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.
Over the weekend, I had a Twitter exchange with Mitchell Silver and Steve Mouzon about a PlaceMakers concept that I’m feeling the need to explain in more detail.
Return on No Investment – my new friend, RONI – is the whole idea of leveraging assets and connections that are already in place, while investing a little more time and energy, to create a significant return. It’s a simple concept that PlaceMakers has championed since lean times made for more careful spending practices in city planning circles.
Last October, I wrote a piece commemorating a PlaceShakers milestone — 100,000 reads — which took us 32 months to amass. Today, I write to mark our next one: 200,000. This time, it took less than 8 months.
Clearly something is up.
If reads are increasing, that means interest is increasing. If interest is increasing, then I want to know why. Specifically, exactly what are people interested in?
The answer’s in the traffic stats. And what you find there is not all that surprising.
Sometime today or over the next few, Placeshakers and Newsmakers will cross a notable (for us) threshold: 100,000 reads. Not that 100,000 is altogether different from 90,000 or 80,000 but it does make for a nice round opportunity to reflect on what we’ve been doing here and how its evolution has surprised us.
As many readers know, Placeshakers is the online soapbox of PlaceMakers, a town planning and community development firm. By our own admission, a company blog is nothing particularly special — in fact, they’re often painfully tiresome — and that’s why we’ve taken great care to avoid the sin of talking all about ourselves and, instead, talk about what really matters: the big picture issues and ground-level challenges facing those who care as much about shaping community as we do.
One of the greatest selling points of the SmartCode, the DPZ-created version of a form-based unified development ordinance, has always been its customize-ability. First of all, it’s Transect-based, which immediately separates it from conventional codes that stamp out the same rules for development everywhere in the landscape. And since DPZ made it a free, open-source code, practitioners from everywhere can correct, refine, and amend it as conditions demand.
The latest, still-evolving version of the SmartCode, v10, takes flexibility to a new level with add-on modules that address everything from storm-water management to sprawl repair to aging in place. Comparisons to Apple’s iPhone applications strategy are inevitable. In fact, Arizona State grad student Dan Bartman (email: dbartman(at)asu.edu) is already doing SmartCode explainers in PowerPoint using an iPhone face and modules as app icons.
Andres Duany, founding principal of DPZ and author of the SmartCode calls the latest version “the single biggest change since the beginning.” Here’s how he explains it:
SmartCode v10 is still a work in progress, directed by the non-profit Center for Applied Transect Studies. Sandy Sorlien, CATS’ director of technical research, says v10 will be ready for its debut at the SmartCode Intensive workshop on Wednesday, May 19, the opening day of the annual conference of the Congress for the New Urbanism.
You can find out more about the modules for v10 here. And read all about the 18th annual CNU Congress here and in our previous blogs here and here.
— Ben Brown