Saturday, August 9, 2014

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Night Music: Jimmy Cliff "The Harder they Come" Album

Should Marin be run by a Benevolent Dictatorship?

"Marinwood/Lucas Valley shall become a Transit Oriented Village to house the needy"

In last post  Andres Duany, father of New Urbanism,  comments that top down urban planning as seen in Singapore achieves remarkable results.  Many Smart Growth advocates agree.

Perhaps Marin should be urbanized with the brutal efficiency of a benevolent dictatorship

Here are excerpts from two articles plus links about  Singapore Justice.  The most telling of comments are by Singaporean residents following the Washington Post article.  It seems that many people see through the veil of "benevolence" for the suffocating reality that it is.


Excerpt from Washington Post article "

What Singapore can teach us"

*Transport. Singapore runs the world’s best airline (despite being based in a nation the size of New York City, with no internal flights). The subways are gorgeous. The city uses electronic road pricing — every wonk’s dream — to ease traffic at peak hours. Digital signs advising where ample parking places can be found dot the main thoroughfares.

*Housing. In America, “public housing” means “ghetto.” In Singapore, 80 percent of people live in public housing and virtually all of them own their homes, having received mortgage assistance from the government. It’s part of the national strategy to build assets and foster the positive social behavior that comes with ownership.

*Urban planning/climate change. A big chunk of the downtown bay area is now a reservoir via a feat of engineering I don’t pretend to understand but which experts tell me is remarkable. Meanwhile, Singaporean officials don’t debate whether climate change is real but instead are taking such impressive steps to cope that one U.S. guru told me “it’s actually embarrassing as an American to look at what they have done.”

For full article : What Singapore can teach Us   (be sure to read the reader's comments too) 


excerpt from Sustainability Institute's Article:

Singapore Leads the Good Life Under a Benevolent Dictator

Singapore has achieved the American dream, but not in the American way. It is a prosperous, clean city, with imposing skyscrapers and glittering shopping centers. The multinational corporations of the world are welcome here; you can buy any brand name you've ever heard of. The highways are lined with tropical flowers and crowded with BMWs. And at the head of this thriving free-market state is a clever, socialist dictator.

....Lee Kuan Yew has interfered with every aspect of Singaporean life. To control population growth he set up free family planning clinics. Then he mounted education campaigns ("Plan your family small") and decreed that women having third-or-more babies would get shorter maternity leave, higher hospital charges, and less income tax relief. There is a $5000 reward for mothers who agree to be sterilized after their second child. Sterilized parents get top priority for public housing, and their children get into desirable schools.

Singaporeans now accept that two is the right number of children. When I asked one woman how she felt about that, she told me she'd like to have three or four. "But," she said brightly, "I understand why I shouldn't have that many. We are a small, crowded island." In fact the birth rate has fallen so low among highly-educated women, that Lee now offers incentives to "educated mothers" to have three children or more.

All over the city identical 16-story housing blocks rise, each with its recreation center, swimming pool, shopping center, community center, and school. The apartments are well-built and spacious.

Anti-social behavior is not permitted in Singapore. The fine for littering is $250. Jaywalking, spitting, and smoking in government offices are also fined $250. Gambling, except for the state lottery, is illegal. The punishment for drug trafficking is death.

I tried to find Singaporeans who are unhappy with their paternalistic government. In a week of searching, I found none. People think the regulations make sense. No one seems to fear the government; most feel they can bring complaints to it. ...

Singapore just doesn't fit the world's categories. It's a dictatorship with free speech, no fear, and no corruption. It's an economy that uses capitalist means to attain socialist ends.

For the full article: Singapore Good Life


Of course there is a dark side to Singapore too.

For more on Singapore Justice see Caning in Singapore

For more on the American Teenager sentenced to caning after vandalism see: Michael P Fay

Andres Duany, leading City Planner defends Benevolent Dictatorships

The first of nine Youtube videos featuring a lecture by Andres Duany
Editor's Note: Andres Duany is one of the Pied Pipers of  the school of Planning known as New Urbanism.  He also is unabashed in his support for draconian land use policies that take away individual property rights for the "public good" (which only planners can be entrusted). His views are disturbingly mainstream in the planning community and are the guiding ideology behind Smart Growth and the One Bay Area Plan enacted by the MTC and ABAG.  They are the ones that have created the "urban corridor" and the "Marinwood Priority Development Area" without your knowledge. 

