Friday, March 30, 2012

Noodling for March

I thought to start out this end of the month’s Noodle I would throw out some quotes on the process of city planning:

You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there.
- Yogi Berra, baseball catcher (1925-present)

In our profession, a plan that everyone dislikes for different reasons is a success. A plan everyone dislikes for the same reason is a failure. And a plan that everyone likes for the same reason is an act of God.
- Richard Carson, Pacific Northwest planner and writer.

Planning lies with men; success lies with heaven.
- Chinese proverb

There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.
- Douglas H. Everett

In Houston, a person walking is someone on his way to his car.
- Anthony Downs, writer

Long-range planning works best in the short term.
- Euripides, poet (480-406 AD).

A hundred years after we are gone and forgotten, those who never heard of us will be living with the results of our actions.
- Oliver Wendell Homes, U.S. Supreme Court justice

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
- Immanuel Kant

Any town that doesn't have sidewalks doesn't love its children.
- Margaret Mead

The home is where part of the family waits until the others are through with the car.
- Herbert Prochnow

The outcome of the city will depend on the race between the automobile and the elevator, and anyone who bets on the elevator is crazy.
- Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

Boomers and Home Sales:
One result of the Boomer Generation is that at some point during the next ten years a significant number of homes will be coming into the resale market. If this coincides with some reports that the younger generation isn’t in a buying mood then, on top of the current foreclosure issue, we could be faced with numbers of larger homes that will be asking more than the marketplace can bear. When this change comes or even if it comes remains to be seen. US Business: GO HERE.

Tesla and the Brick Issue
The latest issue of Fast Company magazine (actually quite a nice rag on cool high tech and the people behind it), goes into the brain of Elon Musk and Tesla Motors and tries to break it down. A very good article that explains a lot about Tesla, the new Model S car, the engineering, and the dream. I am a skeptic as long as the industry must have government subsidies to succeed, but I’m no fool when it comes to technological advances. As in a lot of things it will be the third investor that makes the money (GO HERE). And BTW they never do answer the question about the batteries turning to a brick if it loses its charge entirely.

Home Sales Up, Down, Sideways, No One Knows
In the San Francisco Bay Area, especially in and around Silicon Valley prices for high end homes are being bid up and up. Foreclosures continue on homes not more than fifty miles away and are selling for one tenth the prices in Santa Clara County. It is all a mish-mash of bank financing, Google and Facebook money, and no one has to mention Apple. Low and moderate income home sales are limping along, there are ongoing arguments over “required” affordable housing issues, and does increasing interest rates push up housing demand (the fear of being left behind syndrome)? For a bit more go HERE and HERE for a taste of the vacation home market.

In Memory – Edna A. Davis
And lastly, on a personal note, this week we lost a wonderful woman who was the quiet anchor to our family. My wife’s mother, Edna A. Davis (nee Peak), passed away. This woman was 98 years old. She supported her daughter and herself for most of their early days and then for herself as she grew older. She was a beautician and hairdresser, I never saw her with one hair out place and even after a stroke and other health issues she was always dressed in style. Think about this: when she was born in a small Ohio town in 1913, the Wright brother’s flight was only ten years earlier, Woodrow Wilson had just been sworn in as president, and half the country still had no electricity, telephones, and indoor plumbing. Edna watched the Great War as a child and feared for her brothers fighting in France during World War Two. One of thirteen children (a brother died in 1902) she watched an America change for the better and for the worse. In the her twenties Cleveland was an world industrial powerhouse with the likes of Ryerson Steel and the growing automobile industry, now dried newspapers blow through its empty neighborhoods. Her small town of Avon is now a typical suburban tract of widened roads, strip malls, and affluence. She was a proud and incredibly strong woman; she is the best example of an independent American woman I will ever know. There was always a proud softness about her that hid the tragedies of her life. We will miss her very much.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Taliesin West and Frank Lloyd Wright

