Selfie-Culture Need Not Be Selfish

By: Timothy Hullihan

When I read recently in the Palm Beach Post that 259 world-wide selfie-related deaths between 2011 and 2017 was cause for alarm, my thoughts turned to 2 related things.  First, Italo Calvino’s reflection on photography’s potential to warp the temporal realm, and rob us of the deeper existential joys of tangible experiences.  Second, the oft cited frustration over inaction on larger causes of deaths such as those by hand guns and automobiles that number in the 10s of thousands annually in the United States alone.

Calvino’s reflections were recorded in 1970 in a collection of his short stories entitled, Difficult Loves.  He was, of course, lamenting in the time of film and negatives developed by hand – well before the digital age.  He foreshadowed a cultural shift that would move our collective understanding of living from a universal appreciation of our shared connection to all that is beautiful, and, therefore, seeing one’s life as beautiful through our existence in a beautiful realm, to a narrow appreciation of beauty as defined by that which is photographed and commemorated.  Or, as Calvino said, “… the life that you live in order to photograph it is already, at the outset, a commemoration of itself.”

This shift is alive and well today, and is symptomatic of a popular cultural that, as Allan Bloom warned in 1987, increasingly shows signs of being incapable of “reasoning beyond self-interest.” Yet, the notion of living for the interests of others is foundational to all of the world’s major religions, and America’s Bill of Rights.

Self-interest allows us to overlook 2 leading causes of death in America, each about equal in number, and totaling approximately 70,000 in the U.S. each year. The romantic forms of guns and cars of our past are American icons, and speak to why they will, and should, remain part of our culture.  But the life-quenching forms that exist today require meaningful moderation to co-exist in a beautiful realm.  Car-centric lifestyles that seem normal after 70-plus years of promotion create ugly and impersonal places.  Yet, there is a mountain of urban planning data, research and case studies that shows us how to create safer, and more beautiful, livable places by demoting the automobile to equal status with walking, biking, and mass-transit.  Military grade weapons in the hands of Americans struggling with mental challenges has made mass murder so common in America that we are no longer surprised by the carnage.  Yet, understanding the cause has not lead us to a cure because paralyzed politicians prioritize their political future over reasonableness.

In the same way that photography can objectify beauty into a singular notion rather than a connected one, leadership that fails to guide us toward what is good for all, rather than special interest, diminishes the social contract at the essence of this great country’s founding. The selfie-culture is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose our ability to transcend beyond ourselves.

Timothy Hullihan is president of the Kevin Clark Hullihan Foundation

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Effect of fireworks on pets worthy of a neighborly discussion

Many dog owners do not look forward to the 4th of July in the same way that others do. It is not that we are less patriotic, or averse to celebrating the anniversary of our declaration of independence from England.  It’s the illegal fireworks that torture our beloved pets that make the holiday less enjoyable for us.

In Florida the law is pretty simple.  If it launches or explodes, it is illegal.  The law has human safety in mind, but it has the potential to make the Fourth of July less stressful for our 4-legged friends.  It is not clear why so many ignore the law, and enforcement seems virtually absent.  I have been told by frustrated neighbors who have attempted in past years to take the law into their own hands that the launchers believe it is their “right” to do whatever they want on their property.

“Go back in your house.”  “Get off my property.”  “I can do whatever I want on my property.  It is my right.”  These are among the responses to polite neighbor-to-neighbor requests to bring 4-hours of mortar launches to an end at 11:00 P.M. – four hours of misery for the fearful dogs in ear shot.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) — a woman Albert Camus described as “the only great spirit of our time” — wrote brilliantly about the human condition, including the notion of self-ascribed rights.  Like the Founding Fathers, she understood, and explained thoughtfully, that rights and obligations are the essential yin-yang of thriving communities.  In fact, the very foundation of the democracy we celebrate on July 4th is our shared obligation to each other, and the freedom to form a nation based on what we believe collectively is right for all, not just for one.  The founding wisdom of our great country came in opposing the English monarchy that had been dictating to the colonies what was right for England, but not right for us.

