We’re All Connected: Too bad more is not necessarily the same as better

Roughly two hundred years ago, working in a little Bavarian workshop, Samuel Soemmering created a crude device that, refined by others, would revolutionize communications for the emerging industrial age: the telegraph.

A hundred years thereafter, post-Victorians began to ponder its evolution — wireless telegraphy — in which individuals would receive telegraph messages, printed out on ticker tape, via personal antenna.

And what was their take on such innovation? Did they savor the prospect of a new age of enlightenment, empowered by ever-improving access to information and to each other?

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Backyard Chickens: WWI-Era Solution to Almost Everything

Over the course of the past six or eight decades, certain things have come to define, in part, our modern existence: Making a living out of your home has been increasingly restricted, especially in predominantly residential areas; the production of goods has fallen to fewer and larger hands; and we’ve now heard just about all we can stand about the helpless generation, with their legion of helicopter parents herding them about.

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Seven Placemaking Wishes for 2013

With the dawning of 2013, the interwebs are awash in lists detailing exactly what to watch out for in the coming year and, in a way, this is one more of those. But not exactly. Though firmly rooted in placemaking trends that have gained notable traction over the past year, this list contains not so much what we’re going to see as it does what we’re hoping to see.

As far as we’re concerned, the communities we love will be better served in 2013 with:

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Gathering Places: Providers of comfort and joy

To wish you the happiest of holidays, I’d like to share some recent thoughts about the importance of gathering places both in the public and private realm, particularly as it relates to children, solace, and song. In celebration of the season, those places — when well planned and cultivated — become particularly poignant.

Take private porches, for example. My son’s grades two and three Caroling Club trudged happily through a couple feet of snow this week, in our traditional neighborhood. Their goal? Just to sing and share some joy — no funds were raised, although the last house did produce hot coco and doughnut holes.

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Solid Buildings Last: A tale of public housing, reborn

Earlier this month, as Hazel mentioned in her city-as-running-buddy post last week, our travels took us to Wilmington, North Carolina, where we were doing some long-term master planning for a neighboring town. Part of that job involved a tour around the area, scoping out different models and precedents, and that’s when we stumbled into South Front, the subject for today’s post.

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To Those Proud and Exuberant Promoters of Town, City and State: I say thank you!


In this extended holiday essay, explorer / spelunker / observer John Watts delivers an everyman’s take on Chesterton’s oft-noted adage: Places don’t become loved because they are great; they become great because they are loved. Does your town invite “word-of-mouth walking?”

I am always profoundly moved and impacted by those special strangers I’ve had the privilege to meet in the course of my travels who go out of their way to not only answer basic informational or directional questions with great kindness, but then take that extra step and leap of faith to evangelize and bring to life their town or city. They are promoters and boosters extraordinaire that combine warm interpersonal skills with a great contagious affection and pride for their local digs.

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Homelessness: Testing the boundaries of “health, safety and welfare”

Homelessness is an everyday issue that gets a little additional attention during the holidays. A recent HUD report estimated that, on a single night, 633,782 people are homeless across the United States. What surprised me and others, however, was the fact that, after New York and Los Angeles, it’s San Diego, our 8th largest city (and my hometown), that has the country’s third highest number of homeless. And a too high percentage of them are military veterans.

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Walmart and the Quest for a Better Mousetrap

“I don’t shop at Walmart.”

Talk about a loaded phrase. Five simple words, but issue them collectively and you effectively open a Pandora’s Box of suggestion: Where you stand economically. Where you stand politically. How you feel about the environment. Or localism. Or capitalism.

It’s like erecting a giant movie screen upon which other people immediately begin projecting their own principles; or their beliefs; their biases; their satisfactions; their frustrations.

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Creative Placemaking:
From here until now

We’ve been talking for the last few weeks about how happiness and health are generated or depleted by the way our neighbourhoods, towns, cities, and rural landscapes are developed – here, here, and here. We’ve been discussing these ideas in national terms, looking at indices and trends. During this study, I couldn’t help but reflect on the elements of place that make me the happiest, personally.

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