When I attended Michigan State back in the middle third of the last century I was fascinated and drawn to the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. For some reason his residential architecture spoke to me. His use of clean lines, long roof lines, and even the concept of his Prairie Architecture captivated a young scholar trying to understand architecture and urban design. His life titillated me, his iconoclastic view of himself attracted me, and his unbending belief in pure extrapolative design struck home. I made pilgrimages to Fallingwater in 1967, his homes in Chicago (Robie House, Oak Park, and his studio), and especially Spring Green, Taliesin East near Madison, Wisconsin. In 1970 I finally made a trip west to see Taliesin West, the Marin Civic Center, and a gift shop on Maiden Lane.
The Master
Last Monday I again visited Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. In the mid-1930s, after Wright received his commission for Fallingwaters (a princely sum of about $7,500 – now you know why you don’t want your sons (and daughters) to grow up to be architects) he found a square mile of desert north of the small town of Phoenix and just outside the four corners that called itself Scottsdale. No water, no electricity, and no road; the 620 acres were just desert and mountain foothills. He came for his health, stayed only in the winters and summered in Spring Green and Wisconsin (summer in Wisconsin and no air conditioning? not sure Scottsdale is that much worse). Then, and through the rest of his life, Wright would need money. He was always short, overran his budgets, and lived very well with a simple, yet expensive, lifestyle. He knew no other way.

Taliesin Studio
In the early 1930s Wright had the idea of a school where he could teach his beliefs about architecture. It would also be a way to make some desperately needed income. After the Arizona purchase he began the annual treks that continued until his death in 1959: summer in Wisconsin, winter in Arizona. The students would caravan back and forth, spend the winters living in tents (they still do today), and under his direction build the classrooms and living quarters. Today Taliesin West is still an accredited architecture school with strong parallel courses in the arts and music, civility, and style. These were the things that Wright loved most during his long life of 91 years.

Residential Wing and Pool

The house and grounds, both in Wisconsin and Scottsdale are under the care and management of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Both are under continuing improvement and preservation, a tough task in both locations considering the weather extremes. Tens of thousands of visitors come each year to learn about this man and his vision for both architecture and America. More has been written about this man and his architecture than any architect that has lived.
Taliesin's sharp angles refect the desert and FLW's love of forms
But time and progress move irrepressibly forward. The campus still is framed by desert and mountains to the north, but to the east, south and west are homes and commercial developments right up to the fence line of the property. In 1930 Scottsdale had 1047 residents, today (and not during spring training), the town has 217,385 residents. It has almost tripled its population since the last time I visited Taliesin in 1973 with my wife. Scottsdale Blvd is all bright and shiny with grand properties, hotels, golf courses, and the latest in architectural fashions. I say fashion because it seems that architecture has lost its heart. It is now grand international firms, grand voices, and grand corporate dreams. Residential architecture now screams with cacophony and schizophrenic behavior. Detail and artifice are gone. Sure there are a few fleeting moments of style and transformation (see Santiago Calatrava), but the rest seems ego driven bungling and politics, witness the sad events of the World Trade Center of the last ten years. Architecture is an art, often populated with the egos and creativity found in the more mundane worlds of oil paints and violins. We will never see the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright again.

Calatrava's Milwaukee Museum Addition

Stay tuned . . . .

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Is the City of San Francisco Really This Stupid?

Piers 27-29
Thanks, AECOM and America's Cup Event Authority

What’s really fun is being asked to go to a party and not having to do anything. Just sit back and enjoy. Then they tell you that the party is at your house! Holy hasheesh Batman! Should I mow the lawn, vacuum the carpets, buy wine? Then they tell you there will be maybe a million guests and they all will be staying upstairs. And, oh, and by the way, we don’t really like the way the rooms are laid out, so could you remodel?