So, for neighbors everywhere, and our beloved fearful furry friends, let’s celebrate our obligations to our communities this Fourth of July, for that is the best evidence of a well-made democracy.  Survey your neighbors, or hold a group discussion and decide as a neighborhood what is best for everyone, and the fragile beloved pets that live there too.

Timothy Hullihan, North Palm Beach, is an architect and president of the Kevin Clark Hullihan Foundation.

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Is it too early to think about “President Pence”?

By Timothy Hullihan:

Both Democrats and Republicans should be keenly aware of the timetable established in Amendment XXII, Section 1, of the United States Constitution – especial those of either party that foresee an end to the Trump presidency happening before the present 4-year term comes to a close. Regardless of which side of the aisle someone identifies, a small adjustment in the timing of the transition to a Pence presidency will be important to them. It could add or substrate 4-years to Pence’s eligibility to hold our nation’s highest office.

Republicans should ensure that Trump lasts until at least January 21, 2019, and Democrats should push for his resignation or removal before then. The next president will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021, and 2-years prior to that day is meaningful. Amendment XXII, Section 1, says, “…and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once.”

Essentially, a Pence presidency could last nearly 10-years if Trump lasts long enough to make that possible. Conversely, Pence could be constitutionally limited to just more than 6-years of eligibility if Trump’s exit happens before January 20, 2019.

This is important because a sitting president has an enormous advantage over a challenger in media coverage. The incumbent travels with a press core, and is covered daily whether in residents or not. Assuming the Mike Pence reelection team uses this advantage wisely, Vice President Pence could one day become the 2nd longest sitting president in U.S. history. Republicans will have had 12-years in the White House if that happens.

Democrats will want to shorten a Pence presidency, and Republicans will want to lengthen it. Both need to know this small piece of the Constitution, and form their strategies accordingly.

This was written in memory of my father, William F. Hullihan, a former FAU professor and Constitutional scholar.

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Extending Tri-rail West is an Alternative Worth Considering

By Timothy Hullihan:

(Note:  The following article appeared in the Palm Beach Post on 08/06/2017.  It is republished by the author here.)

As anyone who lives west of the Florida Turnpike in northern Palm Beach County will tell you, traveling north and south is only half their transportation problem. They must first get east to where all of the accommodations for north/south travel are. Extending Tri-rail to Palm Beach Gardens, or Jupiter seems wise until one considers that this is a transportation plan that ignores a region of the county that has few roads, lots of environmentally sensitive land, zero mass transit options, and is about to be crushed by 16,000 new homes and tens of millions of commercial square feet recently approved in the region. Addressing North County’s impending east/west transportation nightmare seems like a higher priority.

Zooming in on the plan to extend Tri-rail north reveals a major obstacle. Tri-rail runs on CSX tracks, and those tracks don’t go to Palm Beach Gardens, or Jupiter. Only FEC tracks do. Somewhere in West Palm Beach a rail connection between CSX and FEC would have to be constructed so Tri-rail can even theoretically arrive at points further north. But, that assumes FEC will allow Tri-rail to use its tracks that will be handling increasing volumes of freight, and the planned Brightline high-speed rail to Orlando in the future.

Zoom in on CSX, and one will see that it already does 2 advantageous things. First, it runs northwest along the Beeline highway adjacent to our North County Airport, and the massive 7 square mile Avenir development, before passing very near Orlando International Airport, and eventually reaching points north of Florida like Washington D.C. Second, it has an established commuter rail system that shuttles 4 million passengers per year between points in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. Recent development approvals just made the existing transportation challenges west of the Beeline Highway foreseeably worse. Isn’t an existing rail line in this region the basis for a more actionable plan for a wiser transportation system?

Imagine if Avenir were planned with a downtown train station that could take passengers to Orlando, West Palm Beach, or Miami. Avenir residents would be blessed with a walkable transit option that is connected to many points north and south. If the developers are serious about creating an urban center, rather than just another cars-only suburb, a train station seems to be an essential component. In reverse, Avenir, as the destination the developers hope it will be, would be able to welcome visitors arriving via rail to their walkable downtown.

