I live in a city that is currently updating its Community Plans. This is an historically difficult planning job because Community Plans transcend both broad policy statements (such as the amorphous “New development should be in harmony with surrounding development…”) and specific development regulations (“Front yard setbacks shall be 25 feet deep from property line…”). An issue with updating Community-scaled plans is the personal sentiment people feel for their homes and the difficulty we have in expressing such emotion within conventional 2D planning documents. The source of most conflicts and confusion I see occurring during these updates is due to the confusion over the scale and size difference of a ‘Community’ versus a ‘Neighborhood’ unit.
Category Archives: Public Policy
I’m big on local. Not because I hate Walmart and 3,000 mile Caesar salads but because, as I see it, communities built on interdependent systems are better suited to taking on the challenges and opportunities presented by time.
That’s why, when it comes to the decisions that most directly impact day-to-day quality of life, I tend to advocate for smaller, more local, more responsive increments of control. Things like neighborhoods, NPUs, districts, and towns.
The world around us, whatever form it takes, comes to reflect the priorities of the people setting policy, making rules, and allocating funds. The more those people understand the nuances of context and maintain a shared stake in the outcome, the better things tend to be.
“Don’t dance, drink, smoke or chew, or go with girls who do.”
If you grew up in the south, it’s a good bet you’ve heard this one before. In short, reputation is a precious thing. You may show up in church in your Sunday best but, if your actions every other day paint a different picture then, well, that’s the impression that sticks.
Actions, especially over time, speak the loudest.
I’ve always found this reality fascinating in the aggregate. That is, what happens when all these people of countless reputations start living together, making the day-in-day-out decisions that add up to community? Reputation then transcends the actions of any one individual and comes to reflect collective actions, which no one person controls.
As the second in a three part pictorial series finding inspiration in Canadian urbanism, I’ve been invigorated again by a short stint of cottage living. Which of us hasn’t felt the delightful lightness that comes with downsizing our primary residence? Some of my most carefree years were spent living in an 800 SF cottage in German Village, Ohio, and last week’s trip to the countryside near Mont-Tremblant, Québec, has reminded me why. Even if this round in the cottage was thanks to the hospitality of a kind friend, and not for keeps.
While it’s admittedly dated in relation to internet time, this recent Upworthy post resurrects a 2009 New Scientist article comparing the environmental footprints of household pets vs. those of various vehicles. Its soundbite takeaway? Your medium-sized dog has roughly twice the footprint of a Toyota Land Cruiser.
Guess it’s time to issue some formal letters of apology to the owners of plus-sized roadsters and start setting up euthanasia camps for our former furry friends and their silent agenda to destroy the earth, right?
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.
I don’t like pedestrian malls. There, I said it. And it’s not because there aren’t some good ones, because clearly there are.
Let me explain. By the mid 60s, America’s race to the suburbs had left many downtowns in tough shape. Once vibrant streets, alive with the sounds of community and commerce, began to find themselves empty and foreboding after 5pm. And not that it mattered either, because the streets themselves — increasingly reengineered over the preceding decade to expedite the daily flow of workers into and out of the city — were no longer a place where any rational person would ever want to be anyways.
This week my family enthusiastically celebrates both Canada Day and Independence Day, wishing Canada a happy 145th birthday, and the US a happy 236th. We honor the effective portions of the collective community vision that made these two nations great! The oldest continuously occupied settlements in each country are St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador, at 429 years, and Acoma and Taos Pueblos, both in New Mexico, at 1,012 years.
Several years ago I had the fortune of collaborating with architect Teddy Cruz, artist Joyce Cutler-Shaw, and landscape architect Michael Sears on a study of San Diego’s rich history of creating Visionary Planning documents. Our documents included John Nolen’s 1907 and 1926 City Plans, Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard’s seminal 1974 shot-across-our-bow “Temporary Paradise?“, and Adel Santos’ 1993 “Urban Futures” plan to re-urbanize downtown’s East Village. During a work session, Michael was thinking aloud when he said, “… building towards cultural and social value always equates to economic value, while the converse is not as true.”
Last week brought a barrage of polls about Americans’ attitudes. And despite the spins some of the sponsoring organizations offered, the underlying message is that we seem to be holding steady with our conviction that the farther we get from our own little corners of the world, the less confidence we have in the competence and good will of others.
Here’s a graphic that tells you all you need to know:
Last year about this time I wrote on the subject of NIMBYs and laid out a challenge to the NIMBY nation. It’s time to stop talking about what you don’t want, I said, and start talking about what you do want.
In short, it’s time to develop the criteria under which a Not-In-My-Back-Yarder will say yes. And to that end, I want to consider a shift in perspective that might help the process along. I call it the Sphere of Emotional Ownership.
David Byrne noted in last Sunday’s NY Times that people get hooked on cycling because of pleasure, not health, money, or carbon footprint. “Emotional gratification trumps reason.”
