“Best Practices Guide” Debuts to Glowing Reviews

4th Edition of New Urban News Book Just Issued

Here’s what got our attention: Miami architect/author/New