Why City Issues are Also Environmental Issues

Kaid-BenfieldCities need nature, as I’ve written in an earlier essay. But what is not so well understood is that nature also needs cities. There is simply no way we can protect and maintain a beautiful, thriving, natural and rural landscape outside of cities if we continue to spread highways and suburban sprawl across the countryside.  Healthy, robust, beautiful cities where people want to live are critical to the protection of nature.

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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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The (Irrational) Criminalization of Walking

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, if only there was a concise resource available that articulates key reasons why walking is so much less prevalent in the modern age; why this presents unanticipated threats to safety, health, the environment, child development, and social equity; and what we in our communities can do to effectively advocate for change; and that argues the case in a manner compelling to folks across the political spectrum, then today’s your lucky day. Because yesterday marked the release of “The Criminalization of Walking” by law professor and congenial urbanist, Michael Lewyn, and it’s got all the tools you need to restore common sense, wherever you live.

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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

Is placemaking a “new environmentalism”?

Kaid-BenfieldCan placemaking – in short, the building or strengthening of physical community fabric to create great human habitat – be a “new environmentalism”?  The question is posed by a provocative short essay, which I first discovered in 2011. Written by Ethan Kent of the Project for Public Spaces, the article continues to make the rounds. The essay influenced my own writing (“The importance of place to sustainability”), and I’m returning to it here because the issues Ethan has raised continue to be important.

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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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The Trifecta: Urbanism, architecture, and nature

We often blog on the benefits of nature integrated into urbanism and wellbeing outcomes of walkability. The real trifecta is when walkable urbanism, human-scale architecture, and nature come together via placemaking. A recent study from the University of Warwick points out that a scenic view delivers equal health benefits to access to nature: “Cohesion of architecture and design boosts people’s health and happiness, not just the number of parks and trees.”

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Nature Cities: Wellness and public space

The idea of rewilding started out as a movement to conserve, restore, and reconnect natural areas, and has expanded to how we reintegrate ancient practices into our modern lives. From a flat-footed squat to full emersion in nature to structured programs like ReWild Portland, the idea of letting go of some of our domestication to reconnect with nature is compelling. From a city planning perspective, the human rewilding ideas that interest me the most are the inspiration of cities, towns and villages that are making nature more accessible to our everyday habits. And the paybacks for those efforts. When nature is integrated into urbanism, wellness surges.
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Finding Tucson’s Lovable Places

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.
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Inclusive Cities: Inclusion equals diversity plus equity

The placemakers way is to enable the triple bottom line of resilience: environment, economy, and society, trying to balance the needs of people, planet and profit. And yet it’s always easier to measure the impacts of our collective choices on profit — or even on the planet — than it is on people. We’ve blogged extensively about happiness, with equity as an essential component. Social equity has been defined as equal opportunity in a safe and healthy environment. Social equity requires fair, just and equitable public policy. Social equity is a generator of social capital.
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