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.
The 22nd annual gathering of the CNU wrapped up Saturday night, June 7, in Buffalo. We’re looking forward to the recordings at cnu.org over the next few weeks to fill the inevitable gaps, since the competing sessions and hallway conversations presented the usual embarrassment of riches.
Rather than go for a tidy narrative, let’s just share some random observations and sound bites from the four days.
[Originally run Sept. 17, 2010] Hi. I’m Hazel and I was a Sprawlaholic.
If you’ve been reading awhile you may recall that, with the loving help of my friends and family, I went cold turkey, dumping life in a Florida subdivision for the intense urban charms of downtown Winnipeg. It was a life-changing move with no regrets. Yet, as good as it’s been, I’m finding that puritanical denial of guilty pleasures is sometimes out of sync with life’s reality.
And by reality, I mean kids.
Throughout my professional career, whenever a new or innovative approach is taken on a development project, its title automatically defaults to that of ‘Pilot Project.’ It occurs so often that I am changing my title to ‘Pilot Project Pilot’ as I would then be involved with pretty much every development proposal out there. Due to overuse, I suspect that conventional ‘Pilot Projects’ will fade away, just as the terms Smart Growth, Watershed Planning, and Lifestyle Centers have.
Want to get some sleep tonight? How about snuggling up with your local Development Code? Read any section, such as Sign Violations and Enforcement Procedures, and I’m willing to bet you’ll be out before you get past the Statement of Purpose.
That’s a problem, because such volumes don’t exist to cure insomnia. They exist to engage us in the collaborative project of creating our shared surroundings. That means something and, while I understand that Comprehensive Plans, Zoning, and Subdivision Ordinances, by virtue of their lofty stature, might make for poor everyday reading, we all suffer when they end up so… tedious.
“Our life is frittered away by detail … simplify, simplify.” – Thoreau
In her September 2011 blog, Special Districts Getting All Mixed Up, Hazel Borys questioned why we treat large format areas with distinctive uses, such as manufacturing or aviation, as “special” to the point of exclusion from our efforts to integrate all urban land uses and activities into a spatially coherent whole, ending with an inspiring contemporary example of planned “strict integration” of land uses in the corridors and boulevards connecting the El Paso International Airport to the city.
I’m big on local. Not because I hate Walmart and 3,000 mile Caesar salads but because, as I see it, communities built on human-scaled, interdependent systems are better suited to taking on the challenges and opportunities presented by time.
That’s why, when it comes to the decisions that most directly impact day-to-day quality of life, I tend to advocate for smaller, more local, more responsive increments of control. Things like neighborhoods, NPUs, districts, and towns.
The world around us, whatever form it takes, comes to reflect the priorities of the people setting policy, making rules, and allocating funds. The more those people understand the nuances of context and maintain a shared stake in the outcome, the better things tend to be.
Git ‘Er Done | Hazel Borys
This year’s CNU was all about doing again, unlike the past few years where we’ve focused on stop-gap measures to redirect our investment choices to more resilient patterns. Looks like they might be starting to pay off. Still, we have plenty of hard work ahead to remove both legal and financial hurdles.
I tend to take the road less traveled.
For whatever reason, conventional approaches have never interested me. And the process I came up with for my city’s comp plan was no different.
Why? Well, first off, conventionalism leads to….. “BORING!” (Yell it out like no one can hear you!)
The other day, I was riding my bike from a deeply walkable, bikeable neighbourhood to a more auto-dominated environment, and I was struck again by the tactile response when you’re walking or biking through this change. In the walkable neighbourhood, fellow cyclists were in the streets or in bike lanes, mixing safely with the traffic-calmed cars and frequent pedestrians. But as I moved into the autocentric roads, otherwise law-abiding cyclists take to the sidewalks out of sheer terror at the fast moving cars that often fail to see them.
And pedestrians? They become scarce to nonexistent.