The Man Who Reinvented the City

andres_duany.jpg This year marks the 30th anniversary of New Urbanism, the school of town planning and architectural design that highlights walkability, self-contained communities, and dense neighborhoods. Hailed as the antithesis of--and answer to--suburban sprawl, car culture, and the megamall, New Urbanism has proven both influential and contentious. (Its flagship development, Seaside, Florida, served as the too-quaint-to-be-real set for The Truman Show.) But its innovations and ideologies continue to shape the post-industrial streetscape, from the Rustbelt to the Sunbelt.

Andres Duany, the father of New Urbanism, left his job as a condominium developer in 1980 and founded the firm DPZ with his wife, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. He's spent those 30 years sketching up new developments (some as far away as Abu Dhabi), arguing with critics at academic conferences and town hall meetings, and dreaming up new ways to get Americans out of their cars and onto the street. Reflecting on the indelible fingerprints his work has left on our urban landscape, Duany talked to The Atlantic about today's environmentalism, the problem with suburban teenagers, and why democracy can't be trusted to build smart cities.

Excerpt from article in the Atlantic

What's it like to return to Havana--to an urban landscape untouched by the destructiveness of global capital?
I think it's more than just capital. There are two kinds of destruction: there's the loss of the city, the high rises, which is what happened in Mexico City and Buenos Aires and Bogota. But then there's the other destruction, which is the migration of the rural people to the city. And that was controlled in Cuba. They just said, "You don't have your card, you don't have your permit, you are not coming in."

But I think the most interesting experiment of all is Singapore. Singapore had nothing going for it. No raw materials. And you got a kind of top-down government that was almost completely enlightened*, putting education first and so forth, and you have this city that is extremely livable.

While democracy does most things well, I think we need to confront the fact that it does not make the best cities. And that the cities that were great were rather top-down. You know--Paris and Rome, the grid of Manhattan. What would those have been like if there hadn't been some top-down stuff? Every landowner would have done a separate little pod subdivision. That's one of the things that's naive about Americans--extremely naive, I find, as an outsider having lived in places that are possibly less democratic, like Spain. This idea that you have an individual right to do whatever you want with your land is very democratic, but the result is pretty questionable.

Unfortunately, it's hard to have a debate in this country about certain things. We talk about bottom-up planning. And by the way, I make my living doing this bottom-up planning. But if you unfilter what people want--they don't want poor people, they don't want income diversity, and they don't want shops anywhere near them and they don't want rapid transit and they don't want streets that connect and they don't want anybody bicycling past their yards and they don't want density. So you can't just do unfiltered bottom-up planning. We need to educate.

for complete article see  Andres Duany, Father of New Urbanism

For more on the psychology of  Smart Growth Planners/Politicians see:  God Complex

For more on Singapore Justice seeCaning in Singapore

For more on the American Teenager sentenced to caning after vandalism see: Michael P Fay

 * by enlightened Singapore Government, does Andres Duany mean  making chewing gum illegal, heavy fines for spitting, homosexuality is a crime with severe penalties,  death penalty for drug dealing?   

The problem with allowing dictators rule every aspect of our lives is that they cannot help themselves when given the power.  Beware of the central planner. His power is more important to him than your liberty.

When we act together we can Save Marin Again!

Contra Costa Transit Village is the Model Development for the 101 Corridor Priority Development Area.

Thursday, August 7, 2014






Evil suburban sprawl like this must make way for high density housing according to the Smart Growth Zealots so we can save the planet.  Isn't it ironic?


California needs several key changes in current State planning policy and enabling legislation. Our

need for a diverse supply of new housing is greater than ever – at the same time that local citizens

increasingly oppose building it. The survival and growth of California’s economy is dependent on

finding a solution to this problem; a solution that can be sustained economically, politically, socially

and environmentally over the coming decades, as California’s workforce responds to the present and

future challenges of the world economy.

