Rail-Volution 2009: Building with Transit

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By Tiffany Chu
As a nod to the home of the nation's first subway, Rail-Volution rolled into Boston this past weekend. Planners, designers, engineers, and scholars eagerly feasted on the many workshops and panels that strived to answer the burning question: How can we build livable communities through transportation?

As my first foray into a planning conference, Rail-Volution shed light on a different urban perspective than what my designer-educated-marbles were used to. Here, the future of transportation was not a beautifully rendered model of a driverless car, but rather a series of necessary policies and community goals to push forward new transit developments. While talk of high-speed rail was surely the darling of the conference, other notable weekend highlights included:

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Boston In Your Hands
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Conference-goers were welcomed at the entrance with a vibrant interactive map of Boston, built by artist-planner James Rojas. Inviting people to pluck up bottle-top housing blocks and rearrange popsicle sticks and discarded metal, Rojas's installation views urban planning in a collaborative way that is constantly changing. (He does many other cities, too.)

Streetsblog and Streetfilms

Aaron Naparstek, editor-in-chief of Streetsblog, presented how online advocacy journalism has been successful in spurring urban changes from New York City to San Francisco to Portland. A part of the Streetsblog Network, Streetfilms' Clarence Eckerson showcased a special movie screening of their best on Halloween night -- including snapshots of their lovable livable streets mascot, Zozo.

How to Size Your Parking

I attended a talk titled 'The Right Size Parking for Your TOD' (TOD is Transit Oriented Development), where I learned that for each parking space required in a residential unit, the price of the unit increases 15-30%, and the number of units decreases about 25%. That is why 'unbundling' happens - which is when parking spaces are leased separately from the residence to reduce housing and commercial space cost. Parking and how we can do it innovatively is also currently a hot topic here at Dwell...

Regional Rapid Transit book, at Steven Schuyler Bookseller
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I flipped through this beautiful old publication from 1953 that delineates the evolution of Bay Area's transit system through a series of handsome maps by Parsons Brinckerhoff. Regional Rapid Transit is one of many planning and building trade books at Steven Schuyler's rare bookstore - located up in North Reading, Massachusetts (which I have yet to visit, but will mosey on up there in the near future).

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