Tag Archives: new urbanism

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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‘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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Can Preservationists Let Love Rule?

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.

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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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Smart Growth = Smart Parenting

Put the village on hold. For the time being, it’s gonna take a parent, a councilman and a developer to raise a child.

Flashback 2003: Attending the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in New Orleans, I caught the keynote from a planning official for Vancouver, British Columbia. Now, under normal circumstances, I don’t suppose I’d remember much of what he said but, at the time, my daughter was just over three years old and something he used as the overall framing for his making Smart Growth work presentation really resonated with me.

“If it works for kids,” he said, “it works for everyone.”

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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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New Urban Development: Too risky, too costly. Not.

I just heard from a colleague who had a developer tell him something along the lines of: “New Urbanism is too risky and too expensive because, you know, Kentlands failed.” That’s not an uncommon belief. What is uncommon, however, for anyone on the receiving end of such broad brush generalizations, is an easy response that fleshes out the finer, and truer, details. So here’s mine:

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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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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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Unplug! Accommodating Our Need to Escape Each Other

Sense of community. It’s been a rallying cry of New Urbanists since the beginning and for good reason. For years leading up to the birth of the neo-traditionalists, it didn’t take much effort to realize that our surroundings had changed—a lot—and not for the better.

Our neighborhoods—subdivisions, really—were isolating us from each other and from the things we needed to get done. Despite the ample comforts we’d developed to help mitigate the separation, that’s simply not a good recipe for human productivity, much less fulfillment.

There was a hole to be filled, and the distinctly market-based New Urbanists stepped in to fill it. 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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My Sleuthing Adventure: Where are Western Canada’s Form-Based Codes?

Western Canada’s form-based codes are missing.

This is no small problem. Those of us working in the region are continuously grilled by municipalities with the same question, often delivered with a suspicious, cocked eyebrow: “Where are they? Where in Canada have they, or any other alternative zoning regulation, been enacted?”

The answer we’re obliged to offer is unfortunately neither reassuring nor helpful:  “We’ve turned up little evidence,” we mutter quietly. Little enough, in fact, that a comparable municipal mentor is typically unable to be found.

A mystery is at hand. Continue reading

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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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Retail Redemption: Skivvies Uncovered, then Promptly Covered

A couple months ago I rambled on here about my inability to purchase a particularly critical item of men’s apparel during an extended tour of new urban projects throughout the southeast. Modesty was not my problem. Rather, despite healthy commercial activity most everywhere I went, I could find no walkable stores catering to such day-to-day basics.

Food and drink? Sure. Tchotchkes and novelties? You betcha. Skivvies? Not a chance. Continue reading

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Fat-tastic! Can Small Thinking Solve Our Super-Sized Problems?

According to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — more commonly known for crunching global budget and employment numbers  — the United States is on track to be 75% obese by 2020.

3 out of every 4. And if you check with researchers at Johns Hopkins University, they’ll tell you to expect 86% by 2030. Continue reading

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Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict: Speed Humps on the Road to Recovery

Hi. I’m Hazel and I was a Sprawlaholic.

If you’ve been reading awhile you may recall that, with the loving help of my friends and family, I went cold turkey, dumping life in a Florida subdivision for the intense urban charms of downtown Winnipeg. It was a life-changing move with no regrets. Yet, as good as it’s been, I’m finding that puritanical denial of guilty pleasures is sometimes out of sync with life’s reality.

And by reality, I mean kids.

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The Suburbs: Arcade Fire, Childhood Memory, and the Future of Growth

I’m in my 40s. I grew up in the suburbs. It was awesome. And then it wasn’t.

Never before and, perhaps, never again will there be as efficient and reliable a machine for manufacturing idealized childhood memories. The suburbs of the 60s and 70s, maybe even the 80s, were like some sort of paradise. Continue reading

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Brave New Codes Reach Tipping Point: When, Where, Why?

A year ago, Apple’s sales of its iPhone and iPod Touch eclipsed 40 million units, confirming their potential to fundamentally retool our future opportunities and patterns of daily life.

Today, a year later, form-based codes hit a similar milestone, with similar implications, as over 330 cities and towns around the worldrepresenting over 40 million people — have embraced the idea of form-based coding as an alternative to the sprawl-inducing zoning models of the past century.

We’ve hit the tipping point. Welcome to the other side. Continue reading

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Zoning: No Longer Just for Nerds

Remember when you could empty a room by trying to work zoning philosophy into a conversation? Okay, you can still do that in most places. But the coolness quotient is on the rise, we swear.

Consider the adoption late last year of a form-based code in Miami, surely one of the most exotic political environments in North America. Very high hipness factor. Continue reading

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Love Ain’t Enough: Put Up or Shut Up

Like any next, big something, placemaking is growing up. And in its role as gawky adolescent, it’s beginning to realize something most of us have long since come to accept: You can’t skirt by on youthful good looks forever.

Today, efforts to create more endearing and enduring surroundings are being subjected to decidedly grown up demands. And with them, smart growthers—from enviros to designers to code reform advocates—are learning one of life’s hardest lessons: Love will only take you so far.

Son, you’ve got to demonstrate sufficient returns. Continue reading

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Community and Charity: Bold Action Inspires a Closer Look

You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. – Mark 14:07

I’m not sure Jesus could see all the way to the 21st century.