The word "growth" once had positive connotations for Californians, and was equated with better jobs,

better housing, better shops, better education and a better quality of life. But the mere mention of the

word today brings a firestorm of opposition, fuming about traffic congestion, higher taxes, crowded

schools, and the paving-over of the landscape. How did it come to pass that a State so proud of its

first century of growth, one whose people built so many beautiful villages, towns and cities throughout

its vast territory, should have so radically changed its outlook? The reason is that the urban pattern


Growth in California over the past 50 years has been almost entirely of the type known as suburban

sprawl. Prior to that time, new development took the form of traditional, walkable American

neighborhoods, each containing a range of housing types, small shops, restaurants and offices, a

school and a park. Suburban sprawl, on the other hand, divides these basic components of a city – the

residences, the shops and offices, schools and parks – into separate geographic areas by zoning, and

then connects the areas to one another with roadways. The result is that residents have to drive to

virtually every destination, leading to intractable traffic congestion and the associated human cost in

lost time, the balkanization of our population by income level, and the disenfranchisement of those

who cannot drive.

Over the past 20 years, the planning profession has begun to reform itself, based on the lessons learned

from the last 50 years of building sprawl, and on the observed empirical success and value of older

neighborhoods. The idea of combining the flexibility and charm of our historic neighborhoods with

the functional benefits of modern houses and commercial development is a powerful, and now proven,

strategy for planning growth. The resulting new neighborhoods are the basic building blocks for

community development, and may be assembled into villages, towns, cities and well-planned regions.

This new way of planning is called Smart Growth.

Smart Growth is compact and uses land efficiently, conserving agricultural and wild lands. Smart

Growth allows residences of all types – single-family houses, town houses, condos, apartments – to be

intermixed in a single neighborhood in ways that increase, not decrease, their value. Smart Growth

allows small neighborhood-serving shops and restaurants to be located within the neighborhood or at

its edge, so that customers have a choice of whether to walk, bike or drive to them. Smart Growth

incorporates schools and parks into the neighborhood fabric so that children can walk to them, giving

the children a great sense of power and self-sufficiency while freeing the parents from permanent

chauffeur duty. Smart growth locates large-scale employment investment in mature urban areas, and

smaller scale employment opportunities for entrepreneurs in all areas. Smart Growth encourages

flexible and timeless mixed-use building types that can be adapted to new uses many times during

their life-cycle, supporting changing business needs in a dynamic economy without demolishing and

land-filling 10-year-old buildings each business cycle.

It is now widely recognized that Smart Growth is a better and environmentally superior way to build

communities. The most obvious questions are, why isn’t everyone already building Smart Growth

everywhere, and what can the State do to promote Smart Growth? This paper is intended to begin to

answer those questions.



In the early days of land development in California – from 1890 to 1930 for instance – new towns and

new neighborhoods were generally welcomed for the housing and the economic opportunity they

brought, and their developers were celebrated as town founders. These early towns were first of all

places for people – places to live, places to work, places to shop and places to gather together as a

community – all knitted together into compact, walkable neighborhoods and downtown districts. The

public spaces of the town – the parks, greens, squares and plazas – were the living rooms of the

community, where residents of all ages and incomes came together in the course of their daily lives.

These places were designed to allow children to walk to the schools and parks, to allow young families

and older couples – and poorer families and wealthier families – to all live in the same neighborhood

together, to allow many daily errands to nearby stores and restaurants to be done on foot, and to allow

people to move from neighborhood to neighborhood by way of efficient public transit systems that

included streetcars, trains and buses.

Almost all of the downtowns and in-town neighborhoods in California’s best-loved cities were built in

this period, including large areas of San Francisco, San Diego, Beverly Hills, Rancho Palos Verdes,

Westwood, Pasadena, Modesto, Chico, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Carmel, Sonoma, and Sacramento.

These places were built by land developers, intent on making a profit while creating great places for

people to live. In both endeavors they were very successful – so successful in fact that these places

remain to this day the most valuable real estate in California.

While it is intuitively and empirically obvious that the old-style neighborhoods are desirable and

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Public Process: How NIMBYs Encourage Suburban Sprawl

The Public Process: How NIMBYs Encourage Suburban Sprawl

Editor's note: this article shows the utter contempt for the public and democracy most "smart growth" advocates, politicians and planners have. The arrogance is astounding.


