Black Friday: Get your gorilla on

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.

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Lessons Learned from Berlin Shopfronts

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.

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Euro-Envy Reconsidered: Talkin’ time, distance and change

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.

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Let’s Get Metaphysical: Considering the value of soul in redevelopment

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.

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Let Love Rule: Resilience in Mesquite

Andrew-Von-MaurCrossing Campo Street from downtown Las Cruces into the Mesquite Historic District is like crossing between two urban worlds that are often misunderstood.

To the west is one of the country’s textbook examples of everything that could go wrong with federally subsidized Urban Renewal, including the obligatory seas of parking, corporate CBD architecture, vacant properties, and a one-way loop that locals derisively refer to as “the race track.” The stunning aerial view from 1974 shows the city after its failed open-heart surgery. Even today, after a heroic struggle to dismantle the virtually abandoned pedestrian mall and reinstitute automobile-access on Main Street, the pain of this flattening experience lingers on. The place is deserted on a beautiful September evening.

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The Seeds of Permanence: Building a multi-century home

For the past 18 months, PlaceShakers has been covering the work of my friend, Clay Chapman, and his quest to build a near-permanent, structural masonry home for a price accessible to the middle class. I wrote this introduction when he was breaking ground and, later, when the shell of his test home was completed, I posted a follow-up.

That house, which launched his “Hope for Architecture” initiative, is now complete and Clay’s been engaged to build a new house — a modest variation of the original HFA house — for a new client.

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Get to Know the Awkwardly-Named “Terminated Vista”

Enjoying a serendipitous downtown walk this week, I was reminded of just how important this concept is. Seemed like a good opportunity to dust off this oldie-but-goodie.

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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Cottage Simplicity: Keeping it easy, making it attainable

We talk often here on PlaceShakers about cottage living, as well as drilling down into how to make that happen at home, with conversations like Small Y’all: A Cottage Solution to the Housing Problem and “Pocket Neighborhoods”: Scale Matters.

This weekend, strolling through Victoria Beach — an insightful cottage community in Manitoba, Canada — I was struck by many of the lessons learned through all the conversations we’ve had together here. And one of the biggest is to keep it simple. And in many cases, that means inexpensive. Victoria Beach does it with a dirt street grid and very simple architecture on the town square, which is really more of an oversized town ramble. Most of the lots on these dirt streets are not cleared keeping the costs lower and privacy higher.

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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.”

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