Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Black Cab Sessions

I have a dirty little secret. And I am ashamed to admit that I have kept it to myself for this long! Despite being so delayed in spreading the news, I will tell you about this absolutely brilliant website called Black Cab Sessions. The producers of Just So Films pile artists into the back of black cabs in London to sing one of their songs acoustically or a cappella. For whatever the reasons, the acoustics are perfect and sometimes the lighting is just pristine. They have hauled around everyone from Ryan Adams to Brian Wilson, and Death Cab for Cutie, to lesser knowns like King Creosote, Phosphorescent, and Slow Club. I have stumbled across so many great bands through them and was proud to see that they were named one of the Top 10 Music Websites of 2008 by The Independent (UK Newspaper). 

And finally! After a year or so of this project in the UK, they are making their way to the United States- hooray! And in keeping with the theme, they will continue to film in the back of black cabs. Honestly, I think they should go for the yellow taxi, but why change now? So, if you or someone you know happens to have a black cab hanging out in a garage, and are willing to loan it for a shoot or two, you may just end up with the likes of The Kings of Leon in your backseat! Or even better, a young, not yet known band that you come to love. Now, how smart is that?

Friday, January 23, 2009


I know this is a few days belated, but I am still basking in the sunlight of the inauguration! Obama's speech was absolutely spot on, and it seems to have been well received around the world. I was happy to hear President Obama say that we need to get to work and rise up above this crisis. I think he brought a lot of hope and inspiration to our citizens with his words. 

Kids in school across the country watched the inauguration live via streaming internet video. I can only hope and pray that Obama inspired them to rise up as well. To show them a new kind of role model. Instead of wanting to be the next Kanye or Jay-Z, continue their education and become Senator or even President. Instead of banking on playing in the NBA and out-dunking LeBron James, to get involved in the community and make their own neighborhood a better place. 

The excitement that our new President has brought to this country has spread all the way down to the youngest of her residents. So, here's hoping that Obama can make a difference with the future generations. 

In case you missed the speech, or you just want to relive the moment, here it is: Obama Inaugural Speech

And for more presidential action, check out Tuesday's NY Times crossword puzzle, it was some all-American fun!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Downtown Dilemma

For those unfamiliar with the Dallas market, we are a city of great sprawl. Suburbia reigns supreme. In recent years, there has been a huge effort to rejuvenate and revive our business-oriented, and mostly vacant downtown area. They have done some wonderful things with a few of the older buildings, i.e. The Power & Light Building and The Wilson Building. Some great, albeit expensive, restaurants have moved into the area as well. During the business week, you can find little cafes of all different fares open to serve the many professionals that work downtown. Not to mention our arts district. A brand new opera house is quickly taking shape among our skyline, the Meyerson Symphony Centre, the Dallas Museum of Art, and of course, the world class Nasher Sculpture Centre. One of the more recent projects that has surfaced is the renovating of The Mercantile Tower. My mom brought this to my attention via email, as she originally worked for Mercantile Bank and it is where she got her start in project management. The link she attached was this one: Techon Dallas Inc. A blog that follows restaurant and retail development in Dallas. This entry specifically talks about the renovation of The Mercantile Tower into a residence/retail space.

The tower looks great, with its recent relighting and all around sprucing up. However, I think there are a few issues with how they approach drawing new residents downtown in general. I have looked at the rental rates for The Merc (the lofts in Mercantile Tower), and they are OUTRAGEOUS! Developers market to young professionals (ages 25-35) to fill these spaces, but the monthly bill is so high that there are very few in this age group who can actually afford to pay that amount each month. The Wilson Building is one of the few, if not only, buildings that rent is under $1000/month, and just barely. So, most of the condos still sit for sale, and the new apartments for rent. Many buildings, like The Merc, continue to remain practically vacant. The whole idea is to bring people back to the city centre, but it has to be attainable or who will make the move, especially in a time of economic crisis? It's the exact same problem that my mom, our friend, and I discussed over lunch about Victory Park. They aim for young people , but it's priced just out of reach. Victory Park is essentially a ghost town on a daily basis, only filling up for hockey and basketball games. Every store in Victory Park is high end. The stores with more moderate price points or even independent store owners cannot afford to move into the retail space, due to the high rent rates. I realize the demographic they are trying to attract is the successful yuppies that are willing to spend big bucks on a loft, shopping, and dining out on a daily basis. But truth be told, those are a small percentage of the population as it is, and shrinking as our national unemployment rate skyrockets.

If they make living downtown a little more attainable, they may find that downtown will be the vibrant city centre developers and business owners all are hoping for. I'm not saying that we need to hang "move-in special" and "Se Habla EspaƱol" signs, and lower the rent to $399/mo, as these developers need a little ROI. But maybe take a down a peg? Our next door neighbor Fort Worth has lofts in beautiful historic buildings for very reasonable rent rates. Their downtown is a thriving and popular destination. Any given weekend you will find locals filling the streets- going out to eat, drink, attending concerts and movies. There are sure to be activities for people to participate, and shows to witness, on of my favourites being the horse whispering contest. Fort Worth may not be as high fashion as Dallas, but I think we should take a page from their urban planners/developers to help bring a pulse back to our own downtown. Granted, it wouldn't hurt to have such benefactors as the Bass family too. :)

There are parks and public interest projects that are in the blueprint stage which will continue to beautify our downtown, but getting them off the paper and into reality is proving to be a real feat.