Now is the time to roll out new planning ideas – different codes, new public review processes, original ways of thinking. “These are revolutionary times,” new urbanism guru AndrĂ©s Duany told about 150 planners, state government officials, architects and consultants during a gathering in Sacramento on Thursday.
Andres Duany,  Architect and Pied Piper of "New Urbanism"

Most zoning codes simply perpetuate suburban sprawl and make development that is not dependent on automobiles impossible, Duany said. Yet the combination of public awareness about climate change, peak oil (the theory that oil production is on an inexorable downward trend) and the housing market bust has opened a window of opportunity to reconsider land use planning, he said. “Everything seems to be coming apart.”

California, according to Duany, has taken a step forward with SB 375, the 2008 bill that attempts to link land use planning and transportation investments in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The notion of coordinating land use and transportation “is so amazingly obvious and so amazingly radical,” he declared.

But, as everyone recognizes, SB 375 is merely one step down the road. Duany urged bold actions and experimentation during the current window of opportunity.

Based in Miami, Duany is a co-founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a proponent of form-based codes, and the designer of numerous urban, town center and traditional neighborhood development projects all over the world. He was brought to Sacramento by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, the Strategic Growth Council, the Department of Conservation and a number of like-minded consulting firms. The event was billed as “Beyond Counting Carbon. Making Money, Food & Neighborhoods. Sustainable Community Strategies for Leveraging California’s SB 375.”
A Planetizen poll recently ranked Duany as the number 2 urban thinker behind only Jane Jacobs. And he’s a tour de force as a public speaker. During the gathering in the Sacramento City Council chambers on Thursday, Duany spoke for 2 hours without notes and didn’t even bother to click on the PowerPoint presentation until the final 15 minutes. Duany speaks his mind and I’m betting he said something to offend or anger just about everyone at least once. Still, it’s hard to argue with his basic point, which is that the suburban growth of the last 60 years is not sustainable economically, environmentally or socially. It’s not even especially popular. Hence, “the system” needs to change.
Much of Duany's basic pitch is 20 years old: Replace Euclidian zoning with form-based codes. Build communities that are connected, compact, complete, complex and convivial. Plan for people, not cars. Avoid the monoculture of massive housing subdivisions at all cost. Some of these ideas have been around so long they have become conventional wisdom, if not conventional practice. What struck me Thursday, though, was a newer subject for Duany, and that’s process. He said the public review process is "old and sick," and must change.

The public process is completely out of control. The public is completely berserk,” he opined.
Only a few weeks ago, I had a e-mail exchange with one of California’s leading land use lawyers in which both of us lamented Californians’ fixation with process. We don’t seem to give a damn about the final outcome as long as the process complies with all the rules. Of course, a key component of the process is public input. However, the vast majority of that input comes from vested interests – essentially, the developer and the people who live next to the proposed development site. Shouts of protest and sloganeering bombard the decision makers. No one speaks for the community as a whole.
How could things work better yet still be democratic? Duany described a process employed in Perth, Australia. When a development project is proposed, the city rounds up about 150 citizens, much like a jury pool. The city then asks this group for volunteers to participate in a review process. Maybe 50 people agree to volunteer and 30 stick out the whole process, which involves some education about land use planning and the project, a few charettes and a handful of public meetings. When it comes time for a decision on the project, a representative of the opponents gets to speak, as does a representative of the developer. But the “jury” called by the city testifies as to what it sees as best for the community as a whole. This is how Perth got a large community center located on the beach – ruining the view of wealthy coastal homeowners who naturally opposed such a project.

Would such a system be acceptable in California, the state where the term NIMBY was invented? It’s certainly worth a try. And here’s why: Most of what we need to do for the next generation – and maybe for much longer – will amount to retrofitting suburbia. That means tearing down and building lots of new stuff in people’s backyards, which means that virtually every project comes with a built in group of opponents. They can shout loud enough to block the new housing, additional job sites, transit stations, town squares, community centers and even the big box stores that could both benefit the community and help California meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

I’m not suggesting that every infill and redevelopment project is a good one. But could Perth’s process possibly result in a worse project than we would get now?

