Ta-may-toe, Ta-mah-toe: Lessons in complexity from a fruit

Want to know where we go wrong solving single-mindedly for parking, affordability, sustainability, accessibility and all the other stuff on urban planning’s high-priority list?

Consider the tomato.  More specifically the winter tomato, as designed and manufactured in Florida.

In Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, food writer Barry Estabrook shows how things go haywire when you’re determined to dumb down complexity. As Estabrook describes it, Florida tomato growers have one big advantage, a winter growing season, and one big marketing concept: A tomato defined by factory-perfect roundness and redness.

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Get to Know the Awkwardly-Named “Terminated Vista”

I’ll admit it: I wish there was a more user-friendly way to say “terminated vista.”

Perhaps I’m more sensitive to it because, as regular readers here know, I’m not an urban designer. I just work with them. That means I’m more inclined to scratch my head like any other layperson when I hear wonky expressions that sound far too highfalutin for an everyday community.

That’s too bad, because the terminated vista plays a pivotal role in good community design.

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Backyard Chickens: WWI-Era Solution to Almost Everything

Over the course of the past six or eight decades, certain things have come to define, in part, our modern existence: Making a living out of your home has been increasingly restricted, especially in predominantly residential areas; the production of goods has fallen to fewer and larger hands; and we’ve now heard just about all we can stand about the helpless generation, with their legion of helicopter parents herding them about.

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Rural Preservation: One more reason to care about cities

We talk a lot on PlaceShakers about urbanism, but less about one of our big drivers: rural preservation. Compact development patterns could have dramatically decreased the 41 million acres of rural land that the US lost to development from 1982 to 2007. That’s almost the size of the State of Washington.

Clearly, we can’t keep up this pace and expect to have enough productive cropland, pasture, and range to serve our growing population. From 1982 to 2007, US population grew by 30% while development land increased 57%. Eating up land at almost twice the population growth obviously has an unhappy ending.

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“The Joel Salatin of Homebuilding”: Revisiting Clay Chapman’s multi-century, $80/sq. ft. house

“You [..] have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit.”  — Joel Salatin, author and renegade farmer

Anyone who’s paid even modest attention to what’s been happening on the food scene over the past five or six years has surely heard of Joel Salatin. Featured prominently in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and in the movie Food, Inc., author of numerous books of his own, and celebrated by chefs, locavores and organic activists alike, Salatin has become a sort of patron saint for the progressive ag movement. Half traditionalist, half innovator, he’s not so much wedded to the ways of the past as he is unwilling to ignore the wisdom they have to offer.

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Mont-Tremblant: Cottage living in the Canadian Shield

As the second in a three part pictorial series finding inspiration in Canadian urbanism, I’ve been invigorated again by a short stint of cottage living. Which of us hasn’t felt the delightful lightness that comes with downsizing our primary residence? Some of my most carefree years were spent living in an 800 SF cottage in German Village, Ohio, and last week’s trip to the countryside near Mont-Tremblant, Québec, has reminded me why. Even if this round in the cottage was thanks to the hospitality of a kind friend, and not for keeps.

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Retail: When it bends the rules and breaks the law.

Getting ready for a TEDx talk in a few weeks, I’ve once again been noticing how the places that I love the most usually break the law. The contemporary development codes and bylaws, that is, which are geared to the car, not to the pedestrian and cyclist.

Then last week’s urban retail SmartCode tweetchat with Bob Gibbs sparked a debate about the rules of thumb that govern the success or failure of the most risky development of all: retail. And when those rules might be bent by certain special circumstances.

Ready to geek out with me for a moment?

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Poggibonsi and other Tuscan Lessons

With all the angst over Italy this week, I’m in the mood to count some blessings. To elaborate on some assets. To look at the local marketplace. And to debunk a couple of frequent idealist notions about European urbanism often heard from North Americans.

Last month, I was traveling in the Tuscan countryside, which is the most beautiful land I’ve ever seen. Staying in a vineyard outside of Poggibonsi, waking up to the resident rooster, and walking medieval streets was cleansing for the mind and spirit. Even the parking lots are frequently overseen by amazing art, like this copy of Michelangelo’s David on the hill overlooking Florence.

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Entice, Don’t Coerce: The pleasures of green by design

Living in a century home with passive air and choosing cycling as my primary mode of transportation during this unusually warm summer may sound like hardcore Greenie behavior, but it’s been particularly satisfying.

This enjoyment of a modernized take on methods that have worked for generations has made me pick up Steve Mouzon’s Original Green book again, where he notes:

Delight is often a side effect of buildings that operate naturally for most of the year.

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Like Butterflies to the Garden: The case for urban biking

I can’t remember a summer that I’ve found such satisfaction in simple pleasures as I have this season. Maybe it’s because this is my forth summer as a Canadian resident — a country that proudly dominates winter and passionately embraces summer. Or maybe it’s because the sobering events of late on many fronts have reinforced the importance of small blessings.

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