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A visit to BMW World

Today we visited BMW Welt (World) and the BMW Museum in Munich.

BMW Welt was designed by COOP HIMMELB(L)AU out of Vienna. It is the result of a design competition that the BMW Group held in 2001. Construction of the ~73,000 square meter facility was completed in 2007.

The project is centered around a great hall and an elevated vehicle delivery area known as Premiere. It was designed — and this includes the HVAC system — to handle 40 car deliveries per hour, or 250 per day. I guess they don’t work a full 8 hours.

Below are two photos that I took of the delivery area. The circles you see on the floor in the second picture are rotating platforms. This is where you want to pick up your new car.

And here is a plan of the entire Welt space via COOP HIMMELB(L)AU:

I also really enjoyed the BMW Museum, which is housed in a separate building adjacent to the BMW Tower (the one that looks like engine cylinders).

The “art cars” were a lot of fun. I’m sure that many of you will be able to guess the artist behind this one:

But what I enjoyed most were the classics like this one here:

The least interesting cars for me were the ones that weren’t old enough to be “classic”, but also weren’t new and shiny. This can happen with architectural styles as well. Designs sometime need time to settle in.

For more photos of BMW Welt and the BMW Museum, follow me on Instagram.

Drawings/Isometrics: COOP HIMMELB(L)AU

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200 km/h on the Autobahn

We drove on the Autobahn today. Our Ford remained as smooth as ever. They take their cars seriously here and force regular inspections.

But this got me wondering about safety records and why more countries haven’t adopted similar approaches to highway driving.

Here is Germany’s 2014 record from Wikipedia:

It turns out that the injury and fatality rates on the Autobahn — measured per billion vehicle kilometers traveled — are actually relatively low compared to urban and rural road classes.

It is also relatively low compared to international standards. Here is a 2012 comparison, also via Wikipedia:

Europe as a whole does very well in this regard (not that this specifically addresses Autobahn safety). Generally, fatalities have declined significantly over the last few decades.

Here is a chart from the World Health Organization:

What is clear to me after seeing this data, though, is that the greater problem looks to exist outside of our highways and motorways.

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How America uses its land

Last summer Bloomberg ran a visual essay on how America uses its land. In case some of you missed it, I thought I would share it here today.

They started by breaking the country down into 6 main land uses. Each square represents about 250,000 acres.

What likely won’t surprise any of you is that urban areas punch well above their weight:

Even though urban areas make up just 3.6 percent of the total size of the 48 contiguous states, four in five Americans live, work and play there. With so much of the U.S. population in urban areas, it’s little surprise that these areas contribute an outsize amount to the economy. The 10 most productive metropolitan areas alone contributed to about 40 percent of U.S. GDP in 2016.

Here’s a further breakdown of the map:

There is a lot that is interesting here. Note that golf courses made the cut.

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Redeveloping the Port Lands — among other things

On Monday, Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star responded to the recent backlash against Sidewalk Toronto with a piece called, Anger over Google’s vision for Toronto waterfront is misguided.

The below excerpt is what I was trying to diplomatically allude to with my post on net present value. We need to look at what we are getting and what we are giving up (by way of foregone revenue).

What had civic (and provincial) nabobs gnashing their teeth was Sidewalk’s suggestion that it should receive a share of city property taxes and development fees. And what would the New York-based outfit do in return? A few things, it turns out. Specifically, it would finance the long-delayed Queens Quay LRT, build the infrastructure necessary to remake much of the Port Lands, launch a new wood-based construction industry and, oh yes, kick-start redevelopment of 140 hectares of long neglected landfill.

I also don’t understand how the possibility of expanding into the Port Lands has come as a surprise to anyone. That was always integral to the opportunity here in Toronto.

What your thoughts?

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10th annual

It is that time of year again.

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you’ll know that every year around this time I go on a snowboarding/ski trip with groups of friends that I went to grad school with and/or grew up with.

We have been doing this for a decade now. Last year we were in Jackson, Wyoming (my favorite place so far). And this year we are in Austria.

Here is a photo that I took — of paradise — this afternoon:

I’m not sure there’s anything to say after a photo like this. So I’ll leave it at that. See you tomorrow.

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Algorithmic home buying — what’s the end game?

Bloomberg recently published a good summary of Zillow’s business and their move into algorithm home buying and flipping. (They are trying to avoid the “flipping” moniker because of the negative connotations associated with it.)

Zillow started buying homes directly from owners last spring. They charge the seller between 6-9%, so more than using a typical agent, but inline with their competitors. There’s clearly a segment of the market willing to pay a premium for the added convenience.

The thinking used to be that discount brokerages were the way to disrupt the housing market. This is the opposite strategy.

Interestingly enough, Zillow felt that they needed to make this pivot with their business model. It used to be about selling ads. They were definitive in that they were not a disruptor of real estate agents.

