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Archive: Jay Walljasper

Life in the Green Lane: Protected Lanes Transform the Biking Experience

Jay Walljasper / Jul 17 2013

For Release Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Jay WalljasperHow to describe your first time in a green lane? There’s nothing quite like it.

For me it happened on a business trip to Copenhagen. I saw bikes everywhere, beginning with the taxi ride from the airport where I spotted business executives toting briefcases on bikes. I saw wannabe fashion models wearing high heels on bikes, kids heading to school on bikes, parents pedaling toddlers to daycare on bikes, old folks chatting to one another on bikes.

How do they do it, I wondered? I was a seasoned bicyclist who rode every day for commuting and recreation, yet still felt tense wheeling down busy streets. These riders looked completely at ease, even in morning rush hour with cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles all around them. I even saw one guy smoking a cigarette on a bike and others absorbed in conversations on their mobile phones.

Then I noticed that the bike lane was separated from motor vehicles by a divider. So that’s how they do it! I couldn’t wait to try it myself.

The next day I ducked out of a meeting, rented a bike at nearby shop and set forth to explore Copenhagen on two wheels. After pedaling just a block, I thought “Wow!” and began giggling. This was an entirely new experience in biking – almost like the exhilaration of riding without training wheels for the first time.

Liberated from fears of being sideswiped by motorists, I could take in the historic architecture and enjoy the city’s teeming street life. There were even special traffic signals for bicyclists, giving us a slight head start through crowded intersections. No wonder half of Copenhagen’s downtown commuters travel by bike.
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A New American Revolution: Walking in Pursuit of Happiness and Health

Jay Walljasper / Apr 19 2013

For Release Friday, April 19, 2013

Jay WalljasperThe next big health care breakthrough – which could cut rates of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and Alzheimers by at least 40 percent and save Americans $100 billion a year – comes from a place you’d least expect. On your block. At the park. Everywhere.

What’s this amazing treatment, which also happens to be easy, enjoyable and virtually free? It’s as simple as taking a walk.

“Walking is like medicine for my patients,” says Dr. Bob Sallis, a Kaiser Permanente family practitioner from Fontana, Calif., describing the connection between how much time his patients spend walking and their overall health. “If walking was a pill or surgical procedure, it would be on 60 Minutes.”

“Being physically active is one of the most important things people of all ages can do for their health,” explains Joan Dorn of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She notes walking ranks No. 1 among Americans’ favorite aerobic activities, and that walking as little as 30 minutes is one way to achieve significant health benefits.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin has announced that she is preparing a Call to Action on Walking, which is being compared to the famous 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on the dangers of smoking. “Walking is easy,” Dr. Benjamin told a group of health, business, education and government leaders who came together in Washington to advance a national walking movement. “Everyone can do it, and it’s fun. We have to make being healthy joyful.”
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It’s All Happening at the Park

Jay Walljasper / Feb 22 2013

For Release Friday, February 22, 2013

Jay WalljasperParks are literally common ground – a place where everyone can come and rub shoulders, interact, share an experience, get to know one another better. They are the foundation of community and democracy.

Parks are also one of America’s great gifts to the world. Not only did we introduce the idea of national parks with Yellowstone in 1872, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux earlier showed the immense promise of public parks with the creation of Central Park. Until then most of the major work by landscape architects such as Capability Brown was done on private estates. Olmsted and Vaux showcased the idea that the public sphere could also inspire us with beauty and grandeur, an idea based on the work of British designer Joseph Paxton.

Olmsted’s parks around North America – New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle Louisville, Milwaukee, Buffalo and Montreal – are treasures ranking with the Parthenon and Grand Canyon. Yet sadly, some of these parks have not been treated with the care worthy of masterpieces. Buffalo’s Delaware Park now is bisected by an expressway, and Detroit’s Belle Isle is in disrepair. Even Central and Prospect parks in New York City were deteriorating in the 1980s until citizens’ groups came forward to help the financially strapped park board maintain them.

Too often, there is a sense from leaders that parks are not as necessary as they used to be. It’s not Olmsted’s era anymore, when most people lived in tenements with no access to natural areas. Now the great majority of people, especially in suburban areas, live in houses or apartments with yards. Parks aren’t a top priority – especially in these times of tight fiscal budgets.
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A City Lover’s Guide to America’s Most Underrated City — Detroit

Jay Walljasper / Nov 21 2012

For Release Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jay WalljasperFor those of us who love cities in all their giddy, gritty glory, the Motor City awaits.

Although struggling, Detroit offers experiences you expect from a world-class city: heart-stopping architecture, a bustling waterfront, topnotch art, convivial nightlife, great food, picturesque city squares, a crowded public market, memorable strolls and a spirit all its own.

Let me start with a confession. Though I’m a lifelong Midwesterner and veteran travel writer, I always avoided Detroit. I expected to be depressed by seeing a once-grand place battered by economic disinvestment. I finally visited two years ago and witnessed scenes of abandonment and decay that almost broke my heart – but also examples of perseverance and creativity that stirred my soul.

