In Chuck Wolfe’s absorbing new book, Seeing the Better City, he encourages readers to think with our eyes and communicate with visual imagery in order to improve our cities. With the proliferation of smartphone cameras and an endless array of easily accessible, web-based platforms on which to display them, virtually everyone is now a photographer. And, with cities on the ascendance, many of them confronting both excitement and worries about growth and development, more people than ever want to make them as hospitable as possible. It’s time to put those trends together, argues Wolfe, and use our eyes and our cameras “to explore, observe, and improve urban space,” to quote the book’s subtitle.
We often blog on the benefits of nature integrated into urbanism and wellbeing outcomes of walkability. The real trifecta is when walkable urbanism, human-scale architecture, and nature come together via placemaking. A recent study from the University of Warwick points out that a scenic view delivers equal health benefits to access to nature: “Cohesion of architecture and design boosts people’s health and happiness, not just the number of parks and trees.”
Shortly before this essay’s original posting, I participated in a terrific conference called From Main Street to Eco-Districts: Greening Our Communities, hosted by a chapter of the American Institute for Architects in Corning, New York. Held a block off of Corning’s own, magnificent “Main Street” (actually named Market Street), and including many of the people who have helped make that street so successful, the conference started me thinking about the whole idea of Main Streets and what makes the best of them such delights to experience.
New Urbanism, by definition, is style neutral. Its focus is getting the form — the urbanism — right but then letting the architecture be what it may.
That’s not to suggest, of course, that many New Urbanists don’t have very strong feelings one way or the other. Many do. Particularly as it relates to traditional vs. modern.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the Tiny House movement, which seemed to me to be a solution in search of a problem. Squeezing marginally comfortable living space into something you can haul around with a truck didn’t seem to be much of a design challenge. After all, there’s a whole industry that’s been addressing that demand for generations. You know, RVs.
If memory serves, it was twenty years ago this year that Seaside, Florida, first showed up on my radar. That’s fairly early if you use the typical southeastern beach goer as your guide but not so early if your measure is the people who actually made Seaside happen. Their window was considerably different. In fact, by the time I clued in in 1995, they’d been at the task for almost 15 years.
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.