Archive for March, 2010

Get Ready to Play…Name that Skyline!

 Skyline Contest:  So You Think You Know Cities? 

Here are skylines from 10 US cities.  How many can you identify?


Send your answer to .  The winner will receive a Borders gift card.  In case of ties, the gift card will be awarded to the first correct response.   




Picture #1

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Picture #9

Picture #10

Can’t Figure Them Out? 
Check back for hints. 







March 29th, 2010  in City Planning No Comments »

Journey Across America: Day Two

Journey Across America:  Day Two

Ooh.  Ah.  Beautiful.  Stunning.  Spectacular.  It’s another day of superlatives, from the time we leave our hotel room in Page, Arizona until the darkness descends on us in Albuquerque.  It’s also a Tony Hillerman day.  We’ll be driving the Four Corners area that he featured so vividly in his novels.  I can’t wait to see Monument Valley and Shiprock, two places on my “bucket list”, thanks to Hillerman.

The Glen Canyon Dam and Bridge were stop number one.  Glen Canyon Bridge is definitely the most beautiful bridge by a dam site, but will soon be outdone by the bridge over the Colorado River at Hoover Dam.  We looked north from the bridge into Lake Powell, named for the famous one-armed explorer John Powell. 

It’s also a day of travelling two-lane roads.  We spend the time on the drive to Monument Valley, “oohing and aahing” about the scenery, stopping to take pictures.  When Monument Valley arrives on the horizon, we know we are in for a visual treat.  As we get closer, we can identify the famous Two Mitten Buttes.  To their northwest is Sentinel Mesa, standing guard over the valley. 

We stop at the Monument Valley Navaho Nation Visitor Center.  The indigenous materials and design of the visitor center blend seamlessly into the majestic scenery of Monument Valley.  The Navaho Nation voted in the 1960’s to construct the visitor center to stop encroaching commercialism.  In one of life’s ironies, across the road from the visitor center, a billboard mars the magnificent vista.

Four Corners National Monument, the only point in the United States common to four state corners–Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado—is next on our loose itinerary.  We drive through each of the four states on our way to the monument.  To our surprise and disappointment, it is gated and closed for remodeling.  There’s no chance to take pictures while standing in four states.  We console ourselves by deciding that we are surely looking at all four states at the same time.

As we leave Four Corners, the colors of the desert change to ochre and gray.  The mighty Shiprock comes into view, surrounded by rolling hills and sagebrush.  It dominates the bleak landscape, its grandeur in sharp contrast to its surroundings.

 We drive through the high plains of New Mexico, eagerly awaiting the dramatic vistas that will return as we approach Albuquerque.  The Sandia Mountains that flank Alburquerque appear on the horizon.  We’re grateful for their beauty and for the end of the day’s journey.

For photos of day one and two of the journey, go to

March 23rd, 2010  in City Planning 3 Comments »

Journey to Excellence: Journey Across America


Here we are, two city planner type people, on a journey across America.  We’re heading from Henderson, Nevada to Clearwater, Florida and will be doing some wandering about along the way.  We’ll start out by spending time in the Southwest, driving the backroads and seeing the awesome beauty that characterizes the Southwest.

Day One:  We start off by taking the Northshore Road along Lake Mead, instead of heading right to the Interstate.  It takes us about an extra 15 minutes to head north, but it is worth it. 

Few tourists venture beyond the Strip or Hoover Dam to see the exquisiteness of the desert surrounding Las Vegas.  The road along Lake Mead is full of dramatic beauty, with surprise outcroppings of red rock speckling the mountains.  Changes to the desert landscape are subtle, but obvious to me, as I lived fifteen years in the desert.  There is a subtle green cast to the landscape.  The vegetation that has been dormant for years has reappeared because of the plentiful rain this year.  And by plentiful, I mean that it has rained 4 1/2 inches since January 1.  In a few weeks, the wildflowers will explode. 

We pass through the small towns of Moapa Valley and Logandale, arriving at I-15 south of Mesquite, just in time to drive through the Virgin River Gorge.  The Gorge is one of Mother Nature’s optical illusions.  At first sight, it appears to be a solid wall that can’t be penetrated.  We wind through sharp curves, with sheer rock on either side, speeding along.

Our time on I-15 ends quickly, as we exit and head east toward Hurricane, Utah.  The view to the north is the beauty of Zion National Park and later to Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.  For hours, each curve in the road brings more of the spectacular orange, red, yellow and purple colors that make the Southwest so entrancing. 

 The evening destination is Page, Arizona and we opt to take the long way there.  We follow the twisting turns of Arizona Route 89A from Fredonia to Jacob Lake, watching the vegetation  change from the Southwest desert hues to juniper trees and then to alpine forest .   We stop at Jacob Lake Lodge and are surrounded by snow.  A fire is burning in the lodge;  it’s aroma blends with the smell of pine trees and draws us inside.  

The Lodge is charming, but we hurry along so that we can see more of the spectacular scenery before the sun sets.  We descend to the Colorado River and cross it at Navajo Bridge.  As it becomes dark, we wind our way into Page, where we’ll spend the night.

 Taking in all the splendor of the day, I can’t help but be extremely grateful for the visionary people who have created our system of national parks and monuments.  These very special areas of the United States are preserved for all time, for all of us to see.  It’s easy to assume that setting aside millions of acres of incredible landscape was the right thing to do and came about easily.  But I’m convinced that our system came about only because of the vision and persistence of visionaries.  And so the lesson I take away, and pass along, is to dream big, set your vision high and work until you achieve it. 

Tomorrow:  Glen Canyon Dam, Monument Valley and Four Corners…unless we change our plans.

