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jthomas

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About jthomas

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  1. Has anyone heard a timeline for a resumption of the Piedmonts? The NC By Train site is still showing the same service alert from three months ago. The more time that passes, the more I worry that these trains will not come back due to NCDOT's budget woes (even though I'm sure the money it takes to run them is a pittance compared to what it takes to feed the highway industrial complex).
  2. OK - I think that's a fair way to make the distinction. And certainly a hallmark of good design is the ability to make the parts of a building that are functionally necessary to be beautiful as well. But, I don't buy the modernist notion that objects whose purpose is to be beautiful are not "functional." Isn't beauty is a worthy function in and of itself? Aren't aesthetics a crucial part of the architect's job? An engineer can design a building too - why not just let them have at it? Why do something like this, when it is not crucial to the building's function? To bring it back to the Grand Bohemian, while the style is not my cup of tea, I think the ornamentation is effective in its purpose of evoking a certain time period and feeling, which seem to be the distinctive part of the experience with this hotel chain. So in that sense, the design is highly functional for its owner. I think you can make valid critiques of elements of the building (the bell tower thing feels off to me, and the column at the corner seems awkward) and the materials (will this look like crap in 10 years?). But I don't think it is any less intellectually honest than a modern style building, and I appreciate the variety in design. (I'm really enjoying the discussion BTW - all in good fun!)
  3. To clarify - I didn't mean that modern buildings don't receive criticism, but that the specific criticism of "pastiche" seems to only be leveled at buildings with classical elements. As if an arch or a pediment in the year 2020 is more intellectually dishonest than a curtain wall or a piloti. But I wholeheartedly agree that crap buildings are crap no matter what flavor, and that the most important construction material is money!
  4. I'm not defending this building specifically, but why is this criticism only ever leveled at buildings with classical elements? One could just as easily claim that a building with smooth planes or curtain walls is pastiche ripped from Mies or Le Corbusier. The brainwashing they give us in architecture school is strong, but modern architecture today is just as much a caricature of the original as are newly built classical designs. IMO the intellectual underpinnings of Modernism are dubious in hindsight (especially the notion that there is nothing valuable to be learned from the past), but regardless, today's glass boxes are just another form of stylistic decoration rather than a pure ideology distilled into architecture. I say this as someone who enjoys modern design - I am just tired of the myth that modern design is inherently more virtuous. It creates a huge disconnect between the types of buildings that architects want to design, and the types of buildings that the average person actually enjoys being in.
  5. This brings up another interesting argument in favor of fares on public transportation, especially fares of the monthly/annual variety. Cars have very high fixed costs - a car payment, taxes, insurance, and maintenance can easily be $5-10k per year or more. However, the incremental cost of use is comparatively very low (artificially so, due to low gas taxes, abundant free parking, etc.), so this gives a vehicle owner a strong incentive to maximize use to get a greater return out of the investment of owning the vehicle. Since our cities are constructed in a way that makes vehicle ownership de facto mandatory, most people only consider the incremental costs of driving, which makes it difficult for transit to compete on cost (why pay $5 for a trip that only costs $0.50 worth of gas?). In an environment where transit is reasonably competitive with driving for many trips (which admittedly is a long way off for most US cities), an annual transit pass would actually be an incentive for more transit use. Like car ownership, once you have sunk the money into buying a pass, you would want to use it as much as possible to get the best value out of it. Even at something like $1,200/year, an unlimited pass would be way cheaper than car ownership. I think a good goal for most US transit systems would be not "what system do we need for people to live car-free," but rather "what system do we need so each household could have one fewer car than today?" Even this modest improvement would be transformative for most cities.
  6. Here is an interesting article arguing against free transit in most instances, from someone who is very much a transit proponent: https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/07/18/free-public-transportation/ The basic premise is that the money it would take to eliminate fares entirely (even if a system's farebox recovery is low) would have a greater positive impact on ridership if it was spent on improving service instead. I think a better solution would be to greatly simplify fare structures to make them more user friendly, which would lower the barriers for new users of a system. And ideally, there would be a single method of payment that would be valid across different modes and across systems in different cities. So instead of me having an NYC Metrocard, Chicago Ventra card, etc., there would be a single card/app that is almost universally valid (kind of like the E-Z Pass for toll roads). Even just focusing on NC, imagine if there was a single app/card where you stored value which was valid for riding NCDOT intercity trains and the local transit systems in each city where the train stopped, and all you had to do to ride was scan or tap. I think a seamless, intuitive, integrated system like this would do a lot facilitate car-free mobility.
  7. Great pictures - thanks for sharing! Would love to have some of those old buildings (and the streetcars!) back. Seeing those old pictures of Davie Street makes me even more upset about how crappy the Westin project is turning out to be.
  8. Ugh. Not surprising, because nice things rarely make it to the finish line unscathed, but that entire streetscape looks like garbage. What a waste.
