Maybe it’s a brief glimpse, inspired by Pope Francis’s visit, of a collective will to be better humans. Or maybe it’s just the math. But I’m feeling more hopeful about future traction for arguments — and for action — for more meaningfully connected, livable communities.
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.
We are excited to see the high level of understanding in the Surgeon General’s Step It Up call to action last week, to promote walking and walkable communities. The Surgeon General noted, “Improving walkability means that communities are created or enhanced to make it safe and easy to walk and that pedestrian activity is encouraged for all people. The purpose of the Call to Action is to increase walking across the United States by calling for improved access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll and by creating a culture that supports these activities for people of all ages and abilities.”
Cheerleaders for American business used to get peeved when cynics contorted a quote by General Motors CEO Charles Erwin Wilson in 1953. The popular, misinterpreted version: “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” What Wilson actually said: “I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”
Looking back over my years of writing for Placeshakers, I notice two themes that keep surfacing: First, we’re better off taking an active role in shaping the forces of community change than we are pretending that immunity to change is a legitimate or viable option; and second, connected communities are far better positioned to weather change, mitigate negative impacts, and seize opportunity than factionalized ones. Such connections, taken collectively, form the bedrock of what we call “resilience.”
Basically, working towards something beats working against something and communities where people know, trust and rely upon one another are far more effective at getting it done.
This is the second of two parts addressing Hurricane Katrina 10 years after the storm. The first looked at issues in New Orleans. This one focuses on one hoped-for innovation in the storm’s wake in Coastal Mississippi.
Right about now, a couple and their two children are getting much-needed affordable housing help via a move into one side of a cool-looking modular duplex in Mobile, Alabama.
Extraordinary strides have been made in the advancement of placemaking over the past twenty-five years.
Think about it. In the years prior, the term “placemaking” wasn’t even in common use by developers, designers and planners. Nor were terms such as form-based code, new urbanism, smart growth, transect, charrette, visual preference survey, traditional neighborhood development, transit-oriented development, sprawl repair/suburban retrofit, return on infrastructure investment analysis, tactical urbanism, WalkScore, complete streets, context sensitive thoroughfare design, LEED-ND, light imprint infrastructure, WalkUP, the original green, lean urbanism, the high cost of free parking, etc.
I guess it says something about where I am on life’s conception-to-compost journey that the phrase “Ten Years After” evokes a forgettable British group from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. But, hey, let’s at least credit Alvin Lee with capturing a timeless sentiment in his lyrics for the band’s 1971 hit, “I’d Love to Change the World”:
I’d love to change the world
But I don’t know what to do
So I’ll leave it up to you
Kinda resonates through the ages, no?
As I reported earlier this year, more and more businesses are choosing to locate in downtowns and walkable suburban locations, in part to attract younger workers who prefer a less car-dependent, more urban lifestyle.
In some cases, as with hospitality giant Marriott, the preference is being expressed in planned moves from sprawling suburbs to transit-accessible places with city amenities. In others, such as with several major corporations in the wealthy Columbus suburb of Dublin, Ohio, the businesses are staying put while, at the companies’ behest, the suburb itself is being remade into a more walkable and urban place – a place with a “there,” to borrow Gertrude Stein’s famous phrase. In still other instances, entrepreneurs are choosing to set up shop in previously disinvested in-town neighborhoods.
Even before last week’s official release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, advocates and defenders were honing their talking points. In April, liberal Catholic author Gary Wills upped the ante on what was anticipated — accurately, it turns out — as the the pontiff’s vigorous critique of global inequities exacerbated by climate change:
“The fact that the poor get poorer in this process is easily dismissed, denied, or derided,” said Wills. “The poor have no voice. Till now. If the pope were not a plausible voice for the poor, his opponents would not be running so scared.”