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Monday, December 26, 2016

"The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces: William H. Whyte"

A marvelous video of urban planning applied to plazas and other public spaces:

"The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces: William H. Whyte"

From the Amazon web site on his book which is almost a verbatim version of the movie:

The background to his study was this: following the enormous success of the plaza of Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building in New York in the mid-1950s, the city began to give tax breaks to new buildings that included plazas as part of their design. At the Seagram, people found in the heart of the city a marvelous space in which to congregate, to eat lunch, to sit and talk, and just enjoy a few minutes away from the office. While the idea of providing an incentive to new plaza development was unquestionably a great aim, a small problem developed: many of the new plazas were, unlike that of the Seagram, just dreadful. Cold, austere, people unfriendly, unwelcoming, many of them seemed designed more to keep people away than give them a place to enjoy themselves. This is where Whyte comes in. New York City was concerned with codifying what made a successful plaza, and giving tax breaks based more on the kind of plaza being built, rather than any kind of plaza at all. So, Whyte was charged with discovering precisely what goes into a successful urban space. The results of his exhaustive study are summed up in this brilliant monograph.

Whyte took cameras and began filming all kinds of urban spots in plazas and parks, and on regular sidewalks. As a result of this study, he was able first to analyze how urban spaces work, and secondly on the basis of this make, to make suggestions as to how to make successful spaces. He discusses the enormous value and utility of using fountains or falling water both to provide aesthetic benefits and to create a barrier of white noise between an urban space and the street. He shows the value of having a variety of steps and levels in providing fun places to sit. He allays the fears of those who are afraid that a plaza will attract undesirables by showing that the homeless tend to go where other people are not. He displays the patterns of traffic on sidewalks and the function that street food can play. Whyte comes across not merely as a sophisticated urban planner and social scientist: he is revealed as a visionary.

I think that this ought to be a must-read for anyone with any curiosity about cities and the potential they possess for a vibrant and exciting social life.

One of the pioneers within the documentation of the relationship between public spaces qualities and how people tend to use them. A must for city planners, urban designers and landscape architects!


William H. Whyte was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1917. He joined the staff of Fortune in 1946, after graduating from Princeton University and serving in the Marine Corps. His book The Organization Man (1956), based on his articles about corporate culture and the suburban middle class, sold more than two million copies. Whyte then turned to the topics of sprawl and urban revitalization, and began a distinguished career as a sage of sane development and an advocate of cities. Along with numerous articles and studies, Whyte edited and co-wrote The Exploding Metropolis (1957), and authored Cluster Development (1964), The Last Landscape (1968), The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980), City: Rediscovering the Center (1988), and A Time of War: Remembering Guadalcanal, a Battle Without Maps (2000). He died in 1999.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sunnyvale: Live - Work - Commute - 1

Sunnyvale: Live - Work - Commute

Sunnyvale: Population: 152,771 (2016 est.)
Land Area: 22  Sq. Mi.
Density: 6,950/Sq. Mi.

Part 1 of a look at living and working patterns around the San Francisco Bay Area

Urban Sprawl: One of the hottest topics in the SF Bay Area is the housing-commute issue.  Traffic is getting worse, the schools are said to be overcrowded.  Some say we need to stop any further development.  Rents and house prices are very high.  Many argue we need to build more housing to keep rents from exploding and to accommodate those wanting to work in Sunnyvale.  To add to the mix, concern about global warming causes others to urge us to develop more housing in Sunnyvale so more people can walk or bike to work instead of using cars.

The US Census Bureau has a marvelous tool at from which the following information comes.  I wrote up a short intro on how to use it available here:

"Urban sprawl" is a term some like to use as a pejorative description of suburbs expanding out of a city center.  Not every urban economist agrees that "Urban Sprawl" is bad or even that it is unavoidable.  For now, we'll assume that it is not good and save for later a discussion of the merits and trade-offs of urban sprawl.

This census data suggests current policies are worsening urban sprawl and making it less likely workers can walk or bike to work.