Now if the house was in really good shape and all the lights worked and you were just too busy, my guess is that you would politely say, no. But since your house is a wreck, the floors are rotting, you can’t even use most of the rooms, and yet, for some reason there is a magical mystery about the place, you might respond: “Batman, I think we have a stooge in the wings, I think we can pull one over on them and get this place remodeled and maybe even fill some of those rooms upstairs. What do you think?"  Wink, wink, they won’t know what happened to them.

Larry Ellison and the America’s Cup organization had offered to spend between $50 to $60 million (and probably more) to fix up the mess at Pier 29 (potential tourist central on the Embarcadero) and some of the working piers in the south part of town at #30-32. This also included some additional redevelopment near Pier 29 along the Embarcadero. The Pier 29 area is a potential primo tourist location and is half way between Fisherman’s Wharf and the iconic and recently remodeled Ferry Building. Done right this would be the “stuff dreams are made of.”

As usual San Francisco, this finest of cities, looked the gift horse in the mouth, not once but maybe a ten times, then asked for the vet’s report, the blacksmith’s report, the saddle-maker’s report and eventually the glue shop to see if this was really a "horse."

I think the Port of San Francisco (run by its own commission) liked the deal, maybe a lot. But the politician’s had to get in their own two cents and it cost the Port and city millions. In an article by Eric Young, a writer with the San Francisco Business Times, he says and then quotes, “The fizzled America’s Cup deal is ‘a loss for the city,’ said Gabriel Metcalf, director of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research association, a policy group. ‘The port does not have enough money to rehabilitate the piers. We’re billions of dollars short and with no real prospect for coming up with the money.”

The real development action is supposed to takes place in and around Pier 27, where the America’s Cup Village will be located and the hopeful shops, restaurants, and race viewing will take place. Later this will become the San Francisco Cruise Ship Terminal, if we’re lucky it might be as nice as Vancouver’s.

The potential investment of $55 million is now $18 million. The revised plan eliminates those pesky mega yachts that were expected (40 stalls – they will now probably park in Oakland where the meters are cheaper). But for now, if they show up, they’ll have to fend for themselves.

While I am a big fan of watching the rich play with their toys, I’m not sure how many locals are going to line up along the piers, jetties, and shorelines to watch these sailboats. They are very cool, I can tell you that, very fast and when the AC45s dig their nose into the Bay, spectacular somersaults can happen; these boats can shake sailors off like fleas from a dog. And when the big boys, the AC72s, come in late summer 2013 it may be magical. But, it’s my guess. that after the preliminary races in San Diego earlier this year when the crowds were one person deep, the Cup people began to reassess what $$ they really wanted to put in.

Like fleas off a dog!

Thanks Zimbio (GO HERE)

The boats are racing in Naples and Venice later this spring and back in San Francisco in August. This is all part of a preliminary series of races called the World Series. The overall winner gets to race the Oracle Team and Larry Ellison. Ah yes, big boys and their toys.

Stay Tuned . . . . .

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tech Genius vs. The Market – They Must Think We’re Stupid!

The New Tesla Roadster
When politician’s try to create consumer business models, all I can do is cover my eyes with one hand and put the other over my wallet. Example: In Novemeber, 2008 the esteemed ‘Other’ senator from New York, Sen. Charles Schumer said, ““A business model based on gas — a gas-guzzling past — is unacceptable. We need a business model based on cars of the future, and we already know what that future is: the plug-in hybrid electric car.”

Done and Done.

Somehow the idea of an electric car business model that requires the entrepreneurial company to create whole new technologies is foolish. Do GM and Ford continue to find new oil deposits to support their automobile industry? Of course not. Complicated systems require the collaboration of many industries to reach their goal. Each piece of the collaboration must be profitable and (I hate the word) sustainable. The end result is an industry such as computers, television, defense, and even the automobile. Somehow this has been skewed in the current electric car industry. 