If Avenir won’t embrace a Tri-rail extension, the commuter rail should at least be extended to the North County Airport. Again, CSX¬ already passes on its north boundary, and a multi-modal transportation hub in this western region, which is approved for explosive growth, might take a few cars off Northlake and the Beeline Highway.

Northlake Boulevard is the main east/west corridor for an existing western population that has been approved to nearly double in size to over 80,000 people. Northlake Boulevard is only 4-lanes wide. County Engineer, George Webb, estimates that the section of Northlake that runs through Grassy Waters Preserve will need to be 12-lanes wide, but it can only be widened to 6-lanes without encroaching into land that protects an essential drinking water source for West Palm Beach, and a rare habitat for endangered plants and animals. So, a bottleneck is brewing on Northlake Boulevard unless some other form of east/west commuting is planned and created.

Now is the time to address the future transportation challenges of the communities that are dependent on Northlake Boulevard for east/west travel. Before Avenir is built for cars-only, ignoring the CSX line that exists on its north boundary, a better Avenir, and a better regional transportation system could be designed.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect living in North Palm Beach, and is a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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Lessons from Disney World

By Timothy Hullihan

Disney World offers 2 lessons to city planners that are searching for ways to revitalize a downtown, or declining commercial corridor. Lesson #1: No matter how great a destination, if nobody lives there its sense of place is ephemeral, and, therefore, not the correct foundation for a community, small town or neighborhood. Lesson #2: It is a dynamic pedestrian environment. Its enjoyable sense of place, albeit temporary, is derived from its pedestrian scale and pace. The fun begins when you get out of your car, and it ends when you get back in it.

Starry-eyed politicians, fall for the Lesson #1 trap all the time, while ignoring the long-term fiscal burdens of building and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to support a drive-to economy. Rather than advocating for Disney-quality pedestrian environments where people actually live, work, and play, and infrastructure costs are low, they approve destination after destination that are often short-lived economic vortexes that suck the life out of less novel destinations of the recent past. Collectively, they turn their communities into transient places with very few remnants of a communal past, or hope for a communal future.

Lesson #2 is obvious to anyone who visits Disney World, but a takeaway advocacy for pedestrian oriented communities is much more difficult to obtain. Most community planning regulations are numerically based, rather than form based, so development proposals that check all the empirical boxes for minimum parking and landscaping, and promise “jobs and tax revenues” (by the way, all projects, horrible or brilliant, create jobs and tax revenues), get approved while the potential to form community gathering places that are walkable from adjacent neighborhoods are neither proposed nor encouraged.

The Village of North Palm Beach, Florida recently considered 2 different projects that show why these lessons are important. Both projects should have been influenced by a recently completed village master plan prepared by Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, and a team of consultants that rank among our nation’s top retail planners, economists, urban planners, and architects.  But, the master plan is not yet supported by a zoning in progress ordinance, or a form based development code. The council’s votes on these two projects demonstrate why learning lessons 1 and 2 is so critical.

The first project was a proposal that would continue 45-years of car-centric planning on its main commercial corridor, U.S. Highway One. The master plan showed how 5 different pedestrian-oriented neighborhood gathering places could be formed along U.S. One to revitalize it from its stale car-dominate appearance and feel. The presently vacant land upon which the project, and its 1970s planning principles, is proposed is also featured prominently in the master plan as the place to create North Palm Beach’s signature project for a walkable future – a town center formed around a public green. Residents wrote letters and emails, and attended public meetings to voice their belief in the master plan, and disfavor for continuing the old-thinking that created the challenges on U.S One in the first place. The project was turned down by the local planning agency twice. Planning staff recommended denial. But, by a 3-2 vote, residents and staff were overruled, and the existing urban pattern (building + parking lot = project) the master plan explained as destructive, was allowed to continue onto the last piece of vacant land in the heart of the declining corridor. Jobs and tax revenues!!