Summary Conclusions:

  1. The number of those employed in Sunnyvale increased 9% in the 2002-2014 period.  Of those working in Sunnyvale 90% don't live in Sunnyvale.  This percentage increased from 87% over the 12 year period 2002-2014.   This suggests urban sprawl has increased.
  2. Of those who live in Sunnyvale and are employed, 87% commuted out of Sunnyvale to other cities in 2014. This percentage increased from 84% in 2002.  This suggests urban sprawl has increased.
  3. The number of Sunnyvale residents who live and work in Sunnyvale decreased over the 12 years 2002-2014 from 9,460 to 8,722.  In 2002 12% of Sunnyvale jobs were held by residents but this declined to 10% of Sunnyvale jobs held by residents in 2014.
  4. Defining a bike-able "Greater Sunnyvale" comprised of Sunnyvale and adjacent communities shows that commutes within that broader area decreased as a percent of jobs in "Greater Sunnyvale" from 41% in 2002 to 39% in 2014.  This suggests urban sprawl has increased and bike-ability has decreased and correspondingly, that more people have to drive.
The trend is not huge but it is clear and opposite to that promised by the "walkable city" crowd - the mantra was "more housing so people can work and live in Sunnyvale".  The housing was built, more jobs happened, and now fewer work where they live.

Jobs per Resident:
The Jobs / Resident ratio indicates how equitable a city's housing and jobs situation is.  If it is high (many more jobs than residents) it might indicate the city is hogging all the jobs (and tax revenue from that commercial business) and letting other cities bear the expense of providing services for residents - much more expensive than providing services for businesses.  Some cities like Saratoga and Los Altos prefer to be almost exclusively residential, but most cities want as much tax revenue as they can get from business and commercial.

Sunnyvale's Number of Jobs / Number of Resident Workers:
2002:  77,480 / 58,375 = 1.33 =   33% more jobs than resident workers
2014:  84,276 / 66,209 = 1.27 =   27% more jobs than resident workers

Data and Analysis:

Year 2014 (latest data):  The first census data map shows how many commute IN to Sunnyvale, commute OUT of Sunnyvale, and live AND work in Sunnyvale.  We see that in 2014 (click on image to enlarge it) ...
  1. 75,554 commuted IN to Sunnyvale for work = 
    • 90% of those employed in Sunnyvale came from outside
  2. 57,487 commuted OUT of Sunnyvale for work =
    • 87% of Sunnyvale residents commute to work outside Sunnyvale
  3.   8,722 working in Sunnyvale also lived there = 
    • 10% of those working in Sunnyvale lived in Sunnyvale
There are about 84,000 jobs in Sunnyvale but only 66,000 workers or 18,000 more jobs than workers.  Is this a problem?  The vast majority of those who work here already commute out.  More housing would clearly worsen school crowding (at least short term) and traffic would hardly decrease under current policies. Would more housing just bring in more residents who commute to jobs outside Sunnyvale?  Let's look at the change over the last 12 years.

Year 2002:  Looking at the same data for 2002 we see what more housing has done in the intervening 12 years. (click on map to enlarge):

We see that in 2002:
  1. 68,020 commuted IN to Sunnyvale for work = 
    • 88% of those employed in Sunnyvale came from outside
  2. 48,915 commuted OUT of Sunnyvale for work = 
    • 84% of those living in Sunnyvale commuted outside for work
  3.   9,460 lived AND worked in Sunnyvale = 
    • 12% of those working in Sunnyvale lived in Sunnyvale
Things Worsen:  In terms of "walkable/bike-able neighborhoods", things got worse all around from 2002 to 2014.  More commute in, more commute out, more overcrowding in schools and fewer live and work in Sunnyvale.  All counter to the narrative of  "we need more housing in Sunnyvale so people can walk/bike to work."

The data for 2002 (left) and 2014 below show the change (click on image to enlarge):

Residents: In 12 years Sunnyvale has gone from about 58,000 to 66,000 employed residents in Sunnyvale (an increase of nearly 8,000 employed residents).

