Smart Urban Development

The City of Omaha kicked off its effort to update the transportation element of its master plan today (Tuesday, 11/16).  We were pretty impressed with the turnout at the kickoff meeting at Mammel Hall and were equally excited about the kinds of ideas that were being discussed.  The best quote we heard from the consultant during the evening: ”There’s one city that’s solved their traffic congestion problem entirely…Detroit.  Everyone moved out and there’s no problem with traffic in Detroit anymore.”

Those leading the initiative are in search of more folks that will be involved on a more intimate level throughout the process.  The most important opportunity for further involvement is as a “stakeholder”.  Stakeholders will be engaged in more detailed discussions throughout 4 – 6 meetings over the course of the next year and are asked to commit to engaged involvement. If you’re passionate about making Omaha a more pedestrian-friendly city, sign up to be a stakeholder.

This is an initiative with a lot of potential.  We’ll stay closely involved as it unfolds (two VOICE steering committee members are on the steering committee) and will keep you all abreast of developments.

But don’t wait on us.  Get involved today.  And don’t say nobody has asked you.

More information can be found at the City’s newly released website:  http://www.cityofomaha.org/tmplan/home

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Smart Urban Development, Sustainability

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Several months ago VOICE led a petition drive that asked planners to reconsider the beltway.  You will be pleased to know that we haven’t lost all those signatures.  Better yet, now is the perfect time to dust them off and drop them in front of Omaha’s planners.

The next step for the beltway was its inclusion in the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency’s (MAPA) 2035 long range transportation plan.  MAPA is currently working its way through a series of public participation meetings that are intended to solicit public feedback on their 2035 plan.  And we bet our bottom dollar that these sessions are sparsely attended, which provides us an opportunity to influence the direction of the plan.

We’re pulling together our petition information as we speak and will be sharing that with MAPA and several other entities that can impact the City’s urban development.  As it comes together, we’ll let you know.

But we encourage everyone to attend one of MAPA’s public participation meetings.  If you can’t make it to a meeting, please send MAPA your thoughts via email at LRTP@mapacog.org.

Remaining public meetings (all are from 4:30 – 6:30 pm) on the 2035 plan are as follows:

November 16 – Neighborhood Center at 115 S 49th Ave
November 17 – Council Bluffs Public Library at 400 Willow Ave
December 2 – South Omaha Metropolitan Community College Campus, Library conference room

For more information, see the DRAFT 2035 Transportation Plan and MAPA’s informational brochure.

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Smart Urban Development

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Dundee residents have organized to put a stop to the development of a CVS Pharmacy at 49th & Dodge. Not only were the New York developers unwilling to negotiate to create a structure more suitable for urban neighborhoods, they took to veiled threats and coercion to get the job done. One of the more active opponents of the development was contacted by the principal developer and told “we know where you work and we know where you live.” City Council members were told CVS would pull plans for additional sites, including the location at 72nd and Maple already in process, if the 49th and Dodge location is blocked.

Sadly, CVS’ bullying tactics are working on our City Council.

On Aug. 31 the City Council listened to their constituents and voted to block the CVS development. But Councilman Ben Gray caved to corporate pressure and asked the council to reconsider its earlier decision, allowing him to change his vote and clear the way for the chain pharmacy to locate in the historic district.

Citing the need for jobs, Gray neglected to mention the new jobs are predominately part-time positions, which lack both a living wage and insurance benefits.

Jenny Allgood, a Dundee resident, and her neighbors collected 1,800 signatures from people opposed to the store. Residents are concerned about the plans to locate a suburban-style big box with an inappropriately large parking lot in the middle of their historic neighborhood. The plans don’t currently call for any landscaping along Dodge Street and the three separate entrances–which, even the public works department has deemed excessive–will create traffic issues in the already congested area.

