Benchmarks: Places on the move measure up

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.

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The Next Frontier for Compact Walkability? It’s gotta be the burbs

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.”

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Retail: Walkable urban primer with southwest inspiration

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.

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Makers Gonna Make: makerspace v2

Do you have the hands-on gene? If not, the hottest new topic in neurology – epigenetics – suggests that your environment may tweak your genetic tendencies. If you find yourself in a place conducive to creative experimentation, you may just have to put your hands on something. The burgeoning makerspace movement is all about imagination plus engineering.

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Fix Housing Supply, Save the City: Is it really that easy?

Planning wonks might have felt all warm inside when they noticed zoning topics wedging their way into broader conversations about community affordability and equity. Bring it on. Finally.

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Walkability: Good money after bad

Let’s talk about dollars spent. Millions of dollars. 7.2 million dollars specifically, of which 5.5 million came directly from the local economy. The goal? At least according to local leadership, it was to increase quality of life via improved walkability.

First, a caveat: This isn’t going to be one of those pieces denouncing government spending as inherently bad. But neither will it be one that suggests all is well when spending gets characterized as an investment rather than a mere expenditure.

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Making Better Places to Fail: Take those jobs and . . (Part II)

First, let’s review:

Of all the sub-topics in urban planning and design, the ones likely to generate the most anxiety are those where land use planning intersects with economic development. Old-school economic developers signal their nervousness pretty quickly when they sense planning strategies are heading in directions that might keep them from promising infrastructure goodies or regulatory exemptions to firms they’re wooing.

No parking in front or drive-through capacities? Zoning that pulls buildings up to the street? Well, there goes business investment in our community. And you know what that means: Fewer JOBS for our people.

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The Unkickable Can: Towards a ‘Livability Synthesis’

Maybe it’s a brief glimpse, inspired by Pope Francis’s visit, of a collective will to be better humans. Or maybe it’s just the math. But I’m feeling more hopeful about future traction for arguments — and for action — for more meaningfully connected, livable communities.

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