Jobs: In those 12 years Sunnyvale has gone from about 77,000 to 84,000 jobs in Sunnyvale (an increase of almost 7,000 jobs).

During that time, the number of those employed and working in Sunnyvale has gone down, not just in percentage terms but in actual numbers.  It would seem we are creating more jobs for residents of other cities while our own residents go elsewhere to a greater extent than before.

Let's look at the details (click image below to enlarge):

Commuting TO Sunnyvale:
The table above on the right shows where workers in Sunnyvale commuted FROM.  It also shows where the growth in those commuters came from over the 13 years from 2002 to 2014.

The top growth in where Sunnyvale workers lived (commuted FROM):
Pleasanton:   1,036 commuters = 82% increase,
Livermore:       725 commuters = 81% increase,
Morgan Hill:    690 commuters = 35% increase,
Fremont:       4,416 commuters = 24% increase,

Conclusion 1: looking at where Sunnyvale workers are commuting FROM, we see most of the growth in commuters is coming from further out.   This may be because Sunnyvale is too expensive for those seeking a nice little house with a back yard.

The table above on the left shows where residents of Sunnyvale commuted TO.  It also shows in the right-most column of the table what the increase or decrease was in the 13 years from 2002 to 2014.

The top growth in where Sunnyvale residents commuted TO were
San Francisco:   2,973 commuters = 91% increase
Oakland:               504 commuters = 67% increase
Mountain View: 7,040 commuters = 51% increase
San Mateo:            755 commuters = 40% increase
Palo Alto:           5,766 commuters = 35% increase

Conclusion 2: looking at where Sunnyvale residents are commuting TO, we see a certain amount of randomness, but most of the growth is commuting to cities that are more expensive places to live.  Sunnyvale is providing cheaper housing for more expensive job centers.

Conclusion 3:  putting together conclusions 1 & 2, it appears that as far as job growth is concerned, the high paying job centers are using Sunnyvale as a large "dormitory", forcing those who work here to commute from further and further away.  Examining this in detail below...

Cheap Housing for Other Cities: For those who commute FROM Sunnyvale the big changes, in both number and percentage, are Mountain View, Palo Alto, and San Francisco.  Those three account for an increase in commuters out of Sunnyvale of 5,274 = 67% of the total increase in commuters from Sunnyvale and more than the total 4,990 for the top 20 cities people commute to.  Apparently much of the housing going up in Sunnyvale is providing more "cheap" housing for those working in Mountain View (Google, LinkedIn), Palo Alto, and San Francisco.  "Cheap" is relative of course but here are the rents for a 2 bedroom apt. in these cities (as of 1/7/2017):
San Francisco   - $4,487
Palo Alto           - $3,816
Mountain View  - $3,549
Cupertino          - $3,222
Sunnyvale         - $3,173
Fremont            - $2,500
Livermore          - $2,093
I.e., compared to where many of the new jobs are, rents are cheaper in Sunnyvale.


Longer Commutes for Sunnyvale Workers: For those who commute TO Sunnyvale the big increases in percentage are Fremont (24%), Pleasanton (82%), Livermore (81%), and Morgan Hill (35%).  Those four account for an increase in commuters TO Sunnyvale of 1,814.  That accounts for over 93% of the "top 20 cities" contribution to the increase in commuters to Sunnyvale.  These places are all cheaper than Sunnyvale suggesting that building more housing has done nothing to stop people from driving further and further to get affordable housing.  Affordable housing includes affordable single family housing.  Some people will travel as far as necessary to get a 3-4 bedroom detached home with a back yard for family and a front yard for a sense of space and greenery.

