A Comprehensive Accounting of Economic and Environmental Performance: Who’s in?

For the last several decades, North American cities have used growth as a primary economic engine. Increasingly less dense new growth is subsidized by the more dense core, but requires a growth rate that is not supportable by the market cycle in most places today. As growth rates stalled, decreased, or went negative, city budget deficits have escalated despite cutting key city services.

Particularly in Sunburnt Cities and Rust Belt Cities, Smart Decline is replacing Smart Growth. Cities face a new imperative of behaving more like businesses, and less like ponzi schemes.

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Why Placemaking Matters: The ROI of Cities

Thanks to all of you who made last week’s Why Placemaking Matters: What’s in it for me? conversation so interesting. Robert Steuteville, editor of Better! Cities & Towns, jumped in with his own elevator pitch that beautifully connects much of the wonk-speak that I listed last week. Kaid Benfield from Washington D.C. and Brent Bellamy from Winnipeg both started interesting Twitter conversations, which also sparked a rumination on minimum densities from Winnipeg developer, Ranjjan Developments. Continue Reading

Why Placemaking Matters: What’s in it for me?

When a mayoral candidate from my city wrote me to ask me to repeat in writing what I’d said the night before, I realize I need to de-wonk and make my elevator speech more memorable. Why does city planning matter to people who aren’t urban designer types? If I could take an extra five minutes of your time, I’m interested in hearing each of your pitches, in the comments below. Here’s mine, thanks in part to countless conversations with many of you: Continue Reading

Lean Urbanism: A century practice?

Spending time in Victoria Beach, I’m again enjoying one of Manitoba’s best examples of Lean Urbanism, experienced with family and friends. Many of you heard me talk of the history and practice of this place last year. This 100-year old cottage community, accessible to most ages on foot and bike, has much to share with the nascent Lean Urbanism movement.

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Are We There Yet? Affordability in the ‘New Normal’

Pretty soon we’ll have something like a decade of experience in losing our innocence about housing affordability. Isn’t it about time we got over it?

For a good part of the last century, we trained generations of housing consumers and housing enablers to buy and sell into what Chuck Marohn calls a “growth Ponzi scheme.” It was fun while it lasted, allowing a lot of us to postpone paying the tab for our delusions to some unspecified date in an imaginary future. Then we got to the real future.

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Urbanists Soak Up Buffalo: PlaceMakers empty their notebooks

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.

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Placemaking Gets Freaky

I’m a freak magnet.

For reasons unknown, the more, err, colorful characters of the public realm seem to find my personal space especially attractive.

If I go to a midday matinée and another patron — let’s say an agitated mumbler in a trench coat with shoes crudely fashioned out of car wash sponges — joins me in an otherwise empty theater, that person will sit in the seat directly behind mine. Which he’ll then begin kicking.

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Let Love Rule: Resilience in Mesquite

Andrew-Von-MaurCrossing Campo Street from downtown Las Cruces into the Mesquite Historic District is like crossing between two urban worlds that are often misunderstood.

To the west is one of the country’s textbook examples of everything that could go wrong with federally subsidized Urban Renewal, including the obligatory seas of parking, corporate CBD architecture, vacant properties, and a one-way loop that locals derisively refer to as “the race track.” The stunning aerial view from 1974 shows the city after its failed open-heart surgery. Even today, after a heroic struggle to dismantle the virtually abandoned pedestrian mall and reinstitute automobile-access on Main Street, the pain of this flattening experience lingers on. The place is deserted on a beautiful September evening.

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The Road to Prosperity: Real-Time Approaches to Economic Improvement

Guest-ShakerAcross America, too many people believe that “no one will get out of their cars.” The newest data based on the 2012 American Community Survey, shows “it ain’t so,” even for small cities and their surrounding areas. The national trend in the US is a drop of almost 1 percent per year in passenger vehicle-miles-traveled or VMT, driven by the high price of transportation generally and more specifically related to the need to drive, a function of the increased distance between people and what they do. People have been driving about 1% per year less for a while now.

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