The second project is a rebuild of a 50-plus year old country club, also on the U.S. One Corridor. It is present humble form, it is still the place that many residents grew up with. For decades children have ridden their bikes there to swim or have a golf lesson, and families have walked there for meals. Every longtime resident shares fond memories of its glorious past. But, it is out of date. It needs to be repaired, and renewed. During approximately a half dozen community meetings, a clear consensus was formed – the new club needs to be refreshed, but maintained as a community gathering place. However, a series of mistakes are making that an unlikely result.

First, an architect that specializes in private clubs was hired. In spite of an impressive club resume, from day one there has been a clear disconnect between the architect’s desire to create a “resort” (see Lesson #1 about destinations), and the community’s desire for a new clubhouse with the same level of humility.

Second, a restaurateur with 4 or 5-star aspirations was hired to shore-up the architect’s goal to transition the club into a high-end destination that few people in the community want. The restaurateur’s fraudulent resume was recently exposed in a lawsuit, and the residents cheered. This revelation would surely be the end of the 4-star restaurant that would price out 95% of the community that once gathered there. But no, in spite of several large question marks, the restaurateur’s contract was not canceled at a recent meeting.

Third, even though the village master plan presents very clearly the types of projects that will help revive the U.S. One Corridor (and the country club is not one of them), there is a growing level of discussion and innuendo that is close to shaping a misguided consensus that the country club project is the new anchor for the U.S. One Corridor’s revitalization. Again, the master plan shows how to revive the U.S. One, and the country club, unless it becomes a walkable community gathering place, is not part of its recommendations.

So, to summarize, a walkable town center was voted down in favor of another 1970s car-centric development, and an existing walkable community gathering place is being redesigned into a 4-star drive-to destination that will disconnect it from the community that will no longer be able to afford using it.

Disney World is also an expensive place to visit, but families go there in droves because of the pedestrian oriented form of its layout and architecture. Maybe Disney’s Lesson #3 is that people loss their minds, and spend more money than they can afford when they enter charming, pedestrian places. Regardless of the number of lessons Disney can teach us, the North Palm Beach Village Council needs to take a trip there, or to any of a number of places like Asheville, North Carolina, that have revived themselves through form-based planning guidelines before it makes too many mistakes to recover from.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect in North Palm Beach, Florida

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It’s Tough to be a “Yacht Collector.”

By Timothy Hullihan

According to Yachting magazine, one of the world’s premiere “yacht collectors” has a home in North Palm Beach, Florida.  In fact, he owns personally, and through corporations, many water front homes in North Palm Beach, but he never lives in most of them.  They are just places to berth his collection, house the crews, and keep his vessels ready for an occasional voyage.  The challenge of being a yacht collector is you need a place to store and service a lot of large ships, and in North Palm Beach, he has found a willing partner.

The humble, family and community oriented residents of this small village of less than 12,000 people are not willing partners, but the elected officials entrusted to represent them are. In fact, the residents of one neighborhood that is slowly losing 60-years of humility to the yacht collector’s real estate acquisitions asked the North Palm Beach Village Council to stop the yacht collector’s destructive practices by simply enforcing an existing law that says it is illegal to berth a vessel you own behind a house you do not occupy (whether you own it or not).  One of the residents that spoke at a recent council meeting is 77 years old, and has lived in her waterfront home for nearly 50-years.  She used a walker to approach the dais that night to describe the fear she now lives with daily because she is surrounded by vacant homes the yacht collector owns, or is in the process of acquiring.

At the June 22, 2017 council meeting the village council made it clear that they are prepared to do the opposite of what the residents of this neighborhood requested – simply enforce an existing law. The council agreed in a workshop format to vote at a future meeting to change the wording of the law in favor of the yacht collector.  Instead of finding relief for the residents they represent, they seemed to agree that changing the word “occupant” in the present law to “owner/tenant” is the right thing to do.  Only Councilmember Bickel (a lifelong resident of North Palm Beach) spoke against these changes to the law.  So, very soon, Mr. Yacht Collector will no longer be violating the law, and he and others that share his selfish view of life will be free to continue acquiring waterfront homes in North Palm Beach, leave them vacant, house their crews in them, and/or berth a ship there that is larger than the house itself, in some cases.