"Greater Sunnyvale"

Perhaps we are being too narrow.  People can walk and bike to nearby communities such as Mountain View, Santa Clara, etc.  We'll call this set of cities adjoining Sunnyvale "Greater Sunnyvale".  The following two graphs from the Census' "OnTheMap" show the overall view of this metropolis first for 2002 and then for 2014:
2002 Flow of Commuters for 5 cities - 100,000 more IN than OUT

2014 Flow of Commuters for 5 cities - 120,000 more IN than OUT = increase of 20,000

There were a lot of jobs in this area in 2002 (268,000).  This increased by 44,000 by 2014 = a 16% increase to 312,000.  Overall population growth from 166,000 to 194,000 was also 16%.  The number of resident workers grew in the same proportion as new jobs, yet the percentage commuting out of the area actually increased from 61.6% of the residents to 64.4% - a rise of nearly 3%.  There was only an 8% growth in the number of people who lived and worked in "Greater Sunnyvale" (64,000 to 69,000) so the difference was made up by many more people commuting in.  This again looks like urban sprawl increased.

Now let's keep a focus on "Greater Sunnyvale" but narrow our attention to Sunnyvale.  How many commuters both "into" and "out from" Sunnyvale commute wholly within this hypothetical "Greater Sunnyvale"?  The census data in a spreadsheet shows what happened in the 12 years from 2002 to 2014 (click image to enlarge):

  1. The number commuting OUT of Sunnyvale TO adjacent communities has increased by 1,257 - over 5%.  
  2. The number commuting INTO Sunnyvale FROM adjacent communities has decreased by 990, nearly 5%.  
  3. Overall it is about even for Greater Sunnyvale but Sunnyvale is becoming more of a bedroom suburb of the other cities.  Further, as a percentage of total commuters both into and out of "Greater Sunnyvale", internal commutes decreased implying urban sprawl has increased.
It would appear that we are doing nothing to improve the bike-ability of commutes for Sunnyvale or nearby communities.  Urban sprawl appears to be increasing since a greater percentage of people living in "Greater Sunnyvale" go further outside that hypothetical metro area.

Could the increased demand for land be raising the cost of land resulting in increasing rents and home prices?  If so, could this be driving people further and further away to find the small town, affordable place Sunnyvale used to be?  Another topic for another day.


These trends of sprawl aren't huge but they are clearly in the opposite direction to that which some have long argued would happen.  The argument was that with more housing and more jobs more people would choose to work close to home.  Thirteen years of data show it not only hasn't happened, but the trend is going in the opposite direction.  Maybe we haven't added enough housing and jobs.  Maybe we've added too many.  There are doubtless many other ways to look at even more data, but this will suffice for now.

Showing Data:
Below is the original census data for Sunnyvale for 2002 and 2014 (click on image to enlarge):

How to use "OnTheMap"

Instructions on how to use US Census' powerful tool "OnTheMap"

Link to this post:

1.  Go to
2.  Choose the “Start” tab and type in a city name like “Sunnyvale, CA” and click the “search” button as seen in the image below (click on image to enlarge):

3.  Select the proper choice from the left side and click on “Perform Analysis” link in window

4.  Select the options you want (play around with it) and click “Go”.  I selected “Inflow/Outflow” and “Home” to find out how many are coming in and leaving for work as seen below:

5.  The selection above gave the following map:

6.  Return to “Start” tab to change selected city

7.  If you want to look at the same selection in different ways, the left-hand sidebar has a number of options as seen in the following picture.  The “Change Settings” option allows you to keep the current selection and look at the data in other ways.  Two other options in a red box are worth noting.  One allows you to change the year so you can see how things have changed over time.  The other allows you to change the number of cities, zip-codes, etc. for the data that shows up in the right-hand sidebar.

And that’s it for now.  There are many other options that can be looked at - just play around with it.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Airport Noise over South Bay; Internet Links - 2

Some more random links and thoughts:

Measuring Sounds:

It might help others understand the noise level people endure if they had some accurate measurements such as one of airplane noise and the other of highway traffic as it sounds from a footbridge over 280 or 85 or a truck rumbling by or something else unpleasant they can relate to.

