lander, founder and president of The Lander Group, a Minneapolis-based real estate development firm.

Friday, September 3, 2010

NEW URBANISM’S TRUE ROOTS part 1



NEW URBANISM’S TRUE ROOTS:
GREENFIELD TRADITIONAL TOWN PLANNING OR URBAN INFILL REVITALIZATION


By Steve Wright

As New Urbanism looks back over its first decade-plus of existence, a key question arises: are the movement’s true roots in building new towns such as Seaside and Kentlands, or should they lie in rebuilding Main Street America?

New Urbanism may ultimately have a larger impact in dense urban settings, but its leading proponents say greenfields have to remain high on the agenda.

“From the beginning, the New Urbanism has been dedicated to both the inner city and greenfield development. One is not more important than the other, as the Charter states. However, I think that the greenfield project is the most urgent because that is where 95 percent of the construction in this country is taking place,” said Andres Duany, co-founder of the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU).

“The inner city can be ‘on hold.’ Were the New Urbanism to turn away from greenfield projects, it will have removed the only alternative -- the only friction, that conventional suburban developers have,” Duany said. “The root of the New Urbanism is reform after the failure of the promises of suburbia.”

The principal of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, a Miami-based firm famed for planning in more than 250 new and existing communities, is more interested in fusing with environmentalism than debating infill vs. greenfield.

“The New Urbanism is headed toward a fusion with environmentalism. Environmentalism is currently in crisis because it has not made a proposal for the human habitat. Its tendency to ‘green’ everything prevents urbanism. They are crashing because of their limited toolbox. The New Urbanism is entirely symbiotic with the environmental movement. Because the environmental movement is infinitely more powerful politically, we should propel ourselves into a new paradigm that will effectively counter suburban sprawl.”

Tomorrow: John Norquist, president and CEO of CNU

Thursday, September 2, 2010

COOL PLACES – ACCESSIBILITY AND COMFORT ON THE ROAD THROUGH THE FOUR SEASONS: PART 5


COOL PLACES PART 2

By Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright

The United States is brimming with cool places in the desert, on the Pacific Coast, in the most urban surroundings and even in the subtropical swamp.

These places are cool because they’re hip, they’re cool because when you gaze on their natural and manmade charms, you’re sure to shout out “how cool!” and they’re cool in terms of climate – if you pick the right time of year.

Here is a guide to four wheelchair-accessible major destinations, with information on picking the right time of year and tips for staying cool in all four seasons.

IF YOU GO:
Arches National Park (435)719-2299 www.nps.gov/arch

Monument Valley Tribal Park (435) 727-5874

www.navajonationparks.org/monumentvalley.htm

Gouldings Lodge (435) 727-3231 www.gouldings.com

ArcLight Cinemas, (323) 464-1478 www.arclightcinemas.com

Amoeba Records (323) 245-6400 www.amoebamusic.com

The Original Los Angeles Farmer’s Market, (323) 933-9211 www.farmersmarketla.com/

Avalon Hotel {and blue on blue} (310) 277-5221 www.avalonbeverlyhills.com

Circle Line {Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Ferry} (212) 809-0808 www.circlelinedowntown.com

Trinity Church {and St. Paul’s Cathedral} (212) 602-0800 www.trinitywallstreet.org

Lyden Gardens (212) 355-1230 www.affinia.com/NYC-Hotel/Lyden-Gardens

Miami Beach Beach Patrol {beach wheelchairs} (305) 673-7714

www.miamibeachfl.gov/newcity/pubsafe/bpatrol.asp

Everglades National Park (305) 242-7700 www.nps.gov/ever

Biltmore Hotel (305) 445-1926 www.biltmorehotel.com

Captain Mick Nealey (305) 451-2102 www.tranquiladventures.com

Wright is an award-winning travel writer-photographer. Johnson-Wright is an Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator. They live and manage to stay cool year round in Miami’s Little Havana. Email them at: stevewright64@yahoo.com

Editor's Note: The idea for Cool Places came from a friend of ours who has Multiple Sclerosis. Folks with MS generally do not fare well in the heat and humidity -- thus the need to travel to the subtropics or desert when it's cool out.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

COOL PLACES – ACCESSIBILITY AND COMFORT ON THE ROAD THROUGH THE FOUR SEASONS: PART 4



COOL PLACES PART 2

By Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright

The United States is brimming with cool places in the desert, on the Pacific Coast, in the most urban surroundings and even in the subtropical swamp.

These places are cool because they’re hip, they’re cool because when you gaze on their natural and manmade charms, you’re sure to shout out “how cool!” and they’re cool in terms of climate – if you pick the right time of year.

Here is a guide to four wheelchair-accessible major destinations, with information on picking the right time of year and tips for staying cool in all four seasons.

Miami

Miami, a place so famed for its blazing sun that the city’s NBA team is named the Heat. But in January, the Magic City is magnificently temperate with daytime highs in the mid 70s and balmy nighttime lows of about 60.

Winter is the perfect time to stroll on South Beach and make a daytrips to the Everglades or Keys.

Don’t be surprised to see locals in leather jackets on Miami Beach’s famed Lincoln Road in January. The temperature that feels perfectly balmy to you feels like a deep freeze to the locals.

Just roll along the wide, pedestrian-only pathways of Lincoln Road and eat at outdoor cafes, shop at chi-chi boutiques and people watch to your heart’s content.

Head a few blocks south on Collins Avenue and turn east to fabled Ocean Drive. There are three barrier-free routes to drink in the oceanfront art deco gems and other candy colored confections: sidewalks on either side of the street, or via a serpentine pathway between the famous street and beach.

The beach east of the serpentine wall is accessible via beach wheelchair available for free from the City of Miami Beach Beach Patrol Station. For great proximity to the Beach, Keys and Glades, not to mention the largest (and lift-equipped) pool in North America, stay at the famous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

Everglades National Park is a natural wonder unlike any other. Famous for its gators and swamps, it also has several boardwalks that accommodate wheelchair-using visitors.

The Royal Palm Visitor Center’s Anhinga Trail, which provides access via pavement and wooden boardwalk, is a fabulous half-mile round trip. This self-guiding trail winds through a sawgrass marsh, where you may see alligators, turtles, anhingas, herons, egrets, and many other birds, especially during winter’s temperate days.

The Pahayokee Overlook, a quarter mile trail boardwalk loop that provides sweeping vistas of the “river of grass,” is fully wheelchair-accessible and wonderfully tranquil.

In Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has a Mangrove Trail with a barrier-free boardwalk that loops through a natural wetland. Winter time is not only cooler, but the best time to avoid the mosquitoes and other flying creatures.

For the best sunset views on the planet, book a fishing or sightseeing charter with Captain Mick Nealey’s Tranquil Adventures. The Captain has a ramp-equipped pontoon boat that is perfect for wheelchair users. It even has hydraulic lifts to enable mobility-impaired snorkelers and kayakers.

Editor's Note: The idea for Cool Places came from a friend of ours who has Multiple Sclerosis. Folks with MS generally do not fare well in the heat and humidity -- thus the need to travel to the subtropics or desert when it's cool out.