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.
Not so long ago, Kristen Jeffers (who blogs as the Black Urbanist) shared an article over at Afropunk called “The Caucasian’s Guide to Black Neighborhoods.” It’s very, very funny, and particularly useful reading for anyone who’s more interested in our ability to build meaningful communities than in the more prevalent discussion of who, in any particular place, does or does not belong.
I was inspired and delighted last week by working in Tucson and Marana, Arizona. Whenever we are writing character-based zoning, one of the first things we do is a regional tour to analyze the DNA of the most loved places. Places cannot be resilient unless they can be loved. It’s one of the basic principles of the Original Green, which says that buildings must be lovable, durable, adaptable, and frugal, and places must be nourishable, accessible, serviceable, and securable, in order to last and thrive. Extracting that lovable DNA and allowing it by right injects a sense of place into new development, as well as infill and redevelopment.
Reprising: “Can’t we all just get along?”
Answer: Probably not. And we should be thinking about why and how that informs what we do to help neighborhoods and cities adapt to change.
Let’s pick an example unlikely to trigger the usual arguments over race, ethnicity and inequality, yet one that might be more helpful because of the absence of those factors. I give you Burning Man, the annual event in the Nevada desert where some 70,000 folks gather to test the limits of art, collaborative culture and diversity. On that last count, the one about tolerance for differences, a line was apparently crossed a few weeks back when one set of Burners decided others didn’t belong in the neighborhood.
“Mom, I need to walk 10k today,” coming from my 11-year old this morning almost gave me whiplash, as I turned to look at him to ensure an alien wasn’t inhabiting his body. In fact, there was one, if you view Pokémon as other-worldly. The playful new video game, Pokémon GO, is distracting kids and grown-ups alike with an augmented reality (AR) that requires walking with friends, visiting places of cultural and economic significance, and “capturing” Pokémon as they appear on the sidewalk by “hitting” them with virtual balls. By level five of the game, you’re able to join a team and visit local virtual “gyms” to practice or spar. The walking 10k comment was about hatching Pokémon eggs, each of which require walking either two, five, or ten kilometers.
The times, shall we say, are not ideal for that conversation we keep talking about.
You know, the conversation we feel we need whenever something scary happens. That ever-elusive, rational talk that includes everyone and ends with, if not a group hug, then at least a group understanding.
As spring tempts us to pick up the pace of our outdoor activities, it’s clear that not all places have equal footing. Those well-positioned to draw us out into health-boosting active transportation are enjoying all sorts of benefits. City planners across North America are trying hard to even the playing field. The 2016 Benchmarking Report for Bicycling and Walking in the United States came out earlier this month, and if you haven’t taken the time to read it yet, here are some of the important highlights in this biennial review published by the Alliance for Biking & Walking.
A recent post over on Comstock’s reignited consideration of the word “placemaking,” sparking along with it a little renewed interest in this piece below, which originally ran back in February, 2013.
Given that we as a firm have officially been “placemakers” (on legal documents and everything!) since 2003, we unsurprisingly have our own thoughts on what this rather ill-defined word means and how it relates to the streets, neighborhoods, interactions, and politics of the communities we love.
We don’t claim to be last word on the matter, of course. The important thing is that the work gets done, whatever it’s called. But enjoy the take nonetheless.
Earlier this month, writing about successful neighborhood planning, my fellow PlaceMaker Howard Blackson used the term “placeshaker” as a catch-all for the grass roots engagement efforts that empower, but don’t necessarily define, placemaking.
This weekend in Miami, the Congress for the New Urbanism is staging one of the periodic Councils it uses to focus perspectives and best practices on topics of growing concern to CNU members and fellow travelers. This one is all about building “a Better Burb.”
The idea, says CNU CEO Lynn Richards, is “to leverage the momentum from the revival of the city.”
Local and regional governments in outlying areas, says Richards, are beginning to recognize the advantages of reversing sprawl — and the risks of not acting. “And they’re asking for tools and strategies to start or accelerate their suburban transformation. That’s what we’ll be focusing on this weekend.”
A couple weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of working with Bob Gibbs in Las Cruces, New Mexico, looking at ways to help downtown outperform the suburbs, helping Main Street be more profitable than strip malls. The top lessons were to nurture unique historic character in walkable formats and don’t build leasable space that you can’t lease. For downtown to have a critical mass, the goal is to capture 20% of the retail market share. That’s 10 times the current average of the 2% that most downtowns in the U.S. capture today.