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.
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.
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.
Ever had a teacher who was so amazing at storytelling that difficult subjects become clear – and riveting? Some of my favourites that come to mind are Professors John Kraus and Robert Garbacz on electromagnetics, and Andrés Duany and Léon Krier on urbanism. The last few days, I’ve spent some time in la belle province, and I’ve felt that the Ville de Montréal is such a teacher.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
Want to know where we go wrong solving single-mindedly for parking, affordability, sustainability, accessibility and all the other stuff on urban planning’s high-priority list?
Consider the tomato. More specifically the winter tomato, as designed and manufactured in Florida.
In Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, food writer Barry Estabrook shows how things go haywire when you’re determined to dumb down complexity. As Estabrook describes it, Florida tomato growers have one big advantage, a winter growing season, and one big marketing concept: A tomato defined by factory-perfect roundness and redness.
If there’s one thing the 20th century gave us, it’s the luxury of not needing each other. It so defines our culture that it’s physically embodied in our sprawling, disconnected landscapes.
That alone begs a classic, chicken-n-egg question: Did the leisurely lure of the suburbs kill our sense of community? Were our social ties unwittingly severed by the meandering disconnection of subdivisions and strip malls or was sprawl just a symptom of something larger? After all, for all their rewards, meaningful relationships take a lot of work. Perhaps, once the modern world elevated our prospects for personal independence, we cut those ties ourselves, willingly, lest our happy motoring be weighted down with excess baggage.
Sprawl: form following function.
With all the angst over Italy this week, I’m in the mood to count some blessings. To elaborate on some assets. To look at the local marketplace. And to debunk a couple of frequent idealist notions about European urbanism often heard from North Americans.
Last month, I was traveling in the Tuscan countryside, which is the most beautiful land I’ve ever seen. Staying in a vineyard outside of Poggibonsi, waking up to the resident rooster, and walking medieval streets was cleansing for the mind and spirit. Even the parking lots are frequently overseen by amazing art, like this copy of Michelangelo’s David on the hill overlooking Florence.
Jobs come up in every community-building conversation these days. It’s making me go back to the start, to think it through. What created jobs in the first place?
Division of Labor. Access to natural resources. Human settlement patterns: cross roads, rivers, oceans, eventually railroads and highways.
In the last few decades, many cities have been racing to the economic bottom trying to incentivize jobs. It’s led to jobs being all about giving away resources, and not so much about the value of connections.
Call me naive.
When I was first exposed to the New Urbanism in the 1990s, it was as a 9 to 5 ad-man with an appreciation for music and art. Killing time one day in my dentist’s waiting room, I stumbled upon “Bye-Bye Suburban Dream,” the cover story of the latest Newsweek magazine.
I still remember the feeling I had as I read it. Unbelievable, I thought. This is a movement creating places where people, community, beauty and culture are once again prioritized. Where the interconnected everyday experiences that color our lives are valued. Where commerce and art can both thrive.
All the recent talk of Agrarian Urbanism has sent me down a tangential thought process. The difference between life and lifestyle. Lifestyle has come to mean how we spend our money on the weekends – or maybe squeeze in after work – before we get back to the grind. Things that often have more to do with entertainment than community. Over the last 50 years or so, shopping and golf have become central national pastimes.
What if, instead, life became a little more organic again?
If the attendees list of Placemaking@Work, my monthly webinar series, is any indicator, we’re increasingly united in our desire to improve the places we call home, wherever those places might be. Last month, I had participants from Hawaii to Russia, from British Columbia to Saudi Arabia, and many points in between.
The common thread among these seekers is their search for tools and tactics that have proven effective. And increasingly dominating these conversations are form-based codes.
Deep in an April 14 New York Times story on the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami was mention of an iPhone app called Yurekuru that gives warning of an impending quake. The name, said the Times, translates into English roughly as, “the shaking is coming.”
Before the March 11 quake, the app attracted 100,000 users. Now: 1.5 million.
In a sense, living organisms could always be fairly certain that a shaking of some kind was on the way. Life on earth has been shaped by violence, by sudden upheavals and reversals of fortune for one hapless population or another. Foreboding is written into the human psyche. It’s only recently that we’ve felt entitled to be spared.