If he could, he may have been more inclined to offer, “You’ll always have the poor, but there are plenty of ways to avoid their unpleasantries. And you can still figure out how to help them if you put your mind to it.”

Think about it. We’ve invested immeasurable resources over three quarters of a century in land use policy specifically designed to ensure that the poor are not among us. As a result, we’ve detached ourselves from certain truths – biblical and otherwise.

It’s more comfortable, to be sure, but is it really better for us?

I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues lately, largely due to the release of a new book, “The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back.” The premise is moving: Kevin Salwen and his family decide to sell their posh Atlanta residence in favor of one half its size, then donate half the proceeds to a charity they researched and chose together.

What’s equally intriguing is the spark that ignited their endeavor. Sitting at a traffic light with his daughter, Hannah, the two witnessed an otherwise unremarkable juxtaposition of two men – one homeless, one idling in a luxury car.

The jarring contrast woke up 14-year-old Hannah to the reality of extreme inequity and, in subsequent actions as a family, extreme charity.

It’s a commendable, even beautiful, story, but it makes me wonder: Should we be relying on uncommon people doing remarkable things to bridge the gaps between all walks of life?

After all, in many ways, our current development patterns foster the “A-ha” moment experienced by Hannah by isolating us from the circumstances of the less fortunate. When we finally experience them, they’re shocking. In the case of some special people, they inspire dramatic actions. But for many of us, we close our eyes and hope for the light to change.

But what about the way we’ve lived historically—in traditional, human-scaled, diverse and interconnected communities—where people of all classes often crossed paths as a routine part of daily life and, as a result, were more inclined to develop meaningful interdependencies?

If our built world today continued to be governed by such patterns, would drastic reactions like the Salwen’s be necessary? Or, instead, would our eyes be open to the poor among us as a matter of course and charity take the form of a million little things over a lifetime instead of a big thing designed to make up for previous slights?

It’s not a new idea—Eric Jacobsen explored it nicely in “Sidewalks in the Kingdom”—but the Salwen’s book provides good opportunity to reconsider our relationship with the best and worst of others, and what it would take for our charitable actions to come more naturally.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Kevin socially a time or two and my fellow PlaceMaker, Ben Brown, has worked with him in the past, and that allows us the luxury—for a time—of transcending cynicism and simply enjoying the pleasure of experiencing real-McCoy decency. I think I’ll savor it for a bit.

But then I’m going to get back to the work of building stronger communities. Places where the bold actions of people like Kevin can be complemented regularly by a shared smile between two people of different means.

—Scott Doyon

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Easy Rider: David Byrne Unfolds Bike, Reviews Cities of the World

Over the holiday I experienced a very 21st century weekend. Upon downloading my new Kindle App on my iPhone, I read David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries, 2009 Viking Penguin. The $14.99 book caught my attention at the local bookstore and became my first Amazon Kindle App purchase for $9.99. I know, I know… but I promise to never buy eBooks that have exclusive Wal-Mart deals.

David Byrne, artist, musician and now author, is this year’s CNU 18-Atlanta Keynote speaker. His Talking Heads music taught me to dance in early 1980’s High School proms and one of my partners was in a punk rock band on the same New York City club circuit. While traveling through Texas recently, I re-watched Mr. Bryne’s 1986 movie, ‘True Stories,’ which I found to be an enjoyably restrained criticism of suburban sprawl. So, I was connecting with the author on many levels and eagerly swiped through the e-book on my iPhone.

Still talking: David Byrne

The hook is that Mr. Byrne sees our townscape as New Urbanist do while writing down his observations from the perspective of his well-travelled folding bicycle. While traveling the world to perform, Mr. Bryne brings his bicycle with him to refresh his senses and understand the places he is visiting. Through his years of bicycling around the world, coupled with his musician point-of-view, the book’s hook on me was his chapters on experiencing cities in an intelligent and artistic manner. He poignantly captures the landscapes of Manila, Berlin, Istanbul, Detroit and Baltimore in political, social and cultural ways. His account of finding the visionary urban planner Jan Gehl, great New York urban theorist Jane Jacobs, and Transportation Innovator Enrique Penalosa, seemed illuminating for Mr. Byrne, and I look forward to hearing his reaction to meeting our Congress this spring.

My personal reaction to the book was that Bicycle Diaries is a more artistic version of James Howard Kunstler’s more caustic City in Mind. After an easy-to-agree-with suburban sprawl critique introduction, I began to feel like a NASCAR spectator awaiting the carnage! Blow up Las Vegas; put Detroit out of its misery; and, yes, San Diegans are rude! The fun part was Mr. Byrne’s unexpectedly sharp critique of European and foreign cities both culturally and while biking. Except for Melbourne, of course. It seems Melbourne has become the new Barcelona – the greatest city in the world – probably because it is located in the far corner of world and most of us can only imagine how great it is.

The ending of the book sort of drifted off for me as I was less interested in Greenwich Village bicycle rack design as I had been about a city of hookers in the Philippines (an unfortunate personal bias). The revelation that resonates with me is because of David Byrne’s desire to simply get out of the car to see and experience the world he has become a well-respected transportation advocate in his hometown of New York.

— Howard Blackson

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