Sound measurement apps for smartphones (2014):
with 2016 follow up study:

Search on Amazon for "Sound-Measurement" for a list of sound measuring instruments such as seen below (click to enlarge):

Addressing the City Council:

In addressing the city council be respectful so you get the same respect back.  If you want to make a presentation longer than the normal 3 minutes, you might ask the mayor in advance.  

Two old sayings apply in making presentations to council:  "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" and "Brevity is the soul of wit".

After the last council meeting, Mayor Hendricks stayed after adjournment answering questions about airport noise and what he was doing about it for almost two hours - longer than the meeting itself.  He didn't have to do that.  He has a full time job and a family besides being mayor.  I firmly believe he is doing everything he can and putting a lot of time into it, but the Federal Govt. does not move fast.  The federal elected officials like congress members and senators have the most influence since they vote on funding for the FAA.

Other's Personal Views and their further links tools from the online discussions:
"Just want to let you know if you scroll to the bottom of the page through this link:
you will find a web tool and a step by step Demo that can make complaint filing less painful.  Web Tool Step by Step Demo (New 11/21/2016)- How To Capture An Airplane with Webtrak or FlightRadar Within 5 Seconds
Basically you can find the flights that bother you from the google sheet and copy/ paste the information into the tool, then an email to FAA will be generated, you will need to enter your comments, then send it out. The complaints to SJC will have to be filled out on their web form but if you save your personal information on your google account, you won't need to fill out those information each time. Hope it helps!"
"I was on a flight, UA1957, that landed at SJC at 11:13 am on 11/26. During the descent/approach over Cupertino and Sunnyvale it was at a noticeably lower altitude than I had ever previously experienced in 25+ years of flying into SJC. It was the best view of the Serra Park neighborhood I ever had - not that I wanted it.
I replayed it on the webtrak site, and it crossed over Nimitz and Hollenbeck/Fremont intersection at 2900 ft at 11:08am.  the change in approach paths is noticeable and real."

An article on San Mateo airplane noise and "NextGen" which seems to partially explain why noise is so much worse now:

1.  The key point from the above article is that they are flying at 4,000 feet and even 3,000 feet vs the former 5,000 feet.  Changing from 5,000 feet to 4,000 feet results in a 56% increase in "loudness", 5,000 feet to 3,000 feet means 177% increase.  Math part: 4,000 vs 5,000 doesn't seem like a huge difference (only 20% lower) but sound travels outward in a spherical form (inverse square law) so the increase in sound intensity (loudness) is not 5/4 but (5^2)/(4^2) (i.e., 5 squared over 4 squared) which is an increase of 56%.  For 3,000 feet this becomes 5 squared over 3 squared which results in a 177% increase.

2.  The 2nd, related, point is that the Doppler effect makes the noise sound higher in pitch as the planes approach.  We don't usually like high pitched sounds - think screeching metal on metal of trains braking.  By flying lower, the Doppler effect is increased since their relative movement seems faster.    To explain the last point, when you see a car moving from a high building it appears to move very slowly but if you are right next to it, it appears to move very quickly.  So the Doppler effect is increased and they sound at a higher pitch.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Why Council-members Can't Express Opinions

You may think City Council members are not responsive to your requests when it comes to taking a position on some issue.  That is because they are legally required to NOT give an opinion on an issue - in some cases.  The basic reason is that they have to maintain impartiality about certain types of things that come before them or risk having to recuse themselves from voting on an issue.  If they appear to have made up their mind before voting and they still vote, they or the city may be sued.

So if it is frustrating to you that your elected official won't come up with a straight yes or no for you on your particular issue, ask yourself if you would be happy with him/her agreeing with you but then being unable to vote on the issue at all.

In order to avoid the appearance of bias, I (and possibly many others) will try to not give an opinion but rather say in one form or other, 'I understand your situation but I am keeping an open mind on the issue.'

The next 3 pictures are the entirety of a document on this prepared by one of Sunnyvale's city attorneys on this issue.  After these three pages, is more legal opinion by City Attorney John Nagel on court rulings on this.

