When Coffee Came to London (Not a Starbuck’s story)

Around 1650, coffee came to London. The refreshing and slightly habit forming beverage was a big hit. A new kind of non-alcoholic public house — the coffee house — was quickly invented.

London was a walking city, only the wealthy and businesses had personal transportation. And the weather was famously chancey. So a smart entrepreneur came up with a way of scouting locations.

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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, Here the Day After That

They may not be new but I was recently introduced to a series of comics by English artist Grayson Perry taking on the world of creative arts, particularly one entitled “Gentrification.”

The tale is familiar. Old industry fades, artists take possession of the infrastructure, ragtag commerce blossoms and, ultimately, evolves into something only fleetingly reminiscent of what it once was. Laid out by Perry, it’s biting and funny stuff that deftly pushes all the cynical buttons we’ve adopted as self-defense mechanisms against a world in a constant state of flux.

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Comp Plan for Westeros? Same issues, more swordplay

Frustrated with efforts to pull your little kingdom together for long term strategizing? It could be worse. You could be caught up in the public outreach drama in Westeros. The battles renew on Sunday night, when HBO debuts season seven of “Game of Thrones.”

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Livability, Division, Exclusion and Other Naughty Words

This is what we’ve come to: An escalation in urban property values and cost of living so extreme in some quarters that there are now those who, with a straight face, argue against efforts to improve neighborhoods. Don’t bring those improvements goes the often implied but less frequently articulated point of view, as improvement increases quality of life, quality of life increases desirability, desirability increases demand, and demand brings newcomers and drives up cost.

That’s how the process goes, for sure. You’ll get no argument from me in that regard. But surely we’re capable of something better than leave suffering areas suffering so they can stay off the radar.

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Beuvron-en-Auge: 15th century town planning stands the test of time

Every month or so, we add to our collection of lessons from livable places. These are the neighbourhoods where walking the streets and looking carefully at the urban forms provide insights into what makes for lovability over time. Today, I’d like to consider Beuvron-en-Auge, deemed one of the most beautiful villages in France by Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. In the heart of cider country, the half-timber construction and picturesque Norman streets suggest a timeless beauty that belies the recent struggle for historic preservation and restoration. Continue Reading

CNU 25 Seattle: Highlights from the silver anniversary

Last week was the 25th annual Congress for the New Urbanism, where 1,400 city planners, architects, developers, economists, and mayors from around the world gathered to discuss the future of cities. Hosted in collaboration with the Urban Land Institute, comprised of an additional 6,000 developers and builders, the two events brought significant inspiration and insight to those working in the city building trenches. Here are a few of the ideas that resonated the most with me, along with some of my favourite spots in downtown Seattle, where the “unboxed” conferences were held. All images are clickable for a larger view, and have CreativeCommons ShareAlike License with Attribution to Hazel Borys. Continue Reading

Florida Man Fails to Fix Everything, Reconsiders Position

You know magical thinking about cities is fading when one of the gurus says stuff like this:

“My optimism has been tempered and I’ve become more of a realist.”

That’s Richard Florida, the guy who inspired a (mostly unsuccessful) stampede to hipness 15 years ago with the publication of The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life.

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Feared Dead, Math’s Back: Planning nerds vindicated

Planning for the future tends to be a humiliating exercise. Whatever’s headed our way is both inevitable and unpredictable. Yet because it brings with it the consequences of decisions we made or ducked in the past and now have to manage or endure in the present, we have to take a stab at decisions that are coherent and well-informed.

Or not.

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Placemaking: Geek niche or the root of pretty much everything?

When I first developed my interest in placemaking twenty years ago it was driven by design. I was a brand advertising person which, by necessity, involves the study of behavior. Not just of people but of their context.

Where and how people choose to live, I learned, provided a lot of insight into the kinds of things advertisers care about. Circumstances. Values. Aspirations. The things people choose to buy to get through their everyday lives.

It doesn’t tell you everything, of course, and for every broad stroke there’s no shortage of individuals who defy the generalization. But still, when you’re observing people in the aggregate, there’s a lot of content there.

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What Makes a Good Main Street Work?

Shortly before this essay’s original posting, I participated in a terrific conference called From Main Street to Eco-Districts: Greening Our Communities, hosted by a chapter of the American Institute for Architects in Corning, New York. Held a block off of Corning’s own, magnificent “Main Street” (actually named Market Street), and including many of the people who have helped make that street so successful, the conference started me thinking about the whole idea of Main Streets and what makes the best of them such delights to experience.

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