Shortly after, I was connected to the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Project at Wayne State University, which tapped 29 young professionals to work with organizations on reviving the city. The project – funded by the Kresge Foundation, Ford Foundation, Hudson-Webber Foundation, Skillman Foundation and Wayne State – is part of an unprecedented philanthropic effort to reinvigorate Detroit.
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Bicycling for Better Business

Jay Walljasper / Oct 31 2012

For Release Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Jay WalljasperCities across the U.S. discover that good biking attracts great jobs and top talent to their communities

“Biking is definitely part of our strategy to attract and retain businesses in order to compete in a mobile world,” says Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak as we pedal across the Mississippi River on a bike and pedestrian bridge. “We want young talent to come here and stay. And good biking is one of the least expensive ways to send that message.”

“I was having dinner with a creative director that a local firm was eager to hire for a key post,” Rybak adds. “He was an American living in Europe, and we spent most of the evening talking about the importance of biking and walking to the life of a city. He took the job.”

Minneapolis has invested heavily in biking. It has created a network of off-street trails, added 180 miles of bike lanes to its streets, launched one of the first U.S. bikeshare programs and created protected lanes that separate cyclists from motor traffic. All those help explain why it lands near the top of lists ranking America’s best bike cities.
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The Fall and Rise of Great Public Spaces

Jay Walljasper / Aug 30 2012

For Release Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jay WalljasperIt’s a dark and wintry Thursday night in Copenhagen, and the streets are bustling. The temperature stands above freezing, but winds blow hard enough to knock down a good share of the bicycles parked all around. Scandinavians are known for stolid reserve, but it’s all smiles and animated conversation here as people of many ages and affiliations stroll through the city.

A knot of teenage boys swagger down the main pedestrian street. Older women inspect shop windows. An accomplished balalaika player draws a small crowd in a square as he jams with a very amateur guitarist. Earnest young people collect money for UNICEF. Two men pass, pushing a piano. Candlelit restaurants and cafes beckon everyone inside.

“Cultures and climates differ all over the world,” notes architect Jan Gehl, “but people are the same. They will gather in public if you give them a good place to do it.”

Cut, now, to scenes from the Republican National Convention in Tampa the past week, and the Democrats’ upcoming convention in Charlotte next week. Love them or hate them, those people packing the convention halls – convening from different places and backgrounds – have come together to take part in rituals that, for better or worse, help perpetuate our democracy. What does that have to do with a cold Copenhagen street? Only this: Democracy requires public places where people can congregate. Further, people are drawn to public places where they find other people. We all need those public places – good public places.
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Southwest Detroit: Jane Jacobs would love it

Jay Walljasper / Jul 08 2012

For Release Thursday, June 21, 2012
Citiscope News

Jay Walljasper Cities are complex hives of human activity that highlight all that’s inspiring and troubling about modern life, often at the same time.

New York’s revitalized districts sizzle with creative fervor yet other parts of town struggle with poverty and drugs. Chicago’s Lakefront exudes prosperity while pockets of the West and South sides look like they’ve been bombed. Even an economically challenged city like Philadelphia sports charming, bustling Center City neighborhoods along with extensive post-industrial ruins.

We expect extremes in American cities–except in the case of Detroit, which all too often viewed as one, big, monolithic mess. Folks elsewhere can’t even imagine the existence of beloved spots in the city like Riverwalk, Campus Martius, Eastern Market, the Dequindre Cut trail, cozy neighborhood restaurants or hot music clubs. Ambitious downtown redevelopment projects, such as Compuserve’s and Quicken Loans’ corporate headquarters, come as shock. So does a housing shortage in the flourishing Midtown area–home to Wayne State University and two world-class medical centers, Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health System.

And that’s only part of what people don’t know about Detroit. While downtown and Midtown fit the usual pattern of urban progress–established institutions and developers guiding most of the changes — other parts of town are following a different playbook for revitalization.

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Detroit as a Food Desert — Another Urban Myth

Jay Walljasper / Jun 21 2012

For Release Thursday, June 21, 2012
Citiscope News

Jay WalljasperIn many people’s minds, Detroit stands apart from other major American cities as an unredeemable disaster.

It’s a lost cause, they say, and we’d do better investing scarce resources toward revitalizing other cities with better prospects for the future.

So what makes Detroit different in the public imagination than other cities grappling with population loss, budget deficits, unemployment, crime, racial divisions and political corruption?

In large part, it’s disinformation. For example, the widespread belief that the city is a food desert with no supermarkets or any sources of fresh produce is, like many myths about Detroit that have grown up over the past 30 years, simply not true.

Actually Detroit sports more than 80 groceries, ranging from full service supermarkets to well-stocked neighborhood and ethnic stores. In May, Whole Foods broke ground for a new store in Midtown and Meijer’s, a well-regarded supermarket chain based in Grand Rapids, started construction on a superstore on the West Side.

Most Detroit supermarkets are family run, such as the beloved Honeybee La Colmena in Southwest Detroit, which grew up from a bodega and now features a produce section, meat counter and Latin foods selection to rival big box retailers. Co-owner Tammy Alfaro-Koehler, granddaughter of the founder, declares, “We are a full-service store, but we don’t want to be an anonymous big store. We’re part of the neighborhood.”

