Category Archives: Development

Ottawa: Lessons from great Canadian urbanism

Ottawa celebrates Canada’s cultural mosaic, its urbanism full of delight and engagement. As with most North American cities, its oldest neighbourhoods have positive lessons for urban design today. This is because much of what makes Ottawa character delightful is illegal in the development bylaws that govern its more auto-centric outskirts. On a recent visit, I was inspired by Centretown, The Glebe, Sandy Hill, Byward Market, Lowertown, New Edinburgh, Rockcliffe Park, and of course, Parliament Hill.

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Get Your Offices into a Walkable Town Center!

Leveraging your Town Center for Economic Development

So far, this series has taken on three of the essential components of a healthy walkable town center: hotels, retail and multi-family residential. But, traditionally, our town centers were not simply a collection of residences and shops. They formed the commercial and civic centers of our towns and cities — an economic development engine that attracted the industries that gave all those homes and shops a reason (and means) for existing in the first place. Of course — and you know the story — as we moved into the suburbs in the post WWII era, we placed our offices into “office parks” in our campaign to separate the activities of our daily lives and reconnect them through compulsory car trips.

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Hardiplank: Get into the Groove?

In 2006 I was in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, for a planning event. On display downtown at the time was the prototype Katrina Cottage and a number of us spent one evening there conducting a spontaneous test of its ability to host a party. At some point, I ended up on the porch with a prominent new urban architect and, noting the cottage’s smooth Hardiplank siding, asked him, “Why do you think people always seem to choose the Hardiplank with faux woodgrain when the smooth is so much more natural and attractive looking?”

His response: “I don’t know. Vulgarity?”

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Collaborative Placemaking Maps

The other day on an urbanism listserv, someone asked for parameters to qualify a new development as a walkable, mixed-used, livable place. While measures like CNT’s H+T Index, Walkscore, and IMI’s Walkability Index go a long way toward measuring, there isn’t a single source that awards the title of Livable New Place.

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In Defense of ‘Vibrancy’ (And beer)

So I’m watching Asheville, the closest city to my rural community in western North Carolina, celebrate the announcement that Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing Company will be opening a brewery in the city’s redeveloping River Arts District. And based partly on extensive research with PlaceMakers partner Scott Doyon in the Atlanta Metro’s beer mecca of Decatur, GA – I’m thinking it’s time to address the concept of beer as economic development.
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Façade-ectomy: Preserving the Skin of the Past

Experiencing the most recent façade-ectomy in Winnipeg has left me asking again the much-debated question of the validity of preserving just the façade of a building.

A façade-ecotomy will likely:

  1. Lose historic, cultural, architectural significance
  2. Waste embodied energy
  3. Increase cost of construction over full demolition
  4. Increase tax revenues over doing nothing
  5. Decrease long term viability of new construction

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Fair Trade Placemaking: Are you being compensated for your choices?

Over a decade ago Andrés Duany of DPZ taught me that, more times than not, NIMBY opposition stems from a sense that proposed development is not of equal or greater value to what would be lost.

Tony Nelessen, the inventor of the Visual Preference Survey, confirmed this lesson a few years later when he came to my town and conducted one.  Continue reading

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Get your Multi-Family into a Walkable Town Center!

Residences:  An Obvious Ingredient
One obvious yet undervalued ingredient of an effective mixed-use town center is the residential component. To emphasize its importance, I would go as far as to say that it is actually the substrate on which a healthy mixed-use environment is based. In a healthy, balanced region, with the exception of noxious uses, no land uses are set aside as a single use and all are integrated into a walkable neighborhood.

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Don’t Get Mixed Up on Mixed-Use

Taking a break from Geoff Dyer’s series on town centers this week with a refresher course on the simple elements of mixed-use development.

Citizens, politicians, and planning officials have embraced the need to allow for walkable neighborhoods across North America and mixed-use is an essential component for achieving walkability. However, the term mixed-use has held different meanings in different places over the past 40 years or so.

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Get Your Shops into a Walkable Town Center!

Shops: Everybody Wants ‘Em
Last week we started this series off with Hotels, a sometimes overlooked, value-adding addition to a walkable town center. This week we are looking at one of the essential ingredients of a town center: the retail shops. The retail component of a town center is the most visible component, often defining the character and pedigree of a place. It is also the biggest generator of traffic, an attractor of street life and pedestrian activity, and value-adding convenience for neighboring office workers and residents. But where it gets into trouble is the fact that successful retail spells m-o-n-e-y. It makes bucks for the developers and operators, it is often a key line item on municipal tax roles, and it can bring great value to surrounding neighborhoods. But the problem is that while everybody wants ’em, there is only so much to go around.

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Get Your Hotels into a Walkable Town Center!

Series Overview
While walkable mixed use town centers may not be the *easy* choice for the asphalt guy, the engineer, or even the developer who has to attract tenants to an environment they may not be as used to… they are certainly becoming best practices for sustainable community development. More importantly, they are quickly becoming a market favorite and a valuable amenity to their adjacent (and integrated) residential neighborhoods. Too often, however, municipalities and developers choose only to commit to this model halfway, viewing it as a niche market with limited potential where quaint mom and pops struggle away (you know, that one-off new urbanist development at the edge of town), while the “real stuff” happens in large conventional single-use centers down the street.

This lack of commitment allows many of the essential ingredients of a successful walkable town center to get sucked into car-focused single-use centers (the easy place to put them) so that everyone can make excuses as to why the poor mixed use village struggles and we still have to do the conventional stuff until oil hits $10 a gallon.

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Res Civitas non-Gratis: 21st Century Public Realm

Having worked in communities big and small across the continent, we’ve had ample opportunity to test ideas and find approaches that work best. Urban design details. Outreach tactics. Implementation tricks. Many of these lessons are transferable, which is why we’ve created “Back of the Envelope,” a weekly feature where we jot ’em down for your consideration.

