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.”
Mo’ money, mo’ problems. That’s what Biggie says. Me, I lack the net worth to fully test the premise, but I tend to agree anyways. Because it’s something that plays out at the community level over and over again.
Too often, people are conditioned to believe that, with the right vision, leadership or hard work, a community can prosper and, in time, overcome its problems. That you can exist at a point where you’re down, come together in response, then ultimately reach some idealized state where your challenging times are behind you.
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.
Lately I’ve been thinking about “health, safety, and general welfare” — the basis by which zoning is typically legitimized and measured — and wondering just how great a disconnect needs to form between our purported values and our land use regulations before we admit that something’s not working.