One family that lives in this neighborhood describes the North Palm Beach they moved into 15-years ago with 4 small children as “a dream come true.” They found a place they didn’t think existed anymore.  Residents brought homemade desserts to their door to welcome them when they arrived, and they have grown so close to their neighbors, and the community in general, that they no longer think of the places they are from as home.  Both the father and mother spoke publicly to the village council about their concerns for losing the neighborhood they have grown to love, but are now considering leaving because of unwelcome changes, and fear of an uncertain future.

It is not clear whether the council was aware of the yacht collector’s practices before residents brought it to their attention, but it is abundantly clear how the council feels about representing the residents that put them on the dais. It is hard for me to fully comprehend that I am presently living in a village whose elected officials are inclined to hear a resident’s cry for help, and then make their situation worse, instead of better.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect living in North Palm Beach, and President of the  Kevin Clark Hullihan Foundation

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North Palm Beach’s U.S. One Corridor Needs a Facelift

By: Timothy Hullihan

North Palm Beach, Florida, is a special place, but it is hard to articulate exactly why. This is because the things that make North Palm Beach special are deeper, and more intrinsic than the things we typically associate with extraordinary places.

North Palm Beach is not shiny and new. In fact, in many ways it is ordinary and little old-fashioned. Its 5,000 homes were mostly built in the 1950s and 1960s, and its commercial areas date back that far as well. Yet, it is a desirable place to live, with many of its residents being proud 2nd or 3rd generation residents.

Stated another way, North Palm Beach is stuck in the 1970s. This sounds like a bad thing, but it is, in my opinion, a big part of the reason it is so great. Because the 1970s were the beginning of a 30 or 40 year period that brought a lot of poor urban planning to cities and towns across America, and many of those places are still trying to recover from those poor decisions, North Palm Beach has very few scares from that destructive time.

North Palm Beach is locked into its municipal footprint by adjacent jurisdictions and other barriers to sprawling growth, so it has grown internally and refreshed itself regularly. Rather than sprawling away from its historic town center, and leaving it to crumble, it has continually restored, or rebuilt its public buildings and parks, and maintained a fairly bicycle and pedestrian friendly way of life.

There are a few scars from the 1970s and 80s that need to be repaired, however, and wisely, village leaders recognize the importance of keeping North Palm Beach simple, quaint, and stuck in a more enlightened time period.

The most glaring scare in the village is the U.S. One Corridor. It was widened to 6-lanes in the late 1970s when the completion of I-95 was in doubt and transportation planners needed a back-up plan for a high-volume north-south corridor. It is also lined with a series of office buildings that mirror the office park concept of that period that, across the country, are failing and forgotten places today.

The good news is, I-95 was completed a long time ago, and the burden of having a high volume corridor through the village never happened. It presently has a design volume that is 3-times its actual usage, so there is an opportunity to redesign this street to make it more consistent with the bicycle and pedestrian friendly way of life that exists in most other parts of the village. As it is now, it is a classic 1970s highway that was designed with only the efficient moving of cars in mind. The narrow and unprotected bike lanes are dangerous and unused afterthoughts. Its narrow sidewalks are precariously close to fast moving vehicles and unpleasant to use. Its wide lanes encourage higher traveling speeds than the posted 35 MPH limit, thus increasing the danger for pedestrians and cyclists.

More good news: FDOT offered to pay for the redesign of US-1 in 2003, and they will be coming back to us in 2018 with the same pot of money. We passed on the offer in 2003, but with a recently completed master plan, we have every reason to be up-to-date on why prioritizing walking and biking equally with automobile travel is essential to our future. For example, the retail expert, Bob Gibbs, who was one the highly acclaimed design consultants for our master plan told us that 85% of all new retail in America is the “walkable” town center variety, and our master plan shows us where and how to create a walkable town center on US-1.

