Beuvron-en-Auge: 15th century town planning stands the test of time

Every month or so, we add to our collection of lessons from livable places. These are the neighbourhoods where walking the streets and looking carefully at the urban forms provide insights into what makes for lovability over time. Today, I’d like to consider Beuvron-en-Auge, deemed one of the most beautiful villages in France by Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. In the heart of cider country, the half-timber construction and picturesque Norman streets suggest a timeless beauty that belies the recent struggle for historic preservation and restoration. Continue Reading

Porchtastic: Living in Season

Living in season asks us to “entice people outside, where they get more acclimated to the local environment, needing less heating or cooling when they return indoors,” according to Steve Mouzon via treehugger.

Howard Blackson dares us to live outdoors where “we can again connect with our climate and place — another step towards unsealing ourselves from our hermetic suburban environments.”

I always think of these two when the hot summer days roll around, and I busily open windows at night and close them in the morning to acclimate un-air conditioned space. And yes, it gets hot in Winnipeg. Winnipeg may be the third coldest city of its size on earth, but it’s also one of the sunniest.

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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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