So we must be reminded, that when it comes time to vote on such propositions like the Trinity River project, to be sure to participate and voice our opinions! Sometimes it requires a public mandate to really get the wheels in motion on such projects.

With a balance of realistic expectations on what future residents are capable of affording, and a little good marketing, we could realize a burgeoning urban centre that all can be happy with.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Transportation Policy Under Obama

I was pleased to hear that Obama is creating an office of Urban Policy, dedicated to strengthening our cities. Plans are in the works on developing public transit including rail, but there is also attention paid to roads and bridges, which has stirred up criticism for many reasons. Critics argue why we would want to spend any more money on the road system when there are so many negative consequences such as continued pollution from vehicles and encouraging more people to spend time stuck in traffic. The City of Boston spent billions of dollars on the Big Dig in attempts to relieve traffic, but studies have shown it hasn't actually helped in the big way people had hoped to validate taxpayers money spent on the project.

Public transportation is definitely the direction we are headed. And here in Dallas, DART is expanding the rail system in all directions. But, it's important that we don't ignore the highway system that we have already spent so much money, time and manpower to develop. Cars and other vehicles will still be a major means of transportation and shipping even if we do have an extensive rail system. We have done extensive research on alternative fuels that will allow the continued use of cars and other vehicles. Buses are another important means of public transportation. On my recent visit to San Francisco I was pleasantly surprised to see electric/hybrid buses connected to overhead wires! These buses reduce emissions and can connect people to remote parts of the city, which the subway system there does not. Also, the rail system will take years to complete. California is beginning work on it's high-speed rail system that will connect LA and San Francisco, but projected completion date is not until 2030! Can we afford to ignore our current means of transportation and allow our roads and bridges to crumble while we wait for a national rail system that connects us to every destination? We shouldn't forget the horrible bridge collapse that happened in Minnesota two years ago. There are dozens more bridges that could fail in the future if we discontinue or reduce maintenance on them.

I know it seems counter-productive to spend any more time and money on roads, bridges and highways, but we all need to be patient. The planning and construction of rail is in progress, but it will, like most urban policy issues, take time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is It Too Easy Being Green?

We're back! Now that the holidays are over, we can finally settle back into our blogging chairs and get serious about posting. Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's! 

Since returning from Spain, I finally found the time to play catch up with all the blogs I follow. And today I was reading a stunning little post from my friend's blog named A Lifeboat Called Utopia. It's all about our global environment and economy, and what we need to do to fulfill our role as responsible participants in our ecological system. So, this got me thinking about the popular things people do so they can claim they too are eco-friendly. 

Ryan, being the author of a blog with such environmental awareness, you may be able to speak to this subject more extensively, but the one solution to global warming I hear about the most is reducing your carbon footprint. This is can be achieved through a number of ways, i.e. buying a Terra Pass or paying a couple of extra bucks for carbon offsetting on your airfare. This sounds like to me people are just buying their way out of accountability. Not to say everyone who pays for carbon offsetting doesn't make other efforts to better the environment, but the way that I feel this particular solution is marketed, and therefore perceived, is that you pay to reduce your carbon footprint, and then go about living your life with a guilt free conscience. Or at least guilt-free about global warming. However, I think the original idea was to purchase carbon offsets IN ADDITION TO making other attempts to go green, if you will. The attitude I seem to take away from all this carbon offsetting is that you can continue to drive that 20 mile commute in your gas guzzling SUV, by yourself, with no effort to carpool or switching to a more fuel efficient car. Because you've offset the damage you're causing!  On the other hand, my co-author gets up every morning at 5am to ensure she can make the train for her 30 mile commute to work, so that she doesn't have to drive her SUV everyday. Now that's responsible!

I don't watch this show often, but I caught a King of the Hill episode a few weeks ago that addressed this very issue. In an effort to better connect with their customers the propane shop that Hank works at "goes green." They do a number of things to clean up their act and become environmentally responsible. Then the competing propane shop across the street "goes green" by simply paying to reduce their carbon footprint, meanwhile going about their typical, polluting, and environmentally irresponsible ways of life. All the while clicking their heels because they can put on an eco-friendly face toward the customer. 

I have come to consider this somewhat of a cop-out. I'm all for buying that Terra Pass or purchasing from companies who have carbon offset programs, as long as you've done your homework and they are truly a responsible company. And just as important, doing your own part at home. 

Of course, all this is coming from my 35 mpg MINI Cooper driving, no commute to work, high horse. :) I understand not everyone can trade in their pick up truck for a Prius at the drop of a hat, but all I ask is to do your duty as an active member of this planet. 

I'll leave you with a few words from Ryan's blog that truly hit home for me: 
"Nature is not a zero sum game, where our gain is nature's loss. May permaculture design and a more profound understanding of our unity with nature usher in an era of regenerative economy, rather than extractive false economy. Species of the world unite!"

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Image of the Architect

This poster is pinned up in our office...just thought it's funny how architects are seen