The rise of 21st century social technology, in combination with the loss of our 20th century economy, has contributed to the closing of many neighborhood civic buildings — libraries and post offices — and to the private development that inevitably replaces them.

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This Just In from CNU20: World Not Yet Saved

The Congress for the New Urbanism’s annual convergence of giganto ideas and fine-grained pragmatism wrapped Saturday night with a party in a bar. The four days in West Palm Beach, Florida, marked the 20th anniversary of such gatherings, most of which also involved spill-over debates in venues with liquor licenses.

As usual, the CNU20 agenda was packed with passion and ambition, with a smidgeon of apocalyptic visioning to dampen out-of-control hopefulness. So what’s on the minds of the NU designers, planners and fellow travelers these days?

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Infrastructure Deficit Disorder: The Doctor is In

This past week, Chuck Marohn and Justin Burslie of Strong Towns gave their Curbside Chat in the beloved San Diego neighborhood of Hillcrest. Chuck’s visit was possible through a fun collaboration between Walt Chambers of Great Streets San Diego, Ben Nicholls, Executive Director of the Hillcrest Business Association, and myself. Forty of San Diego’s most engaged built environment professionals filled the room with a happy-hour sense of electricity in the air.

Chuck then proceeded to ground that spark.

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Why Generation Y is Causing the Great Migration of the 21st Century

Just after the close of World War II, the last Great Migration in the United States — the move from the city to the new suburbs — began to emerge, fueled by new roads, low congestion, and modest energy costs. It was a new beginning, a chance to shake off the past, and it came complete with the promise of more privacy, more safety, greater proximity to nature, and easier financing.

Not surprisingly, Americans bought in.

After that, it didn’t take long for the preferred retailers to do likewise, abandoning the city and following their customers to the suburbs. The suburban single family home on a large lot became synonymous with the American Dream.

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Designing Regional Urban Retail Centers:  Lessons from the Mall and Beyond

Having worked in communities big and small across the continent, we’ve had ample opportunity to test ideas and find approaches that work best. Urban design details. Outreach tactics. Implementation tricks. Many of these lessons are transferable, which is why we’ve created “Back of the Envelope,” a weekly feature where we jot ’em down for your consideration.

As many of us are actively trying to reform car-focused retail into dynamic mixed-use, walkable urban centers, we are quick to point at the mall as the poster child for everything we are trying to reform. But as the heyday of last-century’s drive-to mall fades into the past, there are many things that the mall excelled at.

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Building a Custom, Multi-Century House for Under $80 a Square Foot

Affordability is a tough nut to crack. For decades, the production housing industry has operated under a simple premise: Americans value space above all else. If you want to make a house more affordable, you build the same house with lower quality materials and cheaper details.

Goodbye four-sides brick, hello one-side brick. Or no-sides brick.

It’s a perfectly sensical approach and, for some folks, it works out just fine. They get more house for the money and, because it’s new, it’s likely to last at least as long as they plan to live there. In short, it’s affordable. For now.

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(Public) Space: The final frontier

Having worked in communities big and small across the continent, we’ve had ample opportunity to test ideas and find approaches that work best. Urban design details. Outreach tactics. Implementation tricks. Many of these lessons are transferable, which is why we’ve created “Back of the Envelope,” a weekly feature where we jot ’em down for your consideration.

Today I offer a quick study relating cities of the US West to Leon Krier’s decidedly European Public Space Quantity Ratio.

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Smart Growth = Smart Parenting, Part Two

I’m a parent so, not surprisingly, I’m always on the lookout for intersections between that and my work in community design. The last time I considered the issue, I was thinking at the level of the neighborhood and exploring how walkable, mixed-use, mixed-product environments help parents combat a host of contemporary child-rearing ills. That post hit home for a lot of people and, since that time, my fellow ‘Shaker, Hazel Borys, has dug in further with her recent TED Talk, “Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict.”

Today I move from the neighborhood to the house and wonder: In what ways are evolving trends in home buying impacting our kids — and our responsibility for raising them?

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The Social Network: Community Edition

Likes. Friends. Followers. We’ve got hundreds of ‘em. Plus, LinkedIN for professionals and Google+ for, uhhhh, well, for someone and then all kinds of iPhone texting, FaceTime, email, and Skype-ing. Who has time to make a phone call anymore?

In trying to understanding and leverage the power of our wired social networks, I’ve been thinking about how our new handheld technology will reshape our built environment in the 21st century. The obvious technological advances of the past (trains/trolleys/cars) led us to connect and build the places we now live in. Are we responding correctly to the contemporary human condition with the mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods we design and code for today?

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Filed under Architecture, Development, Planning and Design, Technology

Rowhouses Without the Wiggle

Having worked in communities big and small across the continent, we’ve had ample opportunity to test ideas and find approaches that work best. Urban design details. Outreach tactics. Implementation tricks. Many of these lessons are transferable, which is why we’ve created “Back of the Envelope,” a weekly feature where we jot ’em down for your consideration.

The townhouse, or rowhouse, is a traditional urban approach to density that, somewhat ironically, has been embraced by suburban builders. Over time, this once simple and elegant species has evolved (some might say devolved) to reflect its newfound environment, becoming “squeezed” in its appearance, with little bits and pieces protruding — wiggling — in the oddest of ways.

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Dream Home for the New Era: Compact, connected & mortgage-free?

The future is here. And it’s for lease.

Even before the Great Recession, real estate market analysts Todd Zimmerman, Laurie Volk and Chris Nelson were patiently explaining the demography-is-destiny argument for an inevitable shift in American housing. It’s all about the numbers.

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