Of course, Duany had lots more to say. Although it’s not up yet, a video recording of Duany’s entire presentation and an hour-long panel discussion that followed are supposed to be posted on the Strategic Growth Council website shortly.
– Paul Shigley

Stop the Hidden Gas Tax!

A Sign of the End of the Line for SMART?

A Sign of the End of the Line for SMART?

A Sign of the End of the Line for SMART?
Today, August 5th, the Marin IJ’s Dick Spotswood published an article “Marin close to state cap for sales tax measures“  that Marin’s county and city sales taxes are about to reach their limit of 2% (on top of the existing 7.5% state sales tax).  If (when) sales taxes reach this ceiling this potentially has serious, possibly disastrous consequences for SMART, if not all of Marina and Sonoma’s taxpayers.
SMART  polled voters and even though it needed 1/2c to build and run scaled back to 1/4c as the polls showed 1/4c tax raise is all voters would support. But if the sales tax limit cap is reached – and the planes for new taxes that would reach this limit are already stacked up and lining up to land – then this may not be feasible. The alternative is to hike property taxes – which are much harder to get through and place a much greater burden on homeowners(as opposed to people who work in or who are passing through the county but do not live here).

keep-calm-and-no-excusesExcuse #1: “But It’s Because of the Recession”

Already SMART is blaming 2 year delays and cutting line length in half  on the recession. This  is a *phony* argument. Supervisors Arnold and Sears used it just last week in an op ed entitled “SMART’s making steady progress toward starting service“.
Then the same excuse was used again today, August 5th, by the chairman of “Friends of SMART” in a Sonoma Press Democrat “In response to the grand jury criticism“.

Analyzing the Excuse

Sure, the recession reduced sales, but only temporarily. But the recession also significantly benefited SMART:
  • SMART’s bonds were locked in at much lower interest rates reducing bonded indebtedness.
  • Construction costs were reduced due to the high unemployment during the construction period, and when construction work was being put out to bid
  • The recession was used to justify delaying the start-up, allowing them to save up more sales taxes before commencing operation. SMART will bleed ~$12m/year once operational.
Net – net the recession’s affect on SMART was a wash financially. Even if the recession hadn’t occurred, SMART would have been stuck at the same place – 1/2 the promised length, delayed completion, not enough money to sustain operations…
SMART has a leveraged financial structure – the bond’s debt needs to be serviced. So if (when) revenue declines the financial impact is magnified. That will increase the pressure whereby to continue operation the train will either have to cannibalize other genuinely cost effective transportation projects (buses…) or return to collect more taxes.
SMART could barely afford to build and operate a 35 mile line before the recession hit. They can’t now without additional bail-outs from TAM.  In 2011 with some wheeler-dealing from Steve Kinsey they broke the promise not to encroach on funding for other transportation projects and obtained  $8m from the Transportation Authority of Marin to balance the budget.  The other funding source they surely have their eyes on is RM2 – bridge toll taxes.
The whole thing is lining up to be one major fiasco. Civil Grand Juries in not one but both counties  - Sonoma and Marin –have issued  warnings that there is a need for course correction and much greater financial oversight.  The Sonoma Grand Jury advised that SMART hires of an outside economist
Artists conception of Sarah Palin's Gravina Island Bridge
Artists conception of Sarah Palin’s Gravina Island Bridge
This is all starting to smell like a Gravina’s bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Who will be Marin’s Sarah Palin(s) ? The field is certainly packed with contendors.  I surely hope Marin isn’t turned into a laughing stock, while we, the residents are left to mop up the foreseeable damage through taxes, pollution and environmental impact.

Transportation Solutions: Google Waze and Self Driving, Chaining Cars

Solutions: Google Waze and Self Driving, Chaining Cars

The future of transportation
The future of transportation
I'm often accused of being negative on any transit projects - but anyone who actually reads my articles will see that I am only negative about ineffective solutions, and I am constantly seeking out and discovering new, much more effective solutions.