Source: Liza Lagman Sperl, Creative Commons

Tens of thousands of local residents do their weekly shopping at Eastern Market, one of the nation’s largest public markets, which features produce and prepared goods from 250 regional growers and vendors as well as surrounding blocks filled with a bakery, meat market, seafood store, specialty gourmet shops, America’s “oldest corned beef specialist”, an halal slaughterhouse, numerous restaurants and other tempting food related businesses.

Source: Liza Lagman Sperl, Creative Commons

“We have some vendors who have been here for generations, like one old farmer who remembers selling produce here with his grandfather when he was six,” says Jela Ellefson, Grants and Special Projects Coordinator, who joined Eastern Market through the Detroit Revitalization Fellow Project — a Wayne State University project that connects rising professionals with organizations on the forefront of revitalization efforts in the city.

Detroit is a blossoming leader in the urban agriculture movement, notes Ellefson, with more than 1500 farms within the city limits ranging from vacant lots to a 7-acre spread on the West Side planted by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Just two blocks from Eastern Market you’ll find neat rows of tomatoes, peas, salad greens, onions, beets, collards, okra, kale, leeks, rhubarb and fruit trees at the 2 1/2-acre Grown in Detroit cooperative farm, one of several plots around the city run by the group Greening of Detroit.
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Detroit Fellows — Young Professionals Moving to Detroit

Jay Walljasper / Jun 08 2012

For Release Friday, June 8, 2012

Jay WalljasperDeclining, desperate Detroit is old news.

It’s not that the city’s economic woes, struggling schools, racial friction and crime have been magically solved. A glance at local headlines will tell you that.

But there are new stories to tell about Detroit today. Which doesn’t mean the old stories are all wrong — just that they’re not the whole story anymore.

In recent years, for instance, Detroit has become a magnet for ambitious young people. Some grew up in the area; some move in from the coasts or other parts of the Midwest. Many are motivated by idealism or a sense of adventure, seeking to play a part in reviving a Great American City. Others, however, simply see an opportunity to fast track their careers.

You see them everywhere — sporting events downtown, galleries in Midtown, pubs in Corktown, restaurants in Southwest, music clubs in Hamtramck, sidewalks on the East Side, soccer fields at Belle Isle park, vegetable stands at Eastern Market. But a lot of people inside Michigan and out still don’t know about it.

This new story is exemplified by the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program (DRFP), a Wayne State University project that connects rising mid-career professionals to organizations at the forefront of efforts to boost economic development in the city. Initiated by Wayne State Associate Vice President Ahmad Ezzeddine in partnership with the Kresge Foundation, the Hudson-Webber Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Skillman Foundation, the project drew inspiration from a fellowship program in post-Katrina New Orleans. A wide majority of the 25 New Orleans Fellows stayed in the city after the program concluded, notes DFRP Executive Director, Dr. Robin Boyle — a nationally known planning professional who chairs Wayne State’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

“I still marvel over the fact that we had almost 650 applicants from across the country apply for 25 positions — the opportunity to come to Detroit,” says Rachele Downs, the DRFP Program Manager and a veteran commercial real estate broker. “These are people who are graduates of some of the best schools in the country with equally impressive professional experience.”
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City Biking Moves Into High Gear

Jay Walljasper / May 31 2012

For Release Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jay WalljasperYou can glimpse the future right now in forward-looking American cities — a few blocks here, a mile there where people riding bicycles are protected from rushing cars and trucks.

Chicago’s Kinzie Street, just north of downtown, offers a good picture of this transportation transformation. New bike lanes are marked with bright green paint and separated from motor traffic by a series of plastic posts. This means bicyclists glide through the busy area in the safety of their own space on the road. Pedestrians are thankful that bikes no longer seek refuge on the sidewalks, and many drivers appreciate the clear, orderly delineation about where bikes and cars belong.

“Most of all this is a safety project,” notes Chicago’s Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein. “We saw bikes go up from a 22 percent share of traffic to 52 percent of traffic on the street with only a negligible change in motorists’ time, but a drop in their speeds. That makes everyone safer.”

Klein heralds this new style of bike lane as one way to improve urban mobility in an era of budget shortfalls. “They’re dirt cheap to build compared to road projects.”

“The Kinzie project was discombobulating to the public when it first went in,” notes Alderman Margaret Laurino, chair of the city council’s Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee. “Business owners had questions. But now people understand it and we’re ready to do more.”

“Protected bike lanes are not just for diehard bicyclists — they offer a level of safety and confidence for less experienced riders,” adds Rey Colón, a Chicago alderman who first saw how well these innovations work on a trip to Seville, Spain.

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel campaigned on the promise of building 100 miles of these “green lanes” over the next four years to heighten the city’s appeal to new businesses. After the protected bike lane opened on Kinzie Street last year, more were installed on Jackson Boulevard and 18th Street on the city’s Near West Side. Thirteen more miles are planned this summer throughout the city. (The Chicago suburb of Evanston just announced plans to install protected bike lanes on one of its busy streets.)
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