Category Archives: Visons

This Ignorant Present

I heard a quote from Macbeth that I thought was interesting:

“Thy letters have transported me beyond
This ignorant present, and I feel now
The future in the instant.”
 

 

C-T-D: Conclusion to my time in this place called Tyler

I moved back to my hometown of Tyler in May to begin a brief, post-grad-limbo summer. Since I arrived, I have made it my hobby to explore the city, imagine its potential, and write a series of posts on my ideas. I called this, “Connecting-the-Dots,” because I believe that Tyler (like many cities) suffers from a lack of cohesion and identity. On the micro level, we lack special places (“dots”) fully enhanced with the cultures, traditions, and organizations that comprise our civil society. On the macro level, we lack the connections of transportation and urban design that unite the disparate pieces of what we consider to be a singular unit. I’ve been primarily guided by the question, “Where is Tyler?”

In my attempt to answer this question, I’ve spent my time looking for what I believe makes this city unique: what someone can find here that is not anywhere else in the same way. The places that I love the most are sometimes the places that are most unloved. In other words, the Rose Garden may not be as sexy as Chuy’s right now, but it is unique to Tyler unlike the Austin import. Business in North Tyler might not be as lucrative as its cousin on South Broadway, but it’s more creative, local and artisan. It’s the difference between Janie’s Cakes and the WallMart bakery, Stanley’s and Spring Creek, the Rose Garden and Faulkner Park, Balance and World Gym, La Favorita and Pasado’s.

Unfortunately, all of those places that I believe represent Tyler do not reside together in one awesome, dense, and diverse place. In my opinion, a visitor to this city needs a guide to properly experience what this city has to offer. But suppose there were such a singular place comprised of all the unique Tyler attractions. It would be remarkable. People would come from all over the region to be a part of it’s energy and excitement. Now, suppose there were two. Or three and a street car connecting them. Suppose you could go to one for dinner, the next for a concert and the third for coffee, dessert and drinks and never get into a car or leave your friends. Suppose everyone in East Texas heralded this as the “Tyler experience.” Suppose we leveraged what makes us unique in order to make us uniquely great.

Our city is positioned as a regional powerhouse in oil & gas, the processing of roses, healthcare, higher education, retail, banking, legal and financial services. Suppose we were also known as a creative and innovative community that supports new ideas local aspirations. That is a dream many in this city have been fighting to realize. I believe it’s a dream worthy of this place called Tyler.

C-T-D: The Rose Garden Complex

There are many proud  Tylerites who love the Tyler Rose Garden while also thinking that it needs some work. It’s heralded as the largest municipal rose garden in the nation (impressive), but for  some reason it just doesn’t do it for people. It doesn’t have pull. For the past few days I’ve been thinking about the garden and wondering what Tyler could change to make it a more desirable destination. When I drove there myself, I realized something: The Rose Garden can’t be significant on it’s own.

While there are several components of “The Rose Garden Complex,” they don’t form a cohesive destination. They’re essentially separated from each other by roads and parking lots. As it is, this expanse of asphalt ruins what could be a really cool Rose Garden Complex experience. I wonder if Depave would be willing to help us take it out because it’s got to go. It does not draw you towards anything or direct you to go anywhere. Most of the parking lots don’t even have lines marking individual spots … it is truly formless space.

If you look through the photo album at the end of this post, I think you’ll notice what I’m talking about. I was even impressed and I was expecting a lot of asphalt. I found myself thinking that we patterned our parking lot design after the ship harbor design. It might be because the huge Rose Festival floats need a place to sit and maneuver before starting the annual parade. While that may be the case, I think we can find some parking elsewhere in Tyler … their waiting area on one day of the year shouldn’t hold back the entire space.  Besides, wouldn’t it be more fun to parade through a beautiful space?

Fortunately for Tyler, a blank slate is a great place to start. My mind has wandered for hours these past few days and it finally arrived at the place pictured to the right. It looks like the Tyler Rose Garden Complex, but the center of the picture is grass (light green), trees (dark green dots), and rose bushes (dark green squiggly lines). And a water feature! (blue dot where the paths converge). In this place, the view from Harvey Hall is grand: Down a path bordered by trees, across a great lawn and toward the old fairgrounds and the Rose Garden. There is nothing but trees and grass between Harvy and the Rose Garden so that people can walk from one to another in the cool shade of trees. The Rose Garden itself hasn’t changed much except for the addition of an amphitheater (!) for live converts. (Big shout out to fellow visionary Tom Ramey and others for the idea of making the Rose Garden a music venue).