  9. I agree that a work commute would not be necessary for the people flexible enough to take advantage of that type of arrangement. My concern is that if these small towns see growth due to an increase in demand, that growth will take the form of subdivisions and strip malls - i.e. not the types of development that make a small town attractive in the first place. To give an example that I am familiar with, look at Southport. It has a great little main street and a nice street grid in the town proper. It has the bones to grow up into a slightly denser and bigger version of itself without losing any of its small-town charm (think New Bern as an example of what it could grow into). And there has been a huge explosion of full-time residents there in the past 10 years. But instead of the town proper growing up within the same footprint, every forest and field on the edge of town has been plowed under to put up the same garbage strip malls and subdivisions that you can find in Mooresville or Summerfield or Holly Springs or any of the other thousands of faceless communities in this country. And of course, this creates the same traffic nightmares that people are ostensibly trying to escape, because the only way you can get anywhere is in a car. It's an endlessly repeating cycle of lunacy, and it won't stop until there is a major philosophical change at multiple levels of government. That is why I am pessimistic about any shift away from urban areas under the current status quo. The possibilities are wonderful, but the reality will suck without some serious intentional effort.
  10. I think struggling small towns are more susceptible to the allure of the Growth Ponzi Scheme - the thought being that while a place like Charlotte or Raleigh can afford to be picky about development, these other places need to take any opportunity that comes along. So then, what has to change in the incentive structure to produce the outcome of small town revival, rather than exurban sprawl? One thought is that land use and transportation planning should be coordinated together at a regional level. Perhaps there would be a standard set of sustainable land use policies that cities/counties would be required to adopt if they wished to participate in a regional transportation system. In other words, no community is forced to adopt anything, but if they wish to benefit from being a part of a metro region's transportation system, they need to adopt land use policies that reinforce that system.
  11. In my perfect world, folks who are looking for an alternative to the bigger cities would move to the inner areas of the many wonderful small towns we have, breathing new life into existing settlements rather than fueling the endless proliferation of strip mall/subdivision hell. Salisbury, Lexington, Burlington, Goldsboro, Reidsville, Shelby, Statesville, Lincolnton - these towns and many more like them have very walkable Main Street and in-town areas. They have good bones that could easily accommodate modest growth, infill, and densification that would enhance the character of the small town. More importantly, all of the towns I mentioned are not too far from the major metro areas, and could plausibly be connected to the bigger cities with some type of regional transit. Unfortunately, these areas are less likely to be equipped with the tools (and the mindset) to push for this type of growth, so increased demand in these areas is likely to only result in more sprawl. IMO, Covid has not changed the fundamentals that have fueled the urban resurgence in the past decade. Suburbs and rural areas are not any safer from a health perspective, despite what some would have you believe. Autocentric suburbia is fundamentally unsustainable from an economic, environmental, and public health perspective. It will be unfortunate if the Covid panic delays the acceptance of this fact by the American public.
  12. I agree that the time is now to start planning, and that the state should be thinking big with the rail asset that it already owns. I-40/85 is already always busy, and IMO has become significantly less pleasant to travel in the past 10 years. Other than widening the two roads from 4 to 6 lanes in Orange County, I think these highways have already been expanded to what should be their finished state for the next 50 years. Any additional capacity needed (and demand is only going to continue to grow) should be added to the parallel railroad instead. I'm sure it would take multiple billions to further widen I-40/85 between Charlotte and Raleigh. If that level of investment was instead put into the NCRR, we could likely have an electrified, fully multi-tracked railroad capable of high levels of intercity and regional service, moving more people faster than the highway ever could. Oh, and this alternative would also be better for the environment and would likely stimulate massive investment in the central areas of every city along the line.
  13. Yeah - my personal opinion is that even with massive investment, attempts to urbanize surburbia are doomed to fail. Even the best greenfield mixed-use developments are sterile compared to true inner-city urban fabric. The type of money required to "fix" sprawl would be much better invested in densifying areas of cities that already have urban layout and infrastructure. As for the office parks, the low-hanging fruit is putting buildings on the parking lots. Beyond that, one of the major obstacles to any kind of urban feel is that "block" sizes are massive (if you can even call the spaghetti of typically curvilinear roads a block). Establishing a finer-grained street grid would help, but again I question whether that level of investment is wise or appropriate, especially in outer-suburban areas that ideally would have never been developed in the first place.
  14. I agree with this. The geographic centrality and the density of services and amenities in CBDs will always be fundamentally desirable IMO. While we don't yet know how office use will change post-covid, thousands of years of human civilization suggests that center cities will always remain important. An interesting question to ponder if kermit's prediction comes true - how do you adaptively reuse a suburban office park? On the plus side, the excessive surface parking allows for plenty of new development opportunities. On the other hand, most office parks have anti-urban, auto-oriented street networks and are often located in areas that would be difficult to serve well with transit. Also, the office buildings often have massive, deep floor plates that could be difficult to retrofit to residential or other uses.
  15. Absolutely - it needs a cornice detail at the very top of the building. That way, the top floor would read as the "capital" in the base-shaft-capital vertical composition. I'm really surprised this was omitted (unless it is yet to be installed - although the renders posted earlier don't show anything like that). It really ruins an otherwise decently-detailed building, and leaves it feeling "incomplete" as mentioned above.
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