1. What a great observation, Scott. Incremental progress needs to be encouraged.

  2. I have one counterpoint to offer. Small victories should be celebrated, but in the battle for livable communities advocates are beset on all sides by the forces you mention. Lauding that imperfect bike lane as anything but a starting point sets the stage for political inaction. If the mayor is in it for the photo op, you better give it to him with conditions, and if he doesn’t follow through it may be time to find a new one.

    Where I live things are getting better because they must get better. We will not survive as a city if we stand still. Twenty years of activism has led to a Bicycle Master Plan, a slow growing network of bike lanes, and a few growing urban neighborhoods that have become destinations for local college students and young professionals.

    Yet we must put those achievements in context. Two or three neighborhoods do not make a thriving city. In my neighborhood, that destination is literally a single block of bars and restaurants. There is so much left to do, and so far yet to go.

    Simply acting is not enough. We cannot be satisfied by half measures. While poverty exists, while abandoned houses provide shelter for gangs, while children are poisoned by the paint in their homes, while kids are gunned down in the street or robbed at gunpoint in their homes, while there is still work to be done we must not be satisfied.

    Only by providing a vision of a city worth fighting for will we bring our friends and neighbors off the sidelines and into the fight.

  3. Albeit not new, this is IMHO true.

    Also check

    • PlaceMakers says

      Thanks for the link, Nat. Can’t say I was familiar with much about Kohr personally but Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” is a wonderful book. -SD

  4. So, communities should settle for shitty bike lanes that don’t form part of a network that cater mainly for existing cyclists (predominantly adult males)? Rubbish infrastructure lasts for 15 to 20 years, robbing whole generations of children their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move safely and freely around their own communities.

    Why do some people act as if the Internet and the Netherlands have never been invented? No wonder the Anglosphere is so far behind Europe on just about every measure of public health, social equity and economic resilience. Why can’t these people swallow their pride and admit that some countries have been building good community infrastructure for decades and that we should copy them?

    We know that some things will achieve what they set out to do and some won’t. Build only the former or you are just wasting everybody’s time and effort, as well as destroying their incentive to participate in further community efforts to improve living conditions.

    • PlaceMakers says

      Sorry if this came across as though it were a post about design, Jim. To be clear, I don’t think anyone is really under the delusion that our infrastructure issues throughout the U.S. are the result of us not knowing how to access best practices. Even the most challenged communities are bright enough to figure out Google.

      In my experience, ours are problems of community dynamics and political will, which are in no way comparable to the Netherlands and cannot be solved with further information and/or angst about design. To my view, we need to work the community we have, warts and all. And as we stumble through the series of baby steps it takes most communities to build a proper coalition and really get momentum, it’s our choice where we draw the line in terms of what constitutes a win. You seem inclined to hold out for perfection. My experience suggests otherwise, for all the reasons spelled out above.

      I’m not talking about places where the hard work of cultural agreement has already been done. Most Americans live in places where proactive change, especially as it relates to the built environment, is a difficult and — especially at first — often thankless path. Those folks are the real champions. If we don’t support and join in their efforts, we might as well be writing those places off.

    • … And I don’t think Scott was talking about settling. That “shitty bike lane” might be a community’s first infrastructure action in decades that focused on people instead of cars. That shift in priorities is worth celebrating all by itself! But nobody said after the party we just pack our things and go home. It’s a win, and a win that we can build on to win more.


  1. […] It wasn’t intentional but a look back at the past few weeks of PlaceShakers reveals that we’ve been working a bit of a theme. It began when I wrote about the failure of planners to ask meaningful questions, and how that not only sets the stage for unmet community expectations, but devalues the art and craft of urban design at the same time. I then followed it up with a look at the other side of the coin — corrosive elements lurking within communities that undermine collaborative progress. […]

  2. […] a vocational perspective, I’ve written before (here, here and here, for example) on the connection between neighborly interdependence and community resilience. In […]

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