Weekly Links: brief commentary on local, state, and national stories from (roughly) the past week
Street Signs Should Be Works of Art
Atlanta requires parking lot owners to post signs on their lots warning customers that unauthorized cars will be towed or booted if the owner does in fact plan on towing or booting such cars. These signs are not only an eyesore, but they’re difficult to read and understand. Council Member Amir Farokhi is leading an effort to make the signs more aesthetically pleasing and easier to quickly understand.
We often don’t think about the aesthetics of utilitarian signs, but we should. A sign meant to convey important information should catch the intended reader’s eye, but shouldn’t be so loud as to distract from other aspects of the built and natural environment. Of course, it also needs to accurately inform the reader. A well-crafted sign should serve not only as a means of communicating important information, but also serve to enhance the streetscape as much as possible.
Our design competition to redesign parking lot warning signs resulted in 250+ submissions. We are excited to start working with Downtown-based @KEYLAYDesign on refining their terrific ideas before working a design through the political process! Below images are our starting point pic.twitter.com/oU3dyYmqOT
— Amir Farokhi (@amirrf) August 9, 2018
He recently posted some of the new design entries on Twitter and they are a huge improvement. The city still needs to figure out how it wants lot owners to convey to the public the terms of the parking agreement. The current and proposed signs allow lot owners to simply state that “unauthorized” vehicles or vehicles in violation of the “parking rules” are subject to impoundment. The problem is that lot owners establish the definitions of both terms and rarely inform the customer of those definitions. So customers are often agreeing to the terms of the lot owner’s invitations to park without actually knowing the terms of those invitations.
We recently wrote about this problem and pointed out that eliminating the patchwork of private parking lots would go a long way in reducing the need for booting and impoundment in the first place. Mr. Farokhi responded to our tweet to say that he and other city officials are working on this problem.
Should Landlords Be Required to Help Tenants Register to Vote?
From The Hill. The federal Motor-Voter Law was passed in the early 1990’s to allow citizens to register to vote when they obtain or renew their drivers license. The idea being that when people move they often forget to register to vote in their new jurisdiction, but should be presented with that option when they go to get their license in the new jurisdiction. St. Paul, Minnesota recently passed a law requiring landlords to provide tenants with the paperwork necessary to register to vote. We’ll call it the renter-voter law. Renters often move frequently and they also tend to be lower-income and vote at lower-rates than higher-income individuals.
Opponents of the law say that it places to much of a burden on landlords, though we already require various disclosures in the real estate world (e.g. lead-based paint disclosure). Providing voter registration information would likely be very easy and will become routine in the same way that throwing in the standard lead-based paint disclosure in your packet of information has become routine.
Atlanta To Offer Over $1 Billion to Amazon…Possibly, Maybe
From The AJC. The race to attract Amazon’s HQ2 campus is a humiliating charade that clearly exposes the power of corporations in our society as city officials have been willing to do just about anything (including renaming their cities) to get Amazon. Now we have a price tag to go along with the charade. The AJC recently uncovered a document showing Atlanta’s intention of offering over $1 Billion in incentives to Amazon to locate its HQ2 campus in downtown’s vast vacant parking lot known as “the gulch.”
This comes on the heels of reports that Amazon is hiring an economic development specialist in the northern Virginia/DC area, which led to speculation that the company has already chosen the DC area for the HQ2 campus. It also comes on the heels of Seattle’s mayor warning other cities of the potential negative consequences of hosting a large tech hub. And don’t forget the massive public expenditures for the new Mercedes Benz stadium.
In a larger context it simply seems ridiculous to offer one company that much money to locate in any city let alone a city that is already doing very well relative to so many others. Atlanta isn’t Buffalo or Cleveland. It has a burgeoning tech scene, a now established film scene, and an otherwise vibrant economy while still maintaining relatively affordable housing. It’s understandable that the city wants to attract high-end businesses to not only maintain economic health, but to increase its economic health. It seems that underlying this economic rationale is some desire to make people perceive Atlanta as one of the country’s and world’s great cities. I guess we’ve already forgotten that we hosted the summer Olympics, a distinction shared with world-class cities like London, Sydney, Paris, and Los Angeles.
Perhaps we’re constantly trying to live up to that standard. In doing so, are we not falling into the “keeping up with the Jones’s” trap? Are we so focused on being considered one of the elite world cities that we’re willing to impose the self-inflicted wounds of higher housing costs and economic segregation that has plagued Seattle and San Francisco? Tax incentives have mixed reviews with some states and cities shelling out millions only to see companies and industries leave. All of this isn’t to say that Amazon shouldn’t come here, but many city and state officials don’t appear to be taking seriously any analysis of the costs and benefits.
Vienna Tops List of Most Livable Cities, Atlanta Falls in Ranking Due to Riots
From The Economist. The Economist recently released its 2018 ranking of the most livable cities in the world. After holding the top spot for the past 7 years, Melbourne fell to number two while Vienna leapfrogged it into the top position. These rankings are fun to look at and possibly provide some macro-level look at the state of affairs throughout the world, but they’re inherently subjective since The Economist determines the categories, the weight assigned to each category, and the numerical scores for each category.
The Economist uses over 30 factors, grouped into 5 categories, to assign a final livability score to major global cities. Each of the 5 categories (stability/crime, healthcare, culture/environment, education, infrastructure) is also assigned a weight with education composing 10% of the final score and stability composing 25% of the score (the other categories fall between those two extremes). It doesn’t appear that any factor exists for cost of living or public education, though the ranking graph does mention that Copenhagen’s score increased due to more affordable housing. The final report must be purchased and we didn’t purchase it, so someone please add or correct these thoughts if you did buy the report.
The U.S. did not have any cities in the top 10, though Canada scored three with Calgary (4), Vancouver (6), and Toronto (7). Atlanta was ranked 50th, slightly ahead of Detroit and New York, but below Chicago. Strangely, The Economist says Atlanta fell several positions due to “riots.” It’s unclear what the magazine is referring to, but it’s most likely the Georgia Tech and Donald Trump protests. Most U.S. cities saw peaceful protests against the president (including Atlanta), but police cars were set on fire in response to the shooting of an unarmed student by Georgia Tech police and protesters were charged with inciting a riot. Regardless of the riots, 50th isn’t a great ranking. Perhaps this story was a good segue from the proposed $1 billion for a company that’s already worth many more times that number.
Cover Photo Credit: Keizers via Wikipedia Commons
Categories: Weekly Links