Last week, passing my Canadian citizenship exam was a poignant moment for me. I am grateful to have dual citizenship in Canada and the US, with the right to live and work in both great countries. I realize that we often spend time on this blog talking about what stands in the way of great placemaking, but I enjoyed over the weekend looking back at our Canadian urbanism series and celebrating what all’s going right in the nation to nurture neighbourhood-scale livability: Montreal: Lessons from great Canadian urbanism | Québec City: La ville de l’amour | Ottawa: Lessons from great Canadian urbanism | Mont-Tremblant: Cottage living in the Canadian Shield | Victoria Beach Lean Urbanism: A century practice? | Lessons from the Woods.
I should maybe feel at least a little guilty for escaping the cold weather in the North Carolina mountains where I live and heading to Florida over the weekend. But I don’t.
The destination was, after all, Panhandle Florida, the vertically challenged part of Florida that folks farther south call “LA,” as in “Lower Alabama.” Which means I was still wearing a down jacket when I ducked outside.
Also the trip was for a good cause. The occasion was the annual Seaside Prize Weekend, sponsored by the Seaside Institute.
Last week we resurrected a look at the preservation movement — asking if, rather than strict adherence to ideology, love of place could ultimately rule the day — so that, this week, we could put a spotlight on Kaid Benfield, the latest addition to the PlaceMakers team, and his thoughts on the issue’s flip-side.
In short, do we in the placemaking game — New Urbanists, Smart Growthers and the like — also fail to let love rule, getting so lost in particular baseline goals that we miss the finer-grain details that connect most deeply with the human condition?
Here’s Kaid’s take below, originally featured on the NRDC Switchboard. And for more of his perspective on urban challenges and opportunities, check out his thoughts on poverty and gentrification just posted over on the HuffPo.
Call me naive.
When I was first exposed to the New Urbanism in the 1990s, it was as a 9 to 5 brand marketer 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 pursuing places where people, community, beauty and culture are once again prioritized. Where the interconnected everyday human experiences that color our lives are valued. Where commerce and art can both thrive.
Those of us who’ve been tangling with status quo protectors in housing design and policymaking got a charge out of Justin Shubow’s Forbes blog post earlier this month. Shubow backhanded modernist starchitects for persisting in their personal artistic vision without regard to the human use of real places:
“Modernism might appear outwardly impregnable: it dominates the practitioners, the critics, the media, and the schools. But as the example of the Soviet Union shows, even the strongest-appearing edifice can suddenly come crashing down when it turns out it no longer has internal support.”
We’re happy when we go for a run. We’re even more happy when we go for a run in a gorilla suit — at least according to Roko Belic, director of the award-winning documentary, HAPPY. That’s because some change is gonna do ya good. Which is one of the many reasons that we placemakers advocate for immersive urban environments, and not the monoculture of suburbia. And why we go as far as to argue that these sorts of diverse, character-rich neighbourhoods actually make us happier.
Like many European cities, Berlin teaches us myriad lessons in building successful shopfronts. While the exclusive international shops along Kurfürstendamm and Friedrichstrasse are elegant and effective, the more creative successes are found in neighborhoods and courtyards. Kaid Benfield’s People Habitat describes in detail the reasons Hackeschen Höfe is so successful at the holistic level, and last week Hazel Borys discussed the diversity of uses, so here we’ll just explore the interesting shopfront contributions. There are some very successful shopfront examples in the Prenzlaur Berg neighborhood as well.
When my wife and I headed to Europe for our first two-week vacation in 15 years, I don’t think I realized how grouchy I was getting about change adaptation in the US. So much political paralysis. So little leadership. No sense of urgency on issues of huge importance. It was way past time for a getaway to be among grown-ups.
Not so long ago, in a conversation about technology and green building, there was mention of some high-tech green building models coming out of Europe. Models that, according to reports, perform so well that even if you factor the embedded energy of a previous structure torn down to accommodate them, they still come out ahead.
That’s a potential game changer, at least in terms of selling high-tech green, and I’m not sure it’s one that I welcome.
A recent trip to Chicago on the first weekend of summer reinforced the importance of great public art. After a particularly harsh winter, the welcoming parks, squares, and plazas of the city were burgeoning with people soaking in the sunshine.
Coming home to talk with my husband, who happens to be an art museum director, we had some interesting conversations about the differences between civic art and public art. For my husband, there really is no difference, however in my industry, there is.