March 22nd, 2010  in City Planning No Comments »

Journey to Excellence: Transit in Tampa

Tampa’s Transit to Change Dramatically

Within the next five years, there will be monumental changes in Tampa, Florida. High speed rail and transit improvements will change the way the city looks and operates. In January, President Obama announced federal funding for high speed rail (HSR) for the Tampa-Orlando corridor. The project is shovel ready, with completion expected by 2015.

What does the arrival of high speed rail mean? Imagine this: You will be able to travel from Disneyworld to downtown Tampa in just 38 minutes…then take a bus rapid transit line out to Clearwater Beach and dip your toes in the warm water in just another 30 minutes. The tourism and economic impacts will be tremendous.

The transit connections that are under construction and in the planning stages will make the Tampa region more livable, attracting new residents and businesses. The first bus rapid transit system is under construction with more to follow. Light rail is in the planning stage. Major improvements will be completed when high speed rail arrives.

Sounds good, you think, but where is the money? In November of 2010, voters will be asked to approve a one cent sales tax increase. Seventy-five percent of the money generated will go toward transit projects, with the remaining 25% dedicated to road improvements. Supporters are optimistic that the increase will pass.

Get ready. The train will be leaving the station.

For more information, click on these links:

March 21st, 2010  in City Planning, Transit 2 Comments »

Journey to Excellence: Excellence in Land Use Planning

A Report on the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Conference

Last week, 450 planners, attorneys and real estate developers gathered in Denver for the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute (RMLUI) conference.  The conference upheld its reputation for presenting thought provoking speakers and cutting edge information. 

A few of my favorites from the conference:

Opening keynote speaker Joel Kotkin discussed the future of American cities.  Kotkin is a Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University.  Kotkin’s presentation was based on his recently published book, The Next 100 Million—America in 2050.  According to Kotkin:

  • The United States has healthier demographics than most of our competitors.  The US birth rate is growing while the world growth rate is slowing.  Our population growth will inherently lead to economic growth over the long term.
  • It will be interesting to watch the growth rate in China, which slowed drastically due to the one child per household policy.  That policy led to an overwhelming preference for male offspring.   China is approaching a time when there will be 23 million more men of marriageable age than women.  What are all those guys going to do?
  • The most recent Pew survey showed that suburbanites are most satisfied with where they live.  Their reasons?  Safety, security, quiet, privacy, resale value, curb appeal and shared values of home ownership.
  • Here’s an interesting tidbit that might surprise parents with kids ages 13-24 years old.  When asked about their sources of happiness, 76% of those 13-24 year olds said their relationship with their family was their main source of happiness.  Remember that on the days when your teenager is driving you crazy!


“You can’t have your renewable desert until you eat your transmission lines vegetables” was a memorable line delivered by Alex Daue in the keynote session, Renewables Scale Up:  Large Solar & Wind Installations and Transmission Corridors.  The panel at this session provided the latest information on renewable energy, presented recent case law and legislation and offered tips on how to manage renewable energy at the local level.  Panelists included John Anderson from Clean Energy Solutions, Alex Daue with the Wilderness Society, Erica Heller of Clarion Associates and yours truly, Mary Kay Peck of MKPeck Associates.  Here’s a tip from John Anderson -wear your boots if you are touring a solar installation – rattlesnakes love the shade provided by solar panels!

Do environmental regulations drive up the cost of housing?  Dr. Arthur “Chris” Nelson’s  fascinating presentation was based on research of two counties in suburban Washington, DC; one in Virginia and one in Maryland conducted for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Here’s the bottom line:  the cost of environmental regulations have remained substantially constant over the last thirty years, despite the increase in regulations.  You can read the entire study, results and recommendations in Environmental Regulations and Housing Costs, a book that Nelson co-authored with his fellow researchers.

Turn the traditional zoning ordinance inside out and upside down to achieve real sustainability, according to Lane Kendig, Strategic Advisor, Kendig Keast Collaborative.   Make cluster developments, planned unit developments and increased density easily approved, permitted uses.  Quit subjecting sustainable development to more scrutiny and extra processing; make it easier to do than the typical single family home.  In fact, Kendig suggests that it is the traditional single family home subdivision that should be subject to more review and should be a conditional use.    Kendig’s comments made me wonder just how many communities are committed strongly enough to sustainability to adopt his philosophy and turn their zoning ordinance upside down.

The little town that could become energy independent—the dream of Fowler, CO.  Located in southeastern Colorado and home to 1,200, Fowler has obvious wind and solar development potential.  A ranching and farming center, it is within easy reach of feedlots…and manure.  What many would see as a negative, Fowler sees as a positive and the fuel for an anaerobic digestive facility that would produce enough energy to power the entire community.  Wayne Snider, Town Administrator, clearly conveyed Fowler’s vision to be “Community Powered.”

Why should your community develop an energy conservation strategy?  There are two major reasons, according to Chris Duerksen,  Managing Director of Clarion Associates.  First, follow the money.  For the first time in decades, there are federal dollars available for energy and planning strategies.  Second, get out ahead of state and federal regulations.  The USEPA will be regulating greenhouse gas emissions and there is pending federal clean energy and climate change legislation.  More than half the states have either passed legislation or issued executive orders regarding energy conservation.  To learn more about the planner’s role in energy planning, attend the session at the national American Planning Association conference that Duerksen, Sue Schwartz and I will be presenting on Tuesday, April 13 at 9:00 a.m.

So far I have attended 17 out of 19 Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute conferences.  The conferences never fail to exceed my expectations.  Will I be in Denver next spring for the 20th annual conference?  You can count on it!  I’ll be there to learn and to celebrate twenty years of success.

March 16th, 2010  in City Planning No Comments »