The Inuit: A view from the top of the world

Much of what we write about here on PlaceShakers has to do with dense urbanism and clustered rural development, as an alternative to auto-centric suburban development patterns that have dominated North America for the last 70 years. What we don’t talk about as much is that a big part of our raison d’etre is these compact patterns save our farmlands, rangelands, and wilderness from being gobbled up as quickly, and that walkable places reduce vehicle miles traveled and help with our global commons problem of climate change.

For the rest of July, I intend to turn a focused eye on rural settlement patterns, environmental issues, and preservation, thanks to the Heart of the Arctic expedition I’m embarking on with my family this week. Follow my husband, Stephen Borys, for the cultural perspective, as the Director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The WAG holds in trust the world’s largest Inuit art collection and has plans underway for a new Inuit Art Centre.

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It’s a Trend: More Businesses Are Choosing Downtowns and Walkable Locations

Kaid-BenfieldAs I reported earlier this year, more and more businesses are choosing to locate in downtowns and walkable suburban locations, in part to attract younger workers who prefer a less car-dependent, more urban lifestyle.

In some cases, as with hospitality giant Marriott, the preference is being expressed in planned moves from sprawling suburbs to transit-accessible places with city amenities. In others, such as with several major corporations in the wealthy Columbus suburb of Dublin, Ohio, the businesses are staying put while, at the companies’ behest, the suburb itself is being remade into a more walkable and urban place – a place with a “there,” to borrow Gertrude Stein’s famous phrase. In still other instances, entrepreneurs are choosing to set up shop in previously disinvested in-town neighborhoods.

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Pope Goes Global: Let’s talk local

Even before last week’s official release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, advocates and defenders were honing their talking points. In April, liberal Catholic author Gary Wills upped the ante on what was anticipated — accurately, it turns out — as the the pontiff’s vigorous critique of global inequities exacerbated by climate change:

“The fact that the poor get poorer in this process is easily dismissed, denied, or derided,” said Wills. “The poor have no voice. Till now. If the pope were not a plausible voice for the poor, his opponents would not be running so scared.”

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“General Welfare” for the Next Generation

Lately I’ve been thinking about “health, safety, and general welfare” — the basis by which zoning is typically legitimized and measured — and wondering just how great a disconnect needs to form between our purported values and our land use regulations before we admit that something’s not working.

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Household Solar Popularity Builds, As Does Utility Industry Discomfort

Kaid-BenfieldA couple of weeks ago, my wife Sharon and I were out for a long neighborhood walk. This is not unusual for us, but on this particular day we took a route we hadn’t walked in quite some time. I was pleased to notice that one of the traditional, colonial-style houses we encountered was sporting solar panels on its roof. And then we noticed another. And another. And yet more, so many that we lost count. Not every house, certainly, but enough in this particular section of northwest D.C. to make a strong impression.

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Green in the City: A recipe for mental and environmental health

Kaid-BenfieldThe National Arbor Day Foundation has a simple app on its website that allows visitors to see how a city changes as it adds tree cover and other vegetation. Using a little sliding tool, one can gradually change the illustration from one with few trees to one with abundant trees. The difference is striking: everyone I know would prefer to live in the greener city.

I love the Arbor Day app, but this is not a new subject for me. I have long maintained that the fates of nature and cities are intricately related: Nature needs cities, a truth still not sufficiently appreciated in the world of environmental advocacy, because compact urban and suburban communities reduce development pressure on the natural and rural landscape.

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