The re-vote on the 49th and Dodge location will be held next Tuesday, September 21. Please help the residents of Dundee put a stop to the current plans by contacting the following City Council members and urging them to vote against CVS:

  • Ben Gray, District 2
  • Thomas Mulligan, District 7
  • Franklin Thompson, District 6

Call the City Clerk’s office at 402-444-5557 or e-mail the council.

If you’re looking for more detail on the project visit No CVS in Dundee.

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Smart Urban Development

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Local organizers were successful in preventing CVS Pharmacy from locating in Dundee at 49th and Dodge Streets. Over 1200 members on the facebook group showed their support. They felt that CVS’s plan did not fit with the historical character of the neighborhood. The City Council voted against CVS’s plan 4-3.

Voice congratulates Dundee residents for successfully opposing the destruction of existing buildings at 49th and Dodge for the construction of a CVS Pharmacy. We’d also like to thank the city council for voting the CVS proposal down and remind our planning board of the vacant Target on Saddle Creek.. Perhaps that is a better location for redevelopment!

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Smart Urban Development

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

I am posting this message that we received from Planit Omaha about a meeting tonight. Sorry for the late notice. Anyone interested in attending is welcome. Let’s see if their ideas conform to our smart urban design guidelines for North Downtown and Omaha as a whole:

Neighbors & Interested Parties

You are invited to an informational meeting & discussion regarding the proposed site plan for the 15th & Cuming Street property

Thursday, August 26th 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm

Hampton Inn & Suites 1212 Cuming Street Omaha, NE 68102

Meeting Hosts Jerry Slusky, Smith Gardner Slusky Jason Thiellen, E&A Consulting Lesley Brandt & Renee Black, planitomaha NewStreet LLC

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If asked some of your favorite cities to visit, many of you will mention places like New York, D.C. or Chicago. One of the common threads that links those cities is good, safe, functional public transportation. When you’re in New York, hopping on a bus or the subway is commonplace; you often find yourself traveling comfortably with the masses from to one location to the next. But when you return home to Omaha, how often do you consider using anything other than your vehicle to get around town?

Omaha is a city that is almost entirely dependent on personal vehicles. Not only do we rely on our four wheels to take us everywhere around town, we are almost always alone in them. The next time you’re standing at a major intersection, especially during rush hour, take a few moments to see how many drivers are alone. The answer, you’ll find, is pretty much everyone.

Despite the number of Omahans who currently get around town in personal vehicles, demand for better public transportation is increasing. On a national level, the Obama Administration has placed a high priority on complete streets and public transportation. Locally, $7.8 million in national stimulus funds was used to purchase 24 new buses for Omaha’s fleet, all of which were rolled out this past Monday.  In conjunction with that rollout, the Metro Area Transit also announced an exciting new branding campaign, complete with a more user-friendly website and plans to incorporate wi-fi into many of its buses.

While a new brand and an updated website might be seen like an empty a gesture towards making concrete improvements to Omaha’s public transportation system, it’s a significant symbolic step and a great starting point. When the Young Professionals Council conducted the YP Bus Challenge in the spring/summer of 2009, they found that many people who had intentions of using the system were thwarted from doing so because the “on-boarding” process was so archaic and cumbersome.  By streamlining the process and making it more user-friendly, new users will hopefully take the actual step of hopping on a bus for the first time.

Is Omaha’s Metro bus system perfect?  Absolutely not. There are undoubtedly ways to improve the system both in the short and long-term.  Unfortunately public transportation funding at a state level in Nebraska is among the worst. After all, we are the only state with a “Department of Roads” — rather than a “Department of Transportation.” And given the state’s current fiscal crunch, we shouldn’t anticipate an influx of funding to Metro anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean improvements can’t occur.

Improving Omaha’s transportation system starts with increased ridership. Increased demand will require increased attention from local authorities. That means those of us who commonly complain about bus service, but never use it, should buy a bus ticket, get on, and give it a try. Yes, it takes some planning. And yes, it might increase the length of your trip. But the benefits outweigh the costs in most cases.

