Tag Archives: urban planning

getting out of a burning building

There’s no perfect way to get people out of a burning high rise quickly.

Fire evacuation in high-rise buildings: a review of human behaviour and modelling research

A review of literature related to fire evacuation in high-rise buildings was carried out with the following objectives, (1) to identify the key behavioural factors affecting the performance of people during a fire in a high-rise building, the singularities associated to this type of buildings and areas of future research; (2) to review the procedures and strategies currently adopted in high-rise buildings; (3) to review and analyse the capabilities of evacuation models by reviewing their current characteristics and applications in the context of high-rise building evacuations. The review included both findings on human behaviour in high-rise buildings and modelling techniques and tools. Different categories of building use were taken into account, namely office buildings, residential buildings and health care facilities. The individual or combined use of different egress components was analysed. Egress components include the use of stairs, elevators as well as alternative means of escape (e.g., sky-bridges, helicopters, etc.). The effectiveness of the egress components is strongly affected by the building use and the population involved. The review shows that evacuation models can be effectively employed to study relocation strategies and safety issues associated with high-rise buildings. The suitability of egress models for high-rise building evacuations is associated with their flexibility in representing different egress components and complex behavioural processes. The review highlights that there is not a definitive model to be used but that the predictive capabilities of evacuation modelling techniques would be enhanced if more than one model is employed to study different egress aspects. Future research and model developments should focus on the study of the impact of staff actions, group dynamics and people with disabilities. Given the increasing height of buildings and the gradual reduction in the physical abilities of the population, the effects of fatigue on evacuation need further studies.

Philadelphia’s comprehensive subway system

Like Boston, New York, Chicago, and many European cities, Philadelphia had a plan to build a comprehensive subway system early in the 20th century. Hidden City Philadelphia describes why most of it was never built.

The “Taylor Plan” outlined creating subway lines along Chestnut, Walnut and Arch Streets, a loop to distribute riders of the Broad Street Subway around City Center, a spur into Northeast Philadelphia on Roosevelt Boulevard, and a line along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to points north. In his plan, Taylor outlined this Parkway line as an extension of the Broad Street Line, which eventually opened with service from City Hall to Olney Avenue on September 1, 1928. The Parkway-Roxborough (or Northwestern) line would have started as an subway at City Hall and then proceed below the Parkway to 29th Street, where it would have continued as an elevated line to Henry Avenue, following that road north past Wissahickon Creek…

The majority of Taylor’s planned routes never came to be nor did Philadelphia’s original transit master plan. Taylor was replaced in 1916 by a more pragmatic transit commissioner, William S. Twining, who took exception to many of Taylor’s ideas. Where Taylor saw transit as a stimulant of growth, Twinning believed that lines should only be built where there was already demand…

The last gasp of an enhanced mass transit system came in July of 1929 when Mayor Harry Mackey signed an ordinance for a ten-year transit program that included the Ridge Avenue subway line, the Locust Street subway line, and several other never-built transit routes. The Mayor authorized a $55,000,000 loan that never materialized. Unlike New York City, Philadelphia did not move forward with subway expansion projects to alleviate the city’s crushing unemployment rate during the Great Depression.

It’s a sad missed opportunity. It could still be done, and in fact it is being done throughout the developing world today. But U.S. leaders generally do not have the vision or imagination to consider even the possibility of picking up a plan like this.

best practices for sidewalk closures

Here are some best practices for sidewalk closures published by the city of Oakland, California. In a nutshell, contractors have to provide a walkway rather than make pedestrians cross the street in downtown areas, expect for very short periods. The walkways have to be ADA accessible. If the walkways take up a bike lane, there has to be a safe place for the bikes to go. Barriers have to be substantial enough to actually protect pedestrians if vehicles hit them. I could walk 5 minutes in any direction in Philadelphia and see every one of these principles violated.

February 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

  • The idea of growing human organs inside a pig, or even a viable human-pig hybrid, is getting very closeTiny brains can also be grown on a microchip. Bringing back extinct animals is also getting very close.
  • Russian hackers are cheating slot machines by figuring out the pattern on pseudo-random numbers they generate.
  • From a new book called Homo Deus: “For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.”

January 2017 in Review

I just realized I forgot to do a month in review post in January. Well, I had a lot going on in my personal life in January, most notably the arrival of a tiny new human being. Blog posts are not the only thing I forgot – I forgot to pay some important bills and to do some important paperwork at my job too.

3 most frightening stories

  • Cheetahs are in serious trouble.
  • The U.S. government may be “planning to roll back or dilute many of the provisions of Dodd-Frank, particularly those that protect consumers from toxic financial products and those that impose restrictions on banks”.
  • “Between 1946 and 2000, the US and the Soviet Union/Russia have intervened in about one of every nine competitive national-level executive elections.” The “Great Game” is back in Afghanistan.