“Live at the Rose Garden” is the hottest tagline in East Texas because (you guessed it) the backdrop to the concert is the largest municipal rose garden in the nation and for once there is something to do while you’re looking at it. This amphitheater looks like the one from the Portland Rose Garden (to the right), but it’s better because it’s facing the flowers instead of big bushes. Every Friday night during the summer there’s a live concert here and people come from all over to fall in love with the place (and return again). When they arrive, they exit the street car at the stop just outside Harvey Hall on Front St. If they’re driving, they’re directed to park in one of the parking garages (PG) or lots (P) located on the perimeter of the complex. The roads within the complex also have on-street parking and handicapped spots closer to the center of the site. They all meet at the new roundabout in the middle.

Once they’ve parked, they walk down a number of brick paths (red) or bike in the bike lanes along each street (black) to get to the amphitheater. Every Friday night during football season people come early before the games to walk to the lawn that is lit up with lights from the trees. The Rose Garden is even open on these game nights with special events to keep people in the area. All this visiting is great business for the bars and restaurants that opened up in the former fairgrounds buildings! That whole area was rezoned to allow mixed-use infill development so there’s even a small community of people living in apartments with a view of the lawn and garden. They go on walks down the brick paths and do stair runs up the amphitheater in the mornings to stay in shape.

Whew! That place is so alive and engaging that people (even locals) don’t have to have a reason to visit. They just want to be there. Stay tuned for the next place my mind wanders to! I’m thinking it might visit a place that’s more urban … in the meantime, enjoy these photos from the Tyler Rose Complex! It’s ripe for redevelopment.

Check out my other Tyler projects at my Tyler, TX Page.

The Rose Complex

Connecting the Dots: Intro

Imagine if Tyler decided to take a few areas, increase their eminence, and connect them to each other. My latest concept, Connecting the Dots (C-T-D), outlines a long-term process of public and private investment that I’ll complete in the next three followup posts.

The basic idea is often called Transit-oriented development. It’s the idea that we need to begin considering land use and transportation as one unified city function. You see, for the past century or so we have built our cities without considering how people will travel  because access to a car was generally assumed. And, I might add, those without cars were not usually considered valuable (i.e. profitable). Cities have grown rapidly and died gradually with this sort of development because 1. The roads cost too much, 2. New developments make older ones obsolete, and 3. New developments often have difficulty maintaining lasting significance past their prime. This paradigm is the Gander Mountain, it’s the church my family goes to, it’s the Hollywood Tyler Rose theater, and it’s the majority of this city.

But it wasn’t always this way. There was a brief time in history somewhere between horses and cars that we travelled on fixed tracks. During this time, (often) private corporations ran street cars through a partnership with municipalities in order to provide transportation for locals or visitors when they entered the train station, “Welcome to Richmond.” Now, it seems that the main city function is to facilitate transportation through the building of roads rather than to provide transportation for the general public. “But,” you say, “Tyler has a bus system already.” Yes it’s true, but in this post I want to argue that the bus system has not succeeded in unifying our city. Besides, we don’t have many significant areas to visit. What we have is a lot of stores, schools, restaurants and other businesses scattered over 49.3 square miles of asphalt, concrete and St. Augustine grass. Where, I wonder, is Tyler in all of this?

C-T-D seeks to revisit that earlier era of development for a 21st Century application. I have decided to start macro with this first piece (perhaps a look at Tyler 10 years down the road) then followup with more micro concepts for each individual node that I’ve proposed: The Rose District, The Square (with my Urban Valley), and a New Node that I haven’t named yet (ideas?). Each of these locations will be connected to each other with complete streets. This will also provide an alternative to cars and increase their viability as destinations. Completing streets will finally reconnect our asphalt to our buildings after decades of disconnected drives. Also, a recent report promoted by Smart Growth America shows that sidewalks and bike lanes increase the economic vitality of a region. That means more jobs! Eventually, we would add light rail trains (or BRT) to these streets in a circuit in order to properly move citizens from one location to the next.

