Tag Archives: Howard Blackson

The Five Cs of Neighborhood Planning

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.

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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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Tools for Trickle Up Economics

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.

Spot on.

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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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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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Eisenhower Memorial Controversy Puts Focus on Urban Design

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.

How do we honor our heroes?

The current dust-up over Frank Gehry’s proposed Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial has brought the issue, and the conversation, to the forefront. Within it has been some well-articulated opposition from prominent urbanists, including this from Léon Krier, this from Dhiru Thadani and this from Christine Franck.

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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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Urbanists Know TED

While TED launched its City 2.0 prize last week to crowd-source tools for the next version of the city, I’ve been enjoying TED talks of several fellow urbanists who have been putting forth tools and ideas for making better places. The City 2.0 wish is stated as:

THE WISH

I am the crucible of the future.
I am where humanity will either flourish or fade.
I am being built and rebuilt every day.
I am inevitable. But I am not yet determined.
I wish to be inclusive, innovative, healthy, soulful, thriving. But my potential can only be reached through you.

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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

Money, It’s a Gas: New Economy development financing

In startling alignment with James Howard Kunstler’s stark predictions, ULI’s 2012 Report, “What’s Next: Real Estate in the New Economy,” bubbly concludes: “The real estate world is hurtling into a different place and time. Change is coming at a faster pace with more uncertain consequences. Success will take on different forms and risks will increase. Standing pat or ignoring new realities is not possible. Notably, investment will gravitate to places that welcome business and view public investments — in education, infrastructure, and innovation — as prerequisites for progress and economic sustainability.”

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The Next Urbanism

‘Tis the season to rejoice and enjoy the brotherhood of all mankind, as well as that of our in-laws…

As we ease into 2012, I am officially announcing a New Urbanism victory across North America, as we recently witnessed the end of building suburbia and its physically isolated, segregated lifestyle. Proof? Just this week, the award-winning New Urban News, a publication dedicated to all things New Urbanism, officially changed their title to “Better! Cities and Towns.”

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Do We (Still) Need Vancouver?

A few years ago Urban Guru Leon Krier asked this question — “Do we still need Vancouver?” — at CNU XVII Denver. In response, the Next Generation of New Urbanists invited then-new Vancouver planning director Brent Toderian to speak in favor of Vancouver, which is easy to do. For, since the fall of Hong Kong, Vancouver has been reinvented to become one of the world’s most livable cities, and a model for urbanization.

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My Right Turn at the Intersection of Good Ideas

When things get tough, people start digging in ideologically, increasingly viewing the world through the lens of their own experiences to fortify their already entrenched positions.

Yes, experience counts for a lot and, chances are, they do hold some piece of the larger solution. But as we’ve learned time and time again, things are never that simple. There are no magic bullets.

Answers typically turn up where perspectives intersect.

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Pruitt-Igoe: More ego or opportunity for vocational penance?

The restoration of degraded, traumatized, and distressed communities has been a high priority for the Obama Administration. The EPA, HUD and DOT are all allocating revitalization funds for places as large as Detroit and Cleveland, and as small as Ranson, West Virginia.

That’s the kind of solid support needed at the big picture level, where communities can be considered — and treated — as the living organisms they are. But what about revitalization at a smaller scale? Because that’s when it stops being about the relative health of the collective and gets down to the level of individual lives.

Real people.

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Extreme Makeover: Zoning Edition

Want to get some sleep tonight? How about snuggling up with your local Development Code? Read any section, such as Sign Violations and Enforcement Procedures, and I’m willing to bet you’ll be out before you get past the Statement of Purpose.

That’s a problem, because such volumes don’t exist to cure insomnia. They exist to engage us in the collaborative project of creating our shared surroundings. That means something and, while I understand that Comprehensive Plans, Zoning, and Subdivision Ordinances, by virtue of their lofty stature, might make for poor everyday reading, we all suffer when they end up so… tedious.

“Our life is frittered away by detail … simplify, simplify.” – Thoreau

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City Neighborhoods: Livin’ large

Empirical observation is a key to unlocking secrets of great urban design. As Jane Jacobs wrote in Death and Life, “The way to get at what goes on in the seemingly mysterious and perverse behavior of cities is, I think, to look closely, and with as little previous expectation as possible, at the most ordinary scenes and events, and attempt to see what they mean and whether any threads or principle emerge among them.” In my case, proof is in the pudding.

The most notable observation I’ve had since I sold my sports car in January, leaving me walking or biking ’round the neighborhood every day, pretty much everywhere, is that I haven’t lost a pound.

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Urban Renaissance Gone to the Dogs

Downtown San Diego has gone to the dogs.

Having grown up in San Diego, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed experiencing our downtown’s renaissance. Its revitalization has altered our cultural patterns and social connectivity. Today’s downtown is host to vibrant new neighborhoods, monthly cultural events, and the Gaslamp District’s rise (or demise) to Bourbon Street-esque nuttiness, as well as a baseball park, convention center, new library, and new city hall, the usual suspects of downtown revitalization over the past twenty years.

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CNU 19: The Uprising

Like my anniversary, family birthdays and selected holidays, the Congress for the New Urbanism is an annual ceremony that I faithfully attend. My lovely wife would confirm that I never question the necessary time and money spent to participate in the congresses. And, as expected, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at CNU 19 in Madison, Wisconsin, even though I had to leave a couple days in…

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Filed under Agriculture, Architecture, Development, Experience, Planning and Design

St. Patrick, Charles Dickens and the Role of Beer in Community

This morning I took a moment to reflect upon the challenges and tragedy of the past year — BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well, Aussie wildfires, the Christchurch and Haiti earthquakes — until, as a Californian, my mind inevitably drifted back to current events in Japan and their nuclear radiation currently floating its way stateside over the Texas-sized plastic trash flotilla/vortex in the northern Pacific.

And did I mention last week’s news on democratic revolution in the Middle East/North Africa? It’s enough to drive a guy to drink.

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Redevelop this, California!

How California will redevelop its existing communities in the future is up for debate. And, it’s about time.

The role of redevelopment in shaping our built environment came to its crescendo in the halcyon days of 2005 over Kelo vs. New London. Today, Susette Kelo’s home sits as a vacant scar on business-as-usual redevelopment practices.

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Insane, Trains and Automobiles

The holiday season is our culture’s designated time for wishes of good cheer and contemplative New Years Resolutions for a better tomorrow. Or so I thought. Then I read this stark statement:

“Scott Walker, governor-elect of Wisconsin, who vowed to stop the train in a campaign commercial, said that the train from Milwaukee to Madison would cost too much money, take the same amount of time as driving and leave many passengers needing cars anyway to get around at both ends.”
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Dancing with Urban Agriculture

My lovely wife of eight years enjoys really bad television. For better or worse, last night she tricked me into watching a segment of ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ Coyly, she asked me to name the movies in which the dancing ‘star’ had ‘starred’.

Having no idea and starting my way back upstairs, I heard her mimicking quietly, “Bueller… Bueller…?

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November 19, 2010 · 12:01 am

Today’s “Eco-Warriors”: Giving Them Something Worth Fighting For

This week I’d like to share a few thoughts on infill and sustainability that coalesced while preparing this week for another Pecha Kucha presentation on Retrofitting Suburbia.

I’ll begin with a little background. My daughter came home from her International Baccalaureate Elementary School with a new sticker in her daily planner proclaiming her an “Eco-Warrior!” Continue reading

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