Let’s stop having the chicken/egg conversation and waiting for the system to “be fixed” before trying it out.  Visit www.ometro.com, plan a trip and take it.  It won’t hurt, we promise.  In fact, you might actually enjoy it.

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Have you been to www.passthepotatoes.com yet?  If not, you’re missing out on an excellent opportunity to help make Omaha a cleaner, greener and healthier city.

Passthepotatoes is the online town hall venue soliciting, vetting and prioritizing ideas to green Omaha.  Idea generation has already occurred in two of five categories.  Natural Environment kicked off the process and voting has since closed with a a 5 cent plastic bag tax garnering the most votes.  Good idea?  Bad idea?

Voting is currently underway in the Urban Form & Transportation category with several cool ideas on the table.  Buses and bikes and trains, oh my!  And while you’re there voting, share an idea related to Building Construction, the most recent category seeking your ideas.

It’s time to stop complaining and start participating.

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The first annual Farnam Festival will be held on Saturday, August 7th from 3 PM to 12 AM and will feature 7 bands, a silent art auction, a beer garden, and much more.

The organizers of the Farnam Festival hope to make it an annual event, each year growing bigger and better. The organizers’ mission this year is to raise money to help convert Farnam to two-way traffic between 36th and 42nd streets. According to organizer Brad Iwen of Iwen Exposures, “The need for two-way traffic has long expired. Decades ago, city planners designed ‘urban freeways’ to move traffic out of Downtown to the suburbs. Neighborhood business districts became less accessible and slowly faded out along this corridor.” The Farnam Festival aims to bring life back to this important urban community center. For more information about the event’s details, go to farnamfestival.com.

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Urban transit systems in most American cities, for example, have become a genuine civil rights issue – and a valid one – because the layout of rapid-transit systems determines the accessibility of jobs to [under-resourced and vulnerable] communit[ies].  If transportation systems in American cities could be laid out so as to provide an opportunity poor people to get meaningful employment, then they could begin to move into the mainstream of American life.

- Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope

Have you ever considered what life would be like without access to transportation?  How would you get to work, to the grocery store, to the homes of your family and friends? For many of us the topic of transportation is centered around options (what modes of transportation do I prefer?); for others with fewer resources, the topic is one of access (what modes of transportation are available to me?).  If we pause to position ourselves in the shoes of those in this second grouping, we begin to see that transportation is more than an issue of convenience or preference, but an issue of justice.

At its basic level, transportation is about access – access to work, to things we need, and to the relational support systems that sustain us.  In this way, transportation is the gatekeeper to access. With viable transportation we have access to the things and activities required to live healthy and sustainable lives; without viable transportation we don’t share this same access and, therefore, quality of life.  Even more, transportation is about opportunity and social mobility.  Without access to our basic needs (work, groceries, family, etc.), we lack the opportunity to create a better future for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

The social justice implications of transportation are one of the many reasons it’s important for Omaha to thoughtfully consider a transportation plan that will meet the needs of all its citizens, particularly the most vulnerable.  Let your VOICE be heard on this critical issue. You can start by signing the VOICE petition for inclusive transportation planning in Omaha — or forwarding it to a friend if you’ve already signed it. VOICE will give you more ways to get engaged in this issue in the days to come.

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On Wednesday, August 4th at 5:30 pm, join the organizers from Omaha by Design at Slowdown as they present information on the outreach and development of the Environment Omaha document. Among other things, Omaha by Design is responsible for Environment Omaha efforts as well as Pass the Potatoes. Environment Omaha is the initiative to add an environmental element to the City of Omaha Master Plan. Pass the Potatoes is a great way to get involved (from the comfort of your couch) in Omaha’s efforts to become a more sustainable community.  You can chime in with your original ideas, or show support for ideas that others have submitted. Please join Omaha by Design on Wednesday night to learn more!

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VOICE Omaha