The Planetizen News Brief - 12/24/09

Transit dips in 2008, Buffalo preserves by neglect, and San Francisco expands its borders -- all on this week's Planetizen News Brief, produced for Smart City Radio.

Full Transcript (Audio available as .mp3 at Planetizen)

2008 was a high water mark for public transportation in the U.S. Transit systems across the country posted record figures and reached a 52-year high in ridership. But this year, things have taken a turn for the worst. Or at least slightly worse. Between January and September of this year, transit ridership has seen a 4% drop compared against the same period last year. A recent report from the American Public Transportation Association shows that the number of rides fell in 146 of 197 bus systems across the country, and in 50 of 64 rail systems. And while high gas prices were largely credited with helping 2008 hit record ridership numbers, the economic recession and high unemployment rate are being blamed for this year’s downturn.

But while the recession has been bad news for U.S. public transit, it’s offered a surprising benefit for the struggling city of Buffalo, New York. But it’s not the recession alone. As USA Today reports, the city’s gradual decline has created a serendipitous opportunity for historic preservationists today. With a falling population and no new projects on the boards, historic buildings throughout the city, including a famous house by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, have been spared from the wrecking ball. Some are calling it preservation by neglect. Preservationists in Buffalo are hoping to parlay all those historic buildings into an opportunity for revitalization. And indeed that ball may already be rolling: The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently named Buffalo one of its 12 top tourist destinations.

And finally, out in San Francisco, the city is on the verge of getting a little bigger. After years of attempts and numerous grand scale redevelopment schemes, the city of San Francisco has successfully brokered a deal to buy out the man-made island in its bay known as Treasure Island. Built in the 1930s for the Golden Gate International Exposition, the island was later turned into a naval base, and ultimately decommissioned in 1997. It remained in the ownership of the U.S. Navy, but with this new deal, the island will be handed over to the city for redevelopment. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the city has agreed to a $55 million guaranteed payment over the course of several years, with the full cost coming to about $105 million. City officials are hoping to turn much of the island into a model sustainable neighborhood, with 6,000 homes, a new commercial town center and hundreds of acres of open space. And with the city and state in a tight financial situation, leaders in San Francisco are hoping this land buy will translate into a big economic boost right when the city needs it most.