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

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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Housing Policy Repair for a New Era: Let’s review

Since the data keep rolling in, confirming changes we should have anticipated even before the Great Recession, maybe it’s time to revisit the tasks ahead for communities if they’re to avoid flunking the tests of livability and prosperity in the 21st century.

Consider:

Though a narrow sliver of the population seems to have emerged from the recent economic unpleasantness richer than they were going in, the rest of us have to come to terms with the idea we aren’t as smart or wealthy as we thought. What’s more, we sense we aren’t likely to improve our financial situation much without help from the lottery or late life adoption by Russian oligarchs.

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CNU21: Insights and Highlights from Salt Lake City

Git ‘Er Done | Hazel Borys
This year’s CNU was all about doing again, unlike the past few years where we’ve focused on stop-gap measures to redirect our investment choices to more resilient patterns. Looks like they might be starting to pay off. Still, we have plenty of hard work ahead to remove both legal and financial hurdles.

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Don’t Get Mixed Up on Mixed-Use

Citizens, politicians, and planning officials have embraced the need to allow for walkable neighborhoods across North America and mixed-use is an essential component for achieving walkability. However, the term mixed-use has held different meanings in different places over the past 40 years or so.

For example, mixed-use zones have usually had to declare a primary and secondary use with both use’s development standards redundantly stacked together and the primary use, such as residential, controlling the building’s configuration, orientation and disposition — thereby marginalizing the building’s ability to effectively host other commercial or office uses. Also, a mixed-use zoning designation meant that a land owner had the right to ‘choose’ a specific use, such as either commercial or residential. While the zoning district had a mix of uses, the implementation was single-use.

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Seven Placemaking Wishes for 2013

With the dawning of 2013, the interwebs are awash in lists detailing exactly what to watch out for in the coming year and, in a way, this is one more of those. But not exactly. Though firmly rooted in placemaking trends that have gained notable traction over the past year, this list contains not so much what we’re going to see as it does what we’re hoping to see.

As far as we’re concerned, the communities we love will be better served in 2013 with:

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Chickens, Eggs and Economic Development: Imaginary assumptions = imaginary outcomes

My favorite explain-everything joke is the one Woody Allen, as Alvy Singer, recollects in a voice-over at the end of Annie Hall:

“This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy, he thinks he’s a chicken,’ and uh, the doctor says, ‘well why don’t you turn him in?’ And the guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’”

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