But now:

If getting an offer from an iBuyer became a crucial step in the selling process, they worried, Zillow could lose its audience and its advertising base. What’s more, market researchers kept finding that consumers said they’d pay a modest premium to get a cash offer. “People expect to press a button and have magic happen,” says Rascoff, a 43-year-old former Expedia executive who’d earlier started the travel search engine Hotwire, which he sold to Expedia for $700 million. Getting into the business of buying homes directly, Rascoff says, was “the only way to remain in a leadership position.”

Here is a map of the companies in this particular space and the cities in which they operate:

Some investors aren’t sold on this strategy and have begun short selling Zillow (according to the Bloomberg article). I keep getting the sense that there’s a greater end game in the cards here. It is about building up A (algorithmic home buying and flipping) in order to unlock B.

But what’s B — a new end-to-end transactional model for the housing market?

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Rethinking the tower

The Ryerson City Building Institute recently published a new report called, Rethinking the Tower: Innovations for Housing Attainability in Toronto.

It looks at four possible approaches to improving housing attainability/affordability in the city:

Micro Living: Well-designed micro units can offer a cost-effective alternative to conventional apartments, particularly in central locations where higher land costs can be a barrier to affordability.

Shared Space: Co-living, where residents share amenities and services, can improve affordability and create a sense of community, particularly in walkable, transit-connected neighbourhoods where housing costs are high.

Home Unbundling: Features, finishes and amenities unbundled from the unit price of condominiums can allow greater choice and reduced costs for homebuyers.

Equity Options: With more households renting, and the transition from renting to owning growing ever more challenging, new shared-equity models can help families invest in their home, even if they rent.

In addition, the report also provides a number of project case studies from around the world. If you’d like to download a copy, you can do that here.

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Net present value

Yesterday’s post was about Amazon pulling out of NYC. Today I thought we’d talk about another contentious city building debate that is happening closer to home.

This week Sidewalk Toronto announced that it would like to expand its development focus beyond Quayside to the entire Port Lands district along the waterfront.

To pay for all of this, the Alphabet company is looking for a share of the city’s property taxes and development charges (impact fees), and they want to capture some of the increase in land value.

Not surprisingly, many reacted poorly to this announcement. Some people are already grouchy about what Sidewalk is up to at Quayside and so this was inevitable.

But sharing revenue and upside is not necessarily a pioneering idea. It is called a partnership. Perhaps the partners have different skill sets. That is usually a good thing. But regardless, the best partnerships are when all parties win.

What Sidewalk allegedly wants to do is shoulder more risk upfront in exchange for a kicker on the backend. This, too, also has a name. You can call it real estate development.

I don’t know the specifics of the deal being proposed, but the question that comes to mind is: What is the net present value to the city — both quantitative and qualitative — with and without Sidewalk?

(No links in today’s post because I’m writing on mobile while standing at the airport.)

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Is this just how the game is played?

As I am sure you have all heard, there’s a lot of debate in New York right now (city and state) about whether they should reject Amazon’s decision to open up a new headquarters in Queens.

Urbanist Richard Florida has been arguing that one of the richest companies in the world shouldn’t be receiving taxpayer subsidies and that Amazon should do the right thing here. They should open up in New York but without any inducements.

As a counter argument, Kenneth Jackson, professor of history at Columbia University, recently opined that this is actually business as usual. American cities have a long history of competing for companies because the benefits outweigh the costs over the longer term.

Here is an excerpt from his op-ed in the New York Times:

They are right about one thing. It is absurd that any city would agree to such a deal. But this is how the game is played. Paying companies to relocate has been the American way since 1936, when Mississippi established the nation’s first state-sponsored economic development plan. Under that plan, since followed by many other jurisdictions, cities and states agreed to pay companies to relocate by promising them new factories and low or nonexistent taxes. With those inducements, numerous businesses relocated in the decades after World War II, usually from the union-dominated Northeast and Midwest to the business-friendly South.

Perhaps this would make a good debate topic for Kialo.

Update: Amazon just cancelled its plans for a corporate HQ in NYC.

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A platform for collaborative reasoning

Perhaps for obvious reasons, I am interested in how important issues get debated. I have written before about how I think the community engagement process for new developments is largely broken. I think it naturally incents certain kinds of feedback.

Recently, I’ve been playing around with an online platform called Kialo. They call themselves “an easy to use, yet powerful tool to engage in thoughtful discussion, understand different points of view, and help with collaborative decision-making.”

The site works by trying to create a structured hierarchy of pros and cons around debatable questions. You participate by making claims (supported by links). Duplicate claims are neatly grouped together. And unthoughtful suggestions are moderated out.

The UI looks like this (top level question shown):

But you can then drill down into specific claim groupings (note the org chart looking graphic at the top):

I’m not yet convinced that it creates the “collaborative reasoning system” that they are after (maybe because I haven’t used it enough). But I do really appreciate the structure and civility that they are trying to introduce to topics that are often vehemently debated.

Are any of you regular users of Kialo?