On Thursday I was at a technology conference in Redwood City where the future for our congested freeways became much clearer. Instead of sinking money into cost ineffective projects like the SMART train, and possibly trolleys, we need to recognize that the car has become the transportation method of choice over the last 50 years through it's convenience. Transit simply cannot match the convenience of going door to door without changing travel modes, waiting, putting in buffer time, missing connections...

However our freeways are becoming increasingly clogged. Transit advocates would have us abandon our cars, investing billions in trains and trolleys  - not recognizing that we live in the area making the most groundbreaking strides in transportation technology.

Waze - Load Balancing Road Networks

At the conference I attended a lady presented "Waze". Waze is a mobile app that crowd-sources all the GPS locations of it's users using a mobile phone app to understand the relative speeds and traffic congestion across road networks. More than that - it proactively informs Waze users when congestion strikes, suggesting alternate routes.

Waze was just bought by Google for an estimated $1.3 billion. It's being used by ABC's local TV news affiliates nationwide to help instantly identify traffic congestion.

Combining Waze + Chained Cars

In the limited questioning time I raised my hand and asked the Waze/Google speaker "how soon will we be able to go down to a local dealership and buy a self-driving car that has Waze so it automatically takes the best route?". Her answer 7 years. She turned back to me and the audience and said "is that significant?"

I said "it's huge". If that can happen in 7 years it turns transportation planning on it's head. It helps address the traffic that everyone in the audience faced just that day getting to the Redwood City venue.

What this means is we are very close, in long range transportation planning, to road networks which load balance themselves automatically. Imagine you're cruising down 101 and your car seamlessly takes an offramp, drives down the adjacent frontage road around congestion, and then rejoins the freeway.

Then combine this with Google's other technology: self-driving cars that can "chain up together" drive with reduced spacing (they brake together as a single unit) increasing freeway lane capacity threefold.

I spoke one on one to the lady from Google. She explained that the major issue is overcoming legislation so that Google or car manufacturers are not sued every time a self driving car is involved in an accident. Self driving cars are much safer than us fallible humans. Google cars have already driven over 800,000 miles without incident. The issue is who legislates - is it at the federal, state or local level. She answered the question saying the answer is clearly federal.

Why Fixate on Rail When Cars Solve the Issue?

This brings up the issue - so why do we need to spend billions on fixed guide rail projects like SMART and trolleys. These projects are sold to us based on claims of reducing congestion, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing mobility.  They require investment of billions (in SMART's case Marin and Sonoma taxpayers are paying a combined $1.2 billion including bond interest for the train). They have no flexibility like a bus, once installed they're prohibitively expensive to re-route, and if the forecast passengers don't materialize taxpayers are left holding the bill on a money pit.

Just today I was reading an article about emissions which said that that US politicians underestimated how much car fuel efficiency has increased over the past decade. Emissions are directly linked to fuel efficiency.

Luxury Car Makers Join The Electric Club

Now we have the launch of the BMW i3 - a fully electric vehicle that uses carbon fiber and not metal for its chassis to reduce weight. It accelerates 0-60 in about 7 seconds, far superior to the Nissan Leaf.

What's significant about this is a luxury car maker is making significant bets on zero emissions cars. Mercedes is said to be holding out for fuel cell vehicles which should be with us in about 2017.

Today we have the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf, cars embraced by many Marinites almost as a statement of their environmental awareness. Tomorrow we will have cars from the top marques that create a 'halo' effect.

I am convinced that these "carrot" approaches to fighting climate change, combined with legislation such as emissions based vehicle taxes, are the way to cost effectively address climate change. They

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Change, Whales in Monterey Bay and Transportation of the Future

With imagination anything is possible. 

   Can our "genius" central planners at Association of Bay Area Governments anticipate all the possibilities for the next fifty years? Our objection to  "One Bay Area Plan" is based upon our optimism of the human spirit and innovation. 

 I cannot imagine a 19th century transportation concept of rail trains, with their fixed destination , costly infrastructure could begin to match the freedom and efficiency of these smart vehicles. In the Toyota video, we see a mock up of "self chaining" cars which will radically improve traffic flows during peak demands. Commutes will be a breeze.  Below is the innovative "straddling bus" that will dramatically improve public transportation in cities .