Understandably, not everyone agrees that US-1 should be redesigned, however. There is even a resident taking a petition door-to-door in an effort to stop any momentum towards redesign before it starts. The petition is based on the notion that “we are a car culture,” and it is foolish to spend millions of dollars on softening the brutal presence of a 6-lane roadway that is unsightly, over designed, underutilized, and a barrier to safe walking and biking between the two halves of the village it so blatantly demarks.

What is needed is an informed dialogue. The petitioner is a wise and educated man. He has a Doctorate of Education and is a retired school teacher, but my efforts to discuss the issue with him have been turned down. He is passionate about what he believes to be true, and I respect that.
If he would allow me to speak with him, here are some of the things I hope he would learn.

1. When a community must drive a car to participate in its economy, it is a wasteful economy. A recent comparison prepared by Patrick Kennedy, an urban planner in Dallas, analyzed two similar cities, Copenhagen and Houston, to make this point. Copenhagen, a famously bicycle-friendly place spends only 4% of it metro GDP on transportation (public and private), while Houston spends 14%. This is because Houston residents make 95% of all trips by car, while the residents of Copenhagen make only 54% of their trips in an automobile. These differences translate into nearly 3.5-billion dollars wasted annually to create and maintain the infrastructure needed to help Houston residents access the local economy by car. Houston is a typical American city committed to a car-culture, but once someone learns the high-cost and wastefulness of maintaining a car-culture, they are more open to alternatives.

2. Because we have been designing and building roads with only cars in mind since the 1970s, we have a lot of dangerous roads in America. Roads that equally prioritize pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic are not nearly as dangerous as their counterparts in a “car-culture.” The number 1 cause of injury and death to children in American is automobile related accidents.  Over 12,000 children are killed or hurt each year, and nearly 25% of these incidences are to children biking or walking within or adjacent to 1970s-style road designs that prioritize cars.  Poor road design is a leading contributor to this alarmingly high and preventable number of child deaths and injuries. Once people learn this, they are more open to alternatives.

3. We are finally curing ourselves of our car addiction, and the “car culture” that existed in the last half of the 20th Century is becoming less prominent. Vehicle miles driven (VMD) flat-lined at the beginning of this century and stayed there. This decline in car use will expand further as Millenials become a larger segment of our economy, autonomous cars make car ownership less necessary, and retail trends toward walkable town centers make cars less necessary. Some estimates have personal car usage dropping by as much as 54% over the next several decades. If US-1 is presently over designed by 3-times, it will be 4 or 5 times over designed in the near future. Making U.S. One slower, narrower, safer, and much more attractive begins to seem like a reasonable alternative once we understand that we are already a culture that is shifting away from car dependency.

4. As mentioned above, narrowing US-1 is actually the idea of FDOT, not NPB. The key point is that FDOT pays for projects like this with repair money already allocated. We are schedule for a costly grinding and resurfacing of US-1 in 2018, but FDOT would rather spend that money more wisely. Once we realize that the redesign of U.S. One will be mostly paid for with FDOT maintenance funds, we realize that we are not wasting money after all.

5. If air pollution is something that worries you, exchanging car trips for bike trips should be something you value. According to the EPA, 31% of all carbon emissions in the US come from transportation. If you remove mass transportation from that number, the cars we drive put 27% of carbon emissions into the air we breathe. So if we can create a US-1 corridor that is pedestrian and bike friendly, and replace some car trips with non-polluting trips, we would become a cleaner village too.

I respect the petitioner’s passion for what he believes to be true. Door-to-door petitioning is a great American tradition. However, there is a lot that we all need to learn about the US-1 Corridor, and I hope we can get together as a community and discuss it so we can make, collectively, the best decisions for our village’s future.

Timothy Hullihan is and architect and a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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