Tag Archives: Ben Brown

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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We’re OK. Ya’ll, Not So Much: Your guide to understanding national polls

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:


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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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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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Collaboration’s Failing so it’s Back to Hypocrisy

It’s a sad day when you have to start rooting for liars and hypocrites.

That thought occurred to me when I read the news of Congress’s likely axing of the budget for the Sustainable Communities Initiative. That’s the two-year-old program that attempted to pull together goals of three federal agencies — the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency — to encourage out-of-the-silos thinking by local and regional planners. Grants under the program required getting lots of folks who don’t normally talk to one another collaborating to integrate policies and programs covering infrastructure, environmental protection, economic development, public health, housing, transportation and transit, and land use.

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‘Show Me the Money!’ New bumper sticker for the New Normal?

There hasn’t been a New Urbanist Council gathering for a while. Which is why a lot of pent-up anxiety — and hope — found release in Council sessions in Montgomery, Alabama, October 14-16.

These regionally organized Councils are intended to grapple with topics that should be on the table for annual Congress for the New Urbanism meetings but require give-and-take from a smaller group to better focus issues. So some 50 or so folks came to Montgomery to critique recent ideas and projects and to wrestle with propositions to position New Urbanism for the New Normal.

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After the Flood: Hard choices for communities and citizens

Virginia Republican Eric Cantor, majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, caught a lot of grief for suggesting there should be budget cuts elsewhere to offset the extra federal dollars that FEMA needed to do its job as tornadoes, floods and winds assaulted the eastern U.S. But at least he was being consistent as a deficit hawk and fearless — if naive — in the face of some ugly truths.

The ugliest of them: We want a bunch of stuff we’re not willing to pay for. And because democracy allows us to vote our delusions, we don’t plan to stop wanting or to start paying anytime soon.

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Six Years Later: Katrina Cottages take hold

August 11 will be a landmark day in the South Mississippi communities still recovering from the 2005 mega-storm, Hurricane Katrina. And it’s about time.

On that day next week, 18 days shy of the sixth anniversary of the storm, the development team behind the Cottages at Oak Park in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, will host a ribbon cutting for 29 rental units that represent the latest evolution of an idea born in the Mississippi Renewal Forum following the storm.

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So Much to Do: Sadly, so much time

Time is not on our side. And that earth-shattering insight works in two directions.

The most obvious is the situation most of us face each day, with ever-expanding to-do lists colliding with obstinate time frames. Same old days, with the same old number of hours in them.

But here’s the deal with a to-do list: What makes it useful is the degree to which it ranks tasks. And the way you decide what rises to the top of the list is to have a pretty good idea what will happen, in what sort of time frame, as a result of you choosing one thing over another. The problem is, your confidence about what will result from choices depends on how quickly the consequences of the choices unfold.

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Well, Bless Their Hearts: Now can we move on?

Next week, the 19th annual gathering of New Urbanism cultists takes place in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m one of them, and I’m sorry not to be making the Congress this year. This has the feel of one of those turning-point moments.

First, the good part. A lot more folks have bought into the New Urbanist perspective for building and enriching community through thoughtful design. Federal and state policy-makers, even the slow-to-change Department of Transportation types, now talk about integrating land use and transportation. And requests for proposals from regional planning agencies routinely reference principles embodied in the Charter for the New Urbanism, even if the authors of those RFPs are clueless as to where they got the ideas. So there’s reason to celebrate.

Still, as the evidence mounts that we’ve got piles of work to do, we’re too easily distracted by food fights that sap energy and waste time.

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Get Real or Get Rich: Lessons for an era of limited trust

It’s a great time to be really rich or really smart.

It’s never hurt, of course, to be able to tap into big bucks or big brains. It’s just that penalties for having access to neither are rising dramatically.

What got me to thinking in this direction was an exhaustive investigative report in last Sunday’s Washington Post. The headline: “Million-Dollar Wasteland: An ongoing investigation of how HUD has failed affordable housing.” In the Front Page days of journalism, this would fall under the category of “exposé.”

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“Sustainability” is so ten years ago — Let’s talk “Resilience”

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.

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Good News: The End Is Near. Really.

More than three decades ago, sociologist Ernest Becker published The Denial of Death which made the argument that the fear of death, in all its irrevocability and finality, provides a unifying, baseline reality for humans.

We may be overwhelmed and confused by an increasing number of competing “truths,” wrote Becker, but one truth cuts through all others: We’re all gonna die.

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The Revolution Will Not be Organized (But the food and drink will be pretty good)

It’s officially over.

The flush era for planners and designers, when utopian villages and new towns could grow from dreams and piles of private sector cash? Long gone. Now comes the revolution.

What the revolt will look like is under debate. And not surprisingly, the most intense discussions are joined by those who have always been arguing about one thing or another, even as they designed and built places that, at least in part, defined neighborhood and community character during the flush times.

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Livin’ Large in Small Spaces: It Takes a Town

I’m big on small.

Ever since the 2005 Misissippi Renewal Forum in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I’ve been beating the drum for Katrina Cottages and cottage neighborhoods. Most recently here and, in 2009, here.

I haven’t exactly been a voice in the wilderness. In fact, I wasn’t even among the early wave of advocates. Continue reading

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Dhiru’s Encyclopedia of City-Shaping: Reassurance in Uncertain Times

Just about anybody remotely interested in how the world’s most admired places earned their adulation is going to love Dhiru Thadani’s new book: The Language of Towns and Cities. In it, Dhiru subtitles the book “A Visual Dictionary,” but as L.J. Aurbach points out in his blog review, it’s really an encyclopedia. And it couldn’t come at a better time. Continue reading

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Zoning as Spiritual Practice: From me to we to Thee

Get right with God. Fix your zoning.

That’s not something you hear regularly from the pulpit, maybe. But it’s gospel nonetheless. Here’s why:

If there’s one common thread woven through the world’s most enduring religions, it’s the call to connectivity: Self to others to everything. Continue reading

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