The future belongs to the human spirit.

Native Advertising. Why you can't Trust the News Anymore.

Remember this when you read a story about the SMART train, Plan Bay Area, "Affordable" housing reducing greenhouse gases, MERA. etc. They have billions on their side of the equation. That is why citizens are fighting back.
Here is how Russia does propaganda

Happy Days are Here Again!- Judy Arnold and Kate Sears says so.

Kate Sears and Judy Arnold says "Happy Days are Here Again!" (pay no attention to the Grand Jury report)
see their B.S. in the Marin IJ.

See what the Grand Jury says in  their report "The Train has Left the Station"

Monday, August 4, 2014

The View From Your Window Is Worth Cash to This Company

The View From Your Window Is Worth Cash to This Company

New York-based Placemeter is turning disused smartphones into big data.
Courtesy of Placemeter

A city window overlooking the street has always been a score in its own right, what with so many apartments stuck opening onto back alleys and dumpsters and fire escapes. And now, a company wants to straight up monetize the view. New York startup Placemeter is paying city residents up to $50 a month for street views captured via old smartphones. The idea is to quantify sidewalk life in the service of making the city a more efficient place.
"Measuring data about how the city moves in real time, being able to make predictions on that, is definitely a good way to help cities work better," says founder Alex Winter. "That's the vision of Placemeter—to build a data platform where anyone at any time can know how busy the city is, and use that."
Here's how it works: City residents send Placemeter a little information about where they live and what they see from their window. In turn, Placemeter sends participants a kit (complete with window suction cup) to convert their unused smartphone into a street sensor, and agrees to pay cash so long as the device stays on and collects data. The more action outside—the more shops, pedestrians, traffic, and public space—the more the view is worth.
On the back end, Placemeter converts the smartphone images into statistical data using proprietary computer vision. The company first detects moving objects (the green splotches in the video below) and classifies them either as people or as 11 types of vehicles or other common urban elements, such as food carts. A second layer of analysis connects this movement with behavioral patterns based on the location—how many cars are speeding down a street, for instance, or how many people are going into a store.

Placemeter knows your first question—Isn't this invasion of privacy?—and insists that it's taking all measures to ensure anonymity. The smartphone sensors don't capture anything that goes on in a meter's home (such as conversations), and the street images themselves are analyzed by the computer, then deleted without being stored. The only thing that ends up saved in the company's system, says Winter, is the rough data.
"All the information we have in our system is activity measures of places in the city—nothing about people," he says. "It's really a place-centric, city-centric approach."
Efforts to quantify city life with big data aren't new, but where Placemeter's clear advance is its ability to count pedestrians. Cities often track sidewalk traffic with little more than a hired hand and a manual clicker and spot locations. With its army of smartphone eyes, Placemeter promises a much wider net of real-time data dynamic enough to recognize not only that a person exists but also that person's behavior, from walking speed to retail interest to general interaction with streets or public spaces.
The benefits could extend to both private and public entities alike. Investors might use Placemeter data to find the best location for a store, while retailers could learn things like their sidewalk-to-store conversion rate and how it compares to other stores on the block. Meanwhile, municipal agencies could detect the use of benches or near misses at intersections—and generally evaluate (and perhaps improve) public projects more quickly than they might otherwise.
Ultimately, Winter believes Placemeter will make cities more intelligible to individual residents, too. He foresees a time when people use Placemeter data to know when a basketball court is free or when the grocery store will be least crowded. (His initial inspiration for the venture was a trip with his kids to Shake Shack, where they waited in line for an hour. "That was a good 'Welcome to New York' moment," he says.)
For the moment, Placemeter is only available in New York, though the company expects to expand and says it's working on a new platform to make its data more user friendly. Though Placemeter also analyzes public video feeds, Winter says individual window collection is critical to the mission of smarter cities. It's this grassroots approach to big data that could make Placemeter a powerful platform for government accountability.
"I really believe in the strength of agile urbanism," says Winter, "where cities and citizens collaborate to make the city better

The Shocking Secret Government Watchlisting Guide: The Intercept's Ryan Devereaux

Vote "No" to the MERA tax!