Jan 19 2011

Water Resources 101

Today I attended a seminar sponsored by USGBC northern chapter about water resources. For me, who isn’t entirely knowledgeable about water resources, and more importantly, water law, I found it very informative for the lay person. Water law in Colorado is very complex, and to the lay person, it doesn’t seem to follow logical sense. For example, their are senior water rights, junior water rights, and the fact that you can’t collect rainwater and store it to water your garden, because that water is technically owned by someone else. Colorado Water Law is unique in this nation. Basically, Colorado Water Law is based on the concept of first in time, first in line. This goes all the way back to the gold rush days in Colorado. There are established water rights going back to the 1860’s.

Where it gets really interesting is ditch water versus well water, municipal water versus agriculture water. Until the 1960’s (and my dates could be a little fuzzy), those farmers that drilled wells could irrigate no matter what, even if the neighboring farm with ditch did not have enough water to irrigate. It is was finally decided that wells could impact downstream water flows, and so well water became subject to the same first in time, first in line law. ¬†All was pretty much well and good until 2002 when the most severe drought this state has seen hit. That is when the state had 3,000 wells or so shut down to preserve the senior water rights. It is also the year when Aurora came within 7 days of running out of water.

While the drought ended, it did get everyone to start talking about a long term game plan to satisfy all users. Of course, so far it has been mostly fighting, lawsuits, engineers, etc. that is fighting the fight without any real meaningful discussion. Then there is the whole issue of municipalities buying up farms for the water rights and then drying up the farms to convert that water to municipal use. When that happens, then the farm land can no longer be irrigated, except for possibly with treated water. This has the obvious problem of taking prime farm land out of production, and therefor less food production. The other problem is most municipalities are building up the water supplies for drought conditions. One idea being floated around is to have municipalities create agreements with farmers for them to simply lease water from the farmers during drought years. This does not take the farms out of production (except in the worst of years) and the farmer still has income in those years. Seems like a win win to me.

Then there is the flip side of the whole debate, about getting municipal water users (meaning you and me) to get serious about conserving water in the first place. Most of the water that is used, is for landscaping, mostly turf grass. We need to get away from the idea that everything needs to be covered with turf grass. We need to use more dryland grasses, or other techniques to reduce water thirsty grasses, and only use them where they are used, such as in backyards.

What do you think? What are your ideas for dealing with the water issues?

Apr 24 2010

Downsizing Streets?

I have been participating in several workshops for the 5 year update to Fort Collins City Plan (the overall riding policies that among other things, drive land use decisions in the city). Tonight we had several group workshops. At one of the workshops that focused on transportation, I was introduced to a new concept in transportation called downsizing. The way it was originally worded I thought they were talking about abandoning streets, something that I don’t support locally, mostly because there arn’t many we can abandon. What the point was, at the current funding levels, the city can’t maintain the street network, and how do we prioritize maintenance, do we stop expanding the street network, etc.

However, this did get me to thinking about how do we downsize streets? I have a couple ideas.

1) We need to really think about where we need to build streets and where we don’t. This applies mostly to greenfield development, but not always. I have worked on many projects where we had to build streets that weren’t really needed all in the name of having easy street access to a building. Townhomes in particular can face greenbelts, they don’t need to face streets. This not only adds to the cost of development, but the city has to maintain those streets. Of course, I have been saying this for years.

2) There are plenty of streets in this city (and in most jurisdictions) that are simply too big. For example, my neighborhood is accessed by two collector streets spaced about a quarter mile apart. In Fort Collins, Collector streets have two wide travel lanes, bike lanes in each direction, and parking lanes. Both of the collectors by my neighborhood, there are no homes that directly front on these streets, there are parks (with plenty of off-street parking), natural areas, etc. The point is, both streets have a total of 16 feet (each) of asphalt that does not get used that has to be paved, snow plowed, etc. Maybe these parking lanes could be removed, with sustainable storm water and water quality built in these areas. Both of these street were built decades ago before the current street standards were adopted. There are examples of this all over. Of course, there are also streets that are severely undersized as well.

3) Create the flexible street types. In other words, rather than a one size fits all approach to street widths and carrying capacities, design streets to fit the context of the site they are in, and with the overall land use patterns. This would allow streets to be narrower in some locations, while in others the streets may need to be wider.

As with everything, sustainability is the word of the day, and that applies to our street network as well.

Feb 12 2010

Berkeley Rose Walk

When we were roaming around Berkeley on one of the pedestrian connections I mentioned, we stumbled upon the famous Rose Walk. This space is simply fabulous. What is it you ask? It is an open space pedestrian courtyard surrounding by an eclectic collection of highly detailed homes. Automobile access is from the rear, with alley loaded garages. This space has a plaza, and is extensively landscaped, including roses. I have been designing and pushing neighborhood planning like this for years, and was very pleased to find this space, built around the 192o’s I guess from the style of architecture. There is no front yard demarcation, all the spaces blend into one larger space. Wouldn’t a place like this be fabulous to live in?

This open space is heavily landscaped.


This walk leads to adjacent streets.

This is a classic pedestrian plaza, complete with seat walls.

Check out the detail on this fabulous home. While the styles vary, this level of detail is typical.

Feb 12 2010

Berkeley Downtown

Well, I don’t know if this is the official downtown, but these were taken from the business district on several sides of the UC Berkeley campus.

This is the fabulous historical library in downtown Berkeley. I admit when, I first saw it, it was dark, and I thought it was an ugly dismal building (I also had a few great beers in me), But when I saw it the next day, and also learned what it was, wow!

This is a new building that fits in extremely well in its historical surroundings. It is all about compatibility ( a very subjective term, I realize).

Only a block from the new building. Check out the round corner windows. yes the windows really are curved. They don’t build em like this anymore.

For all you coffee lovers out there.

And finally, for you art lovers, this gem was taken in the student hangout section west of the campus.

For more pics, visit my Picassa Web Album.

Jan 1 2010

Berkeley Neighborhoods

Berkeley neighborhoods, esp. those around the UC Berkeley campus are rather quirky. For one thing, they are built on steep hillside, so you will find lots of curvy narrow streets, which has to be a nightmare for the fire fighters. We wandered around the western portions of Berkeley Hills, immediately north of the campus. One of the things we liked about this neighborhood were all the staircases. The streets here are steep and narrow, but in many areas, there are staircases built for pedestrians to rapidly gain altitude, and not have to wander about with the streets. Talk about pedestrian connectivity. Of course, built at the turn of the last century, it is hardly handicap accessible. We also found many sidewalk connections that provided shortcuts between streets and different neighborhoods. Pretty cool, you can see why planners now push these connections on developers now. I always did think it was a good idea, in spite of the NYMBY’ers.

An example of one of the staircases.

Another thing I was really impressed with the area, was how the homes were large, and very expensive, but not pretentious. They are built into the landscape, and don’t overwhelm it. Of course, it helps that the landscape in CA grows quickly. Below are a few photos of what we found.

This one, while not really in the Hill neighborhood was really cool. I liked how it actually addressed the corner lot it is on, and the second floor balcony.

There are entry gates like this all over.

A grape vine is taking over this fence.

This is a rare brick home in the area.

This is a really cool, and huge Agave!

While not rare in these parts, still a huge Redwood.

I really like how this house, though huge, is not imposing and fits into the landscape. McMansions could take a lesson.

A cool hillside house. Notice the garage built into the retaining wall.

This one is for you Lalie.

Just a cool house, cool yard, and cool artwork.

To see more pictures, check out my Picassa Album here.