Just think, if you were required to prepurchase all the gas your car would need for the next five years, how do you think the auto industry would react (kind of like personally hedging gas futures, I like it!)? Not well. For the average driver this would add at least $15,000 to the price, I can hear the screaming. But in effect that’s what the electric car industry wants. Prepurchase, by buying the battery, your fuel for the next five years (and you get to top off the tank with an extension cord in the privacy of your home). For the top of the current electric car market, the Tesla, this prepurchase amount is 1/3 of the cost of the car.

Tesla is fighting an electrical storm over the marketplace finding out that when the $40,000 battery fully loses its charge it is forever, and entirely, dead. Over 400 pounds of lithium and other stuff dead, I wonder about the landfill issues. The only solution is to purchase a new battery (and the warranty does not cover this). How’s that for not recharging – pretty severe penalty. In addition the car cannot be towed – the motors are locked. I again say: You cannot even recharge the dead battery – its caputsky! This unfortunate result is defined in technical terms as “Bricking.” As in, the car is as dead as a brick. Now, sure, if you leave the trickle charger on while you finally take that around the world cruise, this won’t happen. But do you want your spouse always asking, “Hon, did you trickle?” I ask you. (GO HERE for the article)
There is also the small, yet not insignificant issue, of the eventual replacement of the battery after so many charges (the number is all over the place but typically starts at 400), the replacement can cost more than $8,000 (This is 2,000 gallons of $4.00 gas – or, with a Ford Focus, 50,000 miles). And then there’s the fear of an accident and the 400 volt wiring getting cut, emergency response teams are now training for electrocutions.

The electric car is no different than a standard auto with a different power source. That’s it. But the market place (us guys), with justification, intuitively knows that there are problems. Problems that may leave them stranded on I-5 halfway between LA and San Francisco with too short an extension cord. Even now the electric car industry produces a vehicle that acts as a second car – the “commute car.” It’s not the errand car, the drive to a hundred place with the kids car, the let’s go to grandmas car. I ask you, just check that little odometer that kicks in to tell you how far you’ve driven in one Saturday’s worth of errands – yeh, now you get it. Stuck at Costco, for five hours, recharging just wasn’t in my Saturday plans. 

And the rumor is that the president wants to increase the tax credit to $10,000 from $7,500. Bribery and governmental stupidity – they go hand in hand. My hand is still over my butt.

The market is telling Detroit and Silicon Valley (Tesla) and Fiskar Karma, no. This is not what we want, don’t you get it! How loud do we have to scream? And don’t lay some gasoline guilt trip on us either. Sure the cars are sexy, but wait . . .we aren’t the morons that the coasts think we are. We know you can build a car that gets fifty miles to the gallon and we will buy it. We know that world is a tough place, but we also need to get to Whole Foods and Costco. No matter how you advertise the Volt, it stills come across as a government subsidized, electrified and gasified, Edsel (how’s that for mixing auto companies?).

If you really want to make electric cars work in the marketplace, design them to have slide-in and slide-out battery packs that are essentially rented (like buying gas). They can be exchanged in less than three minutes, put on your credit card, and can be done anywhere (yes, there will be a ramp-up). Then the competition will be between battery makers and “renters” for your business (PG&E are you listening?). It won’t be about cars with a $40,000 fuel tank and a brick in your garage.
The Backup Power Source that Can't be Bricked!

Stay tuned . . . . .

Friday, March 2, 2012

An Extra 24 Hours This Year

In the spirit of the extra day this year (and an extra 24 hours of time to waste), I thought I would present videos that look at buildings and bridges exploding, buildings exploding, or in one case just falling over. What we build must, at some time, come down.

Liberty Memorial Bridge North Dakota

Steubenville Bridge just last week!

Texas Stadium April 11, 2010 - Click Link

Aladdin Hotel Vegas

And they it even better in Turkey (Click URL), it's like an SUV roll-over.

And finally who said China is the next America

Lastly, due to the less than helpful marketing for the cruise industry lately, I thought that the following videos might get you excited to give it a try again.

Stay tuned . . . .