Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A post from the past

In my previous post, I included an excerpt from the Tradition, South Carolina Web site, which described the new development as having drawn inspiration from "charming communities of days-gone-by." Included among the traits of these supposedly extinct places are:
  1. A living arrangement that allows residents to walk or bike to stores and restaurants.
  2. Front porches, from which residents may greet "passing neighbors."
  3. Parks and playgrounds.
The image you see in this post was made in my front yard on Saturday evening and satisfies two of the characteristics described above. First, the five bikes in the yard were ridden to Queeny's just moments after I snapped the photo. Check. Second, front porches are visible in the picture. Check. I'm certain that more than one "passing neighbor" passed by before we departed for Queeny's and I'm equally sure they were greeted by at least one person in our dinner party. Check and check. You'll have to take my word for it, but there are three small parks and one large one with a playground within a four block radius. That takes care of No. 3.

Based on this indisputable evidence, I've come to the conclusion that for the last five years, I've been living in a community of days-gone-by. Quick, someone send me a golf cart cart so I can get with the times.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Adventures in nomenclature

Ridiculous subdivision names have long been a source of amusement for me. There are plenty of subdivision name generators on the Internet, but my favorite is located on the Denver Infill Blog. While it's fun to poke fun, there is truth to the adage that suburban housing developments are often named for what they destroy or degrade. If a subdivision has the word "woods," "forest" or "meadow" in it, that's a good clue to what used to be in the land before it was cleared and replanted with McMansions.

In my part of the world, subdivision names are trending away from natural themes toward words that describe social or cultural situations, often coated in a sweet nostalgic glaze. For example, across the river in South Carolina we find a new "town" called "Tradition." According to its Web site, Tradition "will take its inspiration from those charming communities of days-gone-by." What made these mythical places so charming? Well, Tradition's copywriters reveal that these communities existed in a long ago age...
when you could walk or bike to the store or your favorite restaurant. When every neighborhood had its own parks and playgrounds. When homes had front porches from which you could gaze out onto your little corner of the world and say 'hi' to your passing neighbors.
In other words, Tradition will offer the kind of living arrangement that was standard issue in most of the United States before people abandoned these communities for outlying suburban housing. To be fair, Tradition's mixed use development and walkable streets are a drastic improvement over the suburban residential schemes of the previous decades.

Despite it's new urbanist leanings, Tradition's residents (Traditionalists?) will still be spending plenty of time on Interstate 95 and Highway 278 in transit to their jobs and the rest of the world that exists beyond Tradition's "town limits." And even though mention is made of residents bicycling to the store or a favorite restaurant, planners are taking steps to make sure a different sort of vehicle will become more common than bicycles on Tradition's streets:
To reduce the need for cars on the streets even further, Tradition South Carolina will provide every home with an electric golf cart…the perfect in-town “get around” that’s convenient, clean and quiet.
Why not provide every home with utility bicycles? Certainly would be cheaper. And, to my way of thinking, the bicycle is the rightful owner of the "perfect in-town get around" title.

But let's get back to naming subdivisions. This morning my television set brought me news of a new subdivision called "The Gates," which is — you guessed it — a gated community. I'm hoping this refreshing and frank approach to subdivision naming will be adopted by others. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for full page ads in the newspaper real estate section promoting "The Sprawl at Southbridge," "Commuters' Bluff," and "Carport Cove." Wow! This is fun. Anyone else care to give it a try? Feel free to leave your proposed subdivision names in the comments section.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Three out of 50 is not that bad

I'm pleased to announce that there are now three dedicated bicycle commuters working in my building. I've seen their bikes locked up outside, but today is the first time we all arrived at work at exactly the same time. I pulled up to the bike rack about two minutes after Jennifer (she passed me about a half mile from work). Less than a minute later, Hon wheeled up. Around 50 people work in my building, but three bicycle commuters isn't bad for a city in which people routinely drive for any trip of two blocks or more.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Riding for no reason

I engaged in an unusual (at least for me) session of recreational bicycling yesterday. I simply went for a ride, without a destination in mind. I wandered south on Harmon Street to the Calvary Temple and Day School compound, which contains a dozen or so buildings. I penetrated the compound through a construction entrance on the north side of the property, hoping to cut through to 63rd Street. However, my intended exit on the opposite side was blocked by a locked gate. Indeed, the whole campus is surrounded by spiky metal fencing. I'm not sure who this "joyful Southern Baptist Fellowship" is trying to keep out of its "Christ-centered learning experience." Methodists? Jihadists? Cyclists? I'm don't know, but it's clear they are serious about security. I took a photo of "Building D" and then pedaled back the way I came.

New York City boasts the Garment District and the Diamond District. I'll call Savannah's answer, which I next entered, the HMO District. Situated between two hospital campuses, the area is a commercial monoculture. Here we find medical labs, pharmacies, doctors' offices and little else. Many of the restaurants in the area close after lunch. I think the Cantonese Chef has longer hours than most, but it was closed when I took a photo through the window. At night and on weekends, there are very few humans on the scene. On a Sunday afternoon, I felt like I was pedaling though a scene from "The Omega Man," except without the homicidal mutants.
I crossed Waters Avenue and entered the South Garden neighborhood, home to 186 households, two churches and one automobile window tinting and detail joint. According the 2004 edition of "Neighborhood Demographic Profiles," published by the City of Savannah, the average South Garden home value is $63,260. With property values like that, it seems certain that the neighborhood will be eroded by hospital expansion pushing southward.

Memorial Health University Medical Center is exactly where I headed next. The campus is bounded on the east by the Casey Canal and the Truman Parkway beyond. I slipped through a gap in the fence and pedaled north along the canal bank. Taking a cue from Planetary Gears, in which our narrator chronicles exploratory rides and photographs his bicycle posed along the way, I made some pictures of my bike next to the canal. And a couple ducks. Also presenting themselves for viewing were egrets, hefty aquatic turtles and a large red-tailed hawk. Savannahians are fond of throwing trash into storm sewer catch basins and out of automobile windows, so I saw plenty of styrofoam cups as well.

I'm told there are plans to convert the route I followed into a real bikeway, which would connect Daffin and Lake Mayer parks. Unlike the other bike trails in the area, this one would actually have some transportational value. I'm not sure how the "Truman Linear Park Trail" will contend with the intersections it will cross. When I reached 52nd Street I had to scramble up a steep embankment, dragging the bike behind me. Then I had to cross the on ramp of the Truman Parkway. Instead of continuing on along the canal, I decided to head west on 52nd Street, which is a strong candidate for Savannah's worst designated bicycle route. But more about that and the rest of my ride in a future post.