The following photos of the documents are a little small, so click on any document to enlarge:

Further comments from John Nagel, Sunnyvale's city attorney, below:

The California Supreme Court in Horn v. County of Ventura (1979) 24 Cal.3d 605discussed actions that are adjudicatory in nature:
Subdivision approvals, like variances and conditional use permits, involve the application of general standards to specific parcels of real property. Such governmental conduct, affecting the relatively few, is “determined by facts peculiar to the individual case” and is “adjudicatory” in nature. (Id. at p. 614.)
In a review of case law and practice guides, the issuance of conditional use permits and most other types of land use permits, approval of zoning variances, tentative subdivision maps are all considered adjudicatory in nature.  Other types of land use permits include, but are not limited to special use permits, planned development permits, site development permits and special development permits.  In Sunnyvale, we issue special development permits (SDP), which allow for use, site and architectural review (See Sunnyvale Municipal Code Chapter 19.90.) 
The Horn court in examining due process rights held:
It is equally well settled, however, that only those governmental decisions which are adjudicative in nature are subject to procedural due process principles. Legislative action is not burdened by such requirements.  (emphasis in the original) (Id. at p. 612.)
In Nasha LLC v. City of Los Angeles ((2004) 125 Cal.App.4th 470), a planning commissioner was also a member of a local homeowners’ association and had authored an article in the HOA’s newsletter that was critical of a project’s environmental impacts. The court held that the fact that the commissioner had expressed such concerns as a member of the HOA “gave rise to an unacceptable probability of actual bias and was sufficient to preclude [him] from serving as a ‘reasonably impartial, noninvolved reviewer’” when the matter was heard by the Los Angeles Planning Commission.  The HOA article in Nasha read as follows:
MULTIVIEW DRIVE PROJECT THREAT TO WILDLIFE CORRIDOR   A proposed project taking five legal lots totaling 3.8 acres for five proposed large homes with swimming pools served by a common driveway off Multiview Drive is winding its way through the Planning process. ...  After wildlife leaves Briar Summit heading eastward they must either head southtowards Mt. Olympus or north to the slopes above Universal City.  The Multiview Drive site is an absolutely crucial habitat corridor.  Please contact Paul Edelman with the Conservancy at 310/ ... or Mark Hennessy who lives adjacent to the project at 323/ ...if you have any questions." (Italics added.)
The use of words like "threat" and "The Multiview Drive is an absolutely crucial habitat corridor" were determined by the court as a clear indicia of advocacy and required the recusal of the commissioner from participating in the Planning Commission consideration of the project.
The key issue in meeting with any developer, applicant or company is to be in a listening mode as you want to avoid making a statement(s) that could be perceived as biased or that you have reached a conclusion about a project(s) that may come before the City Council in the future.  In my experience I think it is always helpful for councilmembers to reach out to the City Manager about such invitations so that the City Manager can provide background information about a particular developer, applicant or company and in particular to provide any information about pending or potential applications.  Though I am aware of many potential projects and projects for which applications have been filed, the City Manager is more knowledgeable in these areas as the Director of Community Development and planning division staff report directly to her.  As for asking questions or seeking information about future plans, you must also be sensitive to whether your questions could be perceived as an opinion about a specific project or in the case of a company their expansion in general. 
I wish I could provide a simple and direct answer as to how to assure your contacts with developers, applicants and companies do not run afoul of their due process rights in quasi-judicial matters, but due process is not a “technical conception with a fixed content unrelated to time, place and circumstances.  [D]ue Process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the situation demands. (citations omitted.)” (Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S.  319, 334.).   As stated above being in listening mode is the safest course of action.   You always want to avoid make statements or engaging in conversations that could be perceived as an indication that you have formed an opinion about a project or demonstrate an “unacceptable probability of actual bias.”  You should always remain sensitive to whether your questions could be perceived as an opinion about a specific project or in the case of a company their expansion in general.