I personally prefer light rail (yes, in Tyler) because it makes such a statement of  commitment to a given space. Light rail is also not as stigmatized as busses. Besides, it’s just plain cool. Check out the loop (below) I’ve devised for the light rail and complete streets:

Of course, in order to connect the dots … we first need dots to connect. This process involves developing three high-density, mixed use, cool (this is not a joke), and interesting nodes. These nodes are special, they have names and unique characteristics and an eminence that draws people to visit.

Check out my other Tyler projects at my Tyler, TX page.

P.S. I recently returned from a trip to Seattle and Portland and I brought back ideas, the book 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School,  and a Leuchtturm1917 journal with dots instead of lines. Let the games begin.

On Plans and the Future

On November 3, 1951, Robert LeRoy Shepherd wrote an opinion article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch titled “Freedom, Independence, Taxes and the Freeway.” I found this article 60 years after it was written and was struck by the candor of his voice and the content of his message: Plans for the future must respond to reality.

At the time it was written, the city was in the midst of a highway battle over the plans for the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (what is now a section of I-95). As was common practice at the time, Richmond politicians contracted large firms to develop plans for this expressway without significant input from the residents of the city. As a result, the thought of destroying the city for a highway divided citizens and outraged residents. Many conceded that the city fathers had already decided what would be best for Richmond, but fought to make their voices heard during the second public referendum of the highway plan.

Uncertainty filled the minds of Richmonders who were unsure whether their city would be completely transformed by this idea proffered by huge national planning firms and local politicians. The highway plan would result in the destruction of large sections of the city and would forever change the way people move throughout the region. On a more philosophical level, the plans for the highway also seemed to fundamentally question the legitimacy of the physical structure city. After 210 years of individuals shaping the built environment, an outside idea was being presented as more legitimate. At this moment of crisis in the battle for Richmond’s future, Shepherd wrote a philosophical piece that questioned the idea of a highway in Richmond and made a simple, yet compelling argument for democracy in the midst of the American highway era.

At this point in time, the Richmond Times-Dispatch was not new to articles and ads related to the expressway.  Leading up to the referendum on November there were dozens of references to the highway including political ads, cartoons, editorials, news articles, and opinion submissions. Many of these references simply recycled the same ideas and arguments for or against the highway plan. In these arguments it was too expensive or it was the ultimate solution to traffic, either not the will of the people or a well-developed plan vetted by studies and experts.

Amidst the banal arguments, Shepherd’s article called Richmonders to think critically about the process of planning a highway in the 50s. He was not enamored by the professional firms that planned the highway or their ideas for the future of Richmond. Instead, he writes, “Inflexible plans result in a fixation of mind. Steering them becomes an obsession kindred to a driver’s headlong dash above or over a freeway.” To Shepherd, politicians in Richmond were  trying to make the plan fit an unwilling populace. To Shepherd, the future was not so easy to predict.

While many framed the highways as American progress, Shepherd framed the highway plan as megalomania. He compares the politics to Alexander the Great, Caesar, Hitler, Hirohito, and the British Empire. The one thing in common was the concept of invasion and empire, but more philosophically the empires were imposed and forced on unprepared societies. The empires constantly developed their ability to transform the life of citizens in order to complete the assimilation of diverse societies. The highway was no exception. Plans for the city of Richmond were meticulously developed before being presented to the people of Richmond and expected to impress and amaze. The highway was an idea from the outside that was forced upon cities in America and unwilling to change or shift to fit the will of the people.

To Shepherd, these plans did not make sense in context because they weren’t democratic. “Taxes and plans?” writes Shepherd, “Yes.” In some instances it is wise to plan for the future and prepare for potential changes and developments, “But [while] some lead to the freedom of men, others lead to a fixation of mind and bondage just a binding as chains.” Today we are living the legacy of these plans and I believe we finally beginning to understand the captivity of which Shepherd spoke. While the highway seemed like an opportunity for growth, it has become a fundamental aspect of American life. What was once vehemently opposed has now become part of routine commutes and shopping trips.

Many people look at cities without any sort of historic lens or context, but a deeper understanding of the politics of a place will give us a better understanding of the place itself. As we continually struggle to recover our buried past we will likely find similar instances where democracy failed and voices were silenced. Uncovering these voices will further illuminate our nation’s past and present and allow us to begin to right our future.