AIRSPACE: infrastructure above

Posted in CARTOGRAPHY, INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSIT by urbanmi on March 17, 2013


Visual Flight Rule (VFR) maps allow pilots to fly with visual reference to the ground; as described by Wikipedia: “VFR are a set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going.” 1 Above is a Hybrid VFR map overlaid with a map of Michigan showing a combination of World Aeronautical (WAC) charts, sectional raster chars, and VFR Terminal Area Raster Charts.

I’m fascinated by the foreign language and accrued knowledge of another profession/hobby taking a familiar geographical context and imbuing the map with new symbols, iconography, and terms, giving it an alien understanding.


(Above Left: Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo VFRs. Above Right: Detroit VFR)

The new information alters the area of influence of each city and metropolitan region. The scale of the city grows, and the conception of what is Detroit, Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo evolves similarly. Separations shrink, time shortens and the map with this new information translates these new relationships. The radius of Detroit and DTW overlaps and consumes the smaller neighboring airports and cities deafening the voices and significance of these smaller cities.

The density of information is captivating, revealing the governance of the airspace above each urban, suburban and rural landscape and the regulations of another industry placed upon it by the FAA.



(Above: Grand Rapids comparison of Hybrid VFR and IFR)

These maps reveal how much thicker the sectional experience of a place is in reality. The Instrument Flight Rules map diagrams the flight paths and approaches to each airport. They are maps of auditory sensations and the intermittent visual ephemera. The flight paths unveil trajectories where the sensation of planes and jets above are greatest. These maps can allow designers and architects to anticipate the implications of plane travel in a tangible way through sound-proof planning. Cities can strategize locations to improve or take advantage of plane-watching with parks and public spaces.

Currently, in Grand Rapids, there is one location to sit and watch the planes land; it is a hidden treasure. The experience, however, could be greatly improved it is currently just a parking lot and a chain link fence, it is uncomfortable, and staying there for any prolonged period of time feels unwelcome.


(Above:These VFR maps also contain data on every airport in addition to the charts and maps.)

Airports can be grand, and they can be part of the urban experience, not just an after thought or an unpleasant consequence of the utilitarian need for rapid travel over long distances. In San Diego, due to the airport’s proximity to the urban center of the city, planes are ever-present. Throughout the city planes can be heard and felt (for better or for worse), but there are many parks where you can lay and watch the planes fly over and allow yourself to enjoy their existence.


via: Iamtheweather


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Posted in INFRASTRUCTURE by urbanmi on October 23, 2012

Amtrak is important.

Illinois has been aggressively pursuing high speed trains between Chicago and St Louis. This is a very important development and will be significant for Michigan.

The concept of high speed trains has been oft criticized. This past week the radio program Marketplace  had a piece on the issue claiming they will compete with planes and containing the criticism of Ray Mundy, Director of Transportation Studies at the University of Missouri St Louis.

The main point of the critique is anyone traveling by plane between Chicago and St Louis are likely transferring and high speed trains will do nothing to compete with planes for a form of travel between the cities. This point is generally true, but only because the premise is incorrect.

High speed trains will not compete with planes. They will compete with cars.

No one takes planes short distances, (except for high income earners or business flyers) it is not affordable. I regularly travel between Grand Rapids and Chicago, I regularly travel between Detroit and Grand Rapids. I have never made these inter-city trips by plane; I have made them via Amtrak. It is cheap, stress free, and enjoyable. The only criticism I have is one of convenience. With only two trips per day between Grand Rapids and Chicago, I have to plan my days around the train. Given increased frequency and time of the train I would use the Amtrak regularly, and make the trip far more often than I already do.

To suggest high speed trains will do nothing for commerce is a mistake. High speed trains will merely not compete with the plane, but only because the plane is not a practical transportation option for short distances. However, with increased convenience high speed trains would be fantastic for Michigan providing a practical and affordable solution. High Speed Trains shrink the map, they increase the interconnectedness of the region.

If you agree with the premises of Richard Florida and others and his description of the importance of mega-regions and the new geographies that are defining the progress of the country. Tapping into the network of cities we live in is the key to Michigan’s future. High Speed Trains is the way Michigan can become united with Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin…

Without investing in this infrastructure Michigan and its cities will likely be bypassed.

The only key part to the High Speed Trains discussion is the importance of a strong and vibrant public transportation system in your destination city. It is wonderful taking the Amtrak to Chicago and hopping on a bus or the subway, but it is not a pleasant experience to arrive in Grand Rapids or Detroit and be stuck in a concrete wasteland fighting for a cab.

Michigan Central Station

Posted in DETROIT, INFRASTRUCTURE by urbanmi on August 30, 2012

The icons of Detroit’s Image: The Renaissance Center and Michigan Central Station.

They represent Detroit’s foolishness and stupidity.

The Renaissance Center is a comical story, saying more about the ineffectiveness of post-war urban policy and the failure to understand the sociological affects or architecture and infrastructure. However, the continual failure of the Michigan Central Station is the single largest black eye on the narrative of the revival of Detroit. The revival of Michigan Central Station would be the single most significant action to alter the image and narrative of Detroit.

It’s revival is necessary; and it’s demolition would be a damning action by Detroit politicians.

Interestingly the Owner of the Michigan Central Station, is billionaire Matty Moroun, the villian of the Ambassador Bridge saga. Aggressively saving the station, would be an effective way of partially rebuilding his reputation. His selfish actions alone hold back the revitalization of not only Detroit but the entire state of Michigan.

Imagination Station – Their headquarters is right in front of the station, and they are one of the groups responsible for the park that now lies in the shadow of the station.

Michigan Central Preservation Society

I would love to link to INFRASTRUCTURIST’s fantastic post on 11 beautiful historic train stations destroyed by the wrecking ball. Unfortunately, infrastructurist no longer exists.


Rapid Transit Bus Lines

Posted in DETROIT, GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on February 26, 2012

I am not opposed to rapid transit bus lines.

I support them in Detroit.  Just not along Woodward Ave. A light rail line is more than mass transportation and an economic engine.

It is a symbol; it is a statement. It announces to both the residents of Detroit and surrounding areas, to the State of Michigan, and the country as a whole that Detroit takes itself seriously. A light rail system is an investment, a large and serious investment; making the investment says to everyone: Detroit will do whatever it takes to revitalize itself and change its past.

Their is an inherent stigma to buses in the United States, and their use within Detroit will do little to making visitors and residents feel comfortable using them.

I was ardently in favor and voted for the rapid transit bus line in Grand Rapids along Division Ave in 2008.  It;s surprising failure in spite of Downtown, East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills in support of the measure.  East Grand Rapids, Ada, would not directly benefit from any bus line. Failing because south Grand Rapids  voted against it. A significant advertising campaign targeting

Rapid transit buses can be done with great success.  Curitiba, Brazil illustrates one of the most successful and famous examples of their use.