Ben Brown agrees, using Byrne’s “Stop Making Sense” as a blog title on the subject of community engagement and how special interest groups often talk past each other. “Intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second.”
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.
Okay, I’m not confident David Byrne would be all that excited about turning an ironic subtitle from the Talking Heads’ 1984 tune into a community engagement tactic. But stay with me here.
Over the last few months, the urban planning universe has been all atwitter (literally) with concern over how “those people,” the Agenda 21ers and Tea Party folks, have been making life tough in public meetings and planning processes. In February, a “Facing the Critics” session at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in San Diego attracted a standing-room-only crowd desperate for solutions to out-of-control meetings. (You can download presentations from that session here.) And in just the last couple weeks, I’ve attended meetings in Boston and Burlington, Vermont with similar topics on the agenda.
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.
People have an extraordinary capacity for compartmentalization. Sometimes we call it attention span: the ability to focus on one task at a time. Sometimes we call it meditation: the ability to clear your mind. Sometimes we call it cognitive dissonance: the ability to pursue an action when in direct opposition to values.
We compartmentalize in infinite numbers of ways. We may define our work/life balance as if they were completely separate entities. Along with the mind/body, public/private, self/community, and so forth.
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.
Absorbing the Norman Rockwell exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery over the past four weeks, it’s extraordinary to witness one artist chronicling one nation over seven decades, from 1916 to 1978.
For more than half of his career, Rockwell was constrained by racism that dominated the nation, forcing him to depict people of colour in subservient roles, if he wanted to publish in most circles. This is the timeframe and the images that many people think of when they think Rockwell. And it’s the majority of his body of work.
Pssst! You say you need a comprehensive plan? On the quick and on the cheap?
If you pay retail, it can cost you tens of thousands, maybe millions, depending upon how many layers of wonk and weasel language you layer in. And it can take years. But I can offer you the best one you’ll ever get for free and for less time than it takes to get to the bottom of this blog post.
And that’s not all. Add to the cost and time-saving advantages these value-added extras: You can put the whole thing on a single page. And it applies at the scale of the smallest community to the mega-region.
By the early to mid 1970s, something was wrong with rock and roll.
It no longer fought the system. Worse than that, it had become the system. Bloated. Detached. Pretentious.
Performer and audience, once fused in a mutual quest to stick it to the man, now existed on separate planes — an increasingly complacent generation sucked into the service of pomp and circumstance. And the shared experience of joyful rebellion? Replaced by pompous, weed-soaked, middle-earth mysticism.
Rock and roll needed to get back to basics. What country pioneer Harlan Howard characterized as “three chords and the truth.” Enter punk rock.
The corporate culture of our government has been a carte blanche to keep doing what we’ve been doing. This culture implies that what we’ve been doing works.
In business, last year’s income statement is a major driver in this year’s action plan. If a product or service was profitable, then it’s nurtured and grown this year. If a deliverable creates a loss, then change is made as quickly as possible.
Because governments are focused on GDP and jobs instead of ROI, the reasons behind decisions often get muddy. Return on Investment (ROI) is quite simple. It’s just the gain from investment less the cost of investment all divided by the cost of investment. How many times over your money will be returned to you.
And yet our governments aren’t geared to think this way unless it has to do with a change from business as usual.
Maybe it’s like the argument that given enough time, a chimp with a keyboard would eventually hammer out Hamlet, but I’m thinking the messy GOP presidential campaign is inching its way towards clarity.
Not that the process will produce outcomes extreme partisans will like. Disappointment is often the byproduct of a clarifying experience, especially if success is measured by outcomes perfectly in sync with the purest of visions. In that sense, the Republican ordeal might have something to teach us about public processes in the communities and regions in which we work.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Op-Ed pages took on the subject of gas prices this week, devoting a good fifty column inches to a discussion that could otherwise be summarized like this:
The price of gas might increase by anywhere from a few pennies to a dollar this year. It might also go down, but then it will go up again. And, amidst the fluctuations, expect the ongoing trend of slowly increasing average costs to continue. So we’re right to be concerned.
2011 is over, but not forgotten. Indeed, in the planning world, it will be remembered as the year when many planners across the country began fielding smart growth policy objections from Tea Party supporters and those concerned about the U.N’s Agenda 21. No shortage of articles and blog posts, written in tones that drip with frustration yet offer few solutions, have documented the trend.
These concerns are no small issue. Rather, they’re a formidable distraction capable of sinking years of work and wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars. In an era of diminishing resources, they’re something most communities simply can’t afford.
Getting ready for a TEDx talk in a few weeks, I’ve once again been noticing how the places that I love the most usually break the law. The contemporary development codes and bylaws, that is, which are geared to the car, not to the pedestrian and cyclist.
Then last week’s urban retail SmartCode tweetchat with Bob Gibbs sparked a debate about the rules of thumb that govern the success or failure of the most risky development of all: retail. And when those rules might be bent by certain special circumstances.
Ready to geek out with me for a moment?