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

optimal city block length

This article in Harvard Gazette is about the optimal block length for walkability. The basic conclusion is that small is generally better, but there is some minimum below which pedestrians are spending too much time crossing streets. If I were laying out a city though, I would want to err on the side of smaller because it is much easier to close streets to vehicle traffic than to create new streets where there previously weren’t any.

IBM’s Smarter Cities

What exactly has IBM been up to all this time with its Smarter Cities program? It’s been hard to figure out. The marketing hype and media coverage have seemed to die down a bit. But here is an article in Cities with some research on it.

An investigation of IBM’s Smarter Cites Challenge: What do participating cities want?

In 2010, IBM created the Smarter Cites Challenge to address critical issues of the 21st century through its digital expertise, in collaboration with city governments. Despite questions about the origin and intentions of IBM’s involvement, 130 cities from all around the world took up the challenge in the first five years. There is limited case study research available on a number of participating cities which has not been able to unpack cities’ rationale for working with IBM. This paper provides an index of all participating cities in the Smarter Cities Challenge, to understand the areas of interest in which urban governments have been seeking IBM’s consulting service. Findings present the state of smart city thinking in urban governments, and raise questions about the multidimensional integration, if any, across the areas of focus in which digital technologies are shaping contemporary cities.

Thomas More’s utopia

Here’s an interesting article on Thomas More’s utopia from the 1500s. He envisioned a series of economically specialized medium-scale cities (a couple hundred thousand people, keeping in mind a million-person city was enormous at the time and there were only a few in the world) separated by farm and natural lands and connected by transportation links.

October 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

  • The U.S. electric grid is being systematically probed by hackers working for foreign governments.
  • According to James Hansen, the world needs “negative” greenhouse gas emissions right away, meaning an end to fossil fuel burning and improvements to agriculture, forestry, and soil conservation practices to absorb carbon. Part of the current problem is unexpected and unexplained increases in methane concentrations in the atmosphere.
  • The epidemics that devastated native Americans after European arrival were truly some of the most horrific events in history, and a cautionary tale for the future.

3 most hopeful stories

  • New technology can read your heartbeat by bouncing a wireless signal off you. Mark Zuckerberg has decided to end disease.
  • While he still has people’s attention, Obama has been talking about Mars and zoning. Elon Musk wants to be the one to take you and your stuff to Mars.
  • Maine is taking a look at ranked choice voting. Ironically, the referendum will require approval by a simple majority of voters. Which makes you wonder if there are multiple voting options that could be considered and, I don’t know, perhaps ranked somehow? What is the fairest system of voting on what is the fairest system of voting?

3 most interesting stories

Edward Glaeser on infrastructure

Edward Glaeser questions the idea of massive federal spending on infrastructure.

While infrastructure investment is often needed when cities or regions are already expanding, too often it goes to declining areas that don’t require it and winds up having little long-term economic benefit. As for fighting recessions, which require rapid response, it’s dauntingly hard in today’s regulatory environment to get infrastructure projects under way quickly and wisely. Centralized federal tax funding of these projects makes inefficiencies and waste even likelier, as Washington, driven by political calculations, gives the green light to bridges to nowhere, ill-considered high-speed rail projects, and other boondoggles. America needs an infrastructure renaissance, but we won’t get it by the federal government simply writing big checks. A far better model would be for infrastructure to be managed by independent but focused local public and private entities and funded primarily by user fees, not federal tax dollars.

I get the argument that investing without a plan leads to waste. We don’t really have any real planning at the federal level. I think it would help for the federal government to set a vision and direction for what the smart infrastructure of the future should look like, and not just transportation (public, private and human muscle-powered) but energy, water, communications, freight, manufacturing, housing and even green infrastructure. One of the problems with local authorities and companies doing the planning is that they focus on only one of these things at a time, so they miss out on potential synergies and opportunities for hybrid infrastructure. An example might be highway corridors that serve as rights of way for high speed rail, high-voltage lines, pipelines and movement corridors for wildlife. Another might be a system of parks that move water resources, improve water and air quality, absorb floodwaters, counteract climate change, provide habitat and improve peoples’ health.

He is right though that a lot of planning needs to be at the metropolitan area scale and incorporate hard-nosed cost-benefit analysis. This is already done to a certain extent by designated “metropolitan planning organizations”, but this only applies to transportation. It could be more comprehensive. I also see a middle ground between pure local funding and pure federal funding. Federal funds can be targeted only to projects that are in line with the national vision and the local comprehensive plan. They could be low- or no-interest loans rather than outright grants. They could be grants but require local matching funds and encourage private investment. They could be loans that are partially forgiven if the projects meet performance and cost-effectiveness criteria.

Having both federal and local plans ready to go, along with a federal infrastructure bank able to issue bonds, would also mean the country could really take advantage of periods of unemployment and low interest rates both to stimulate the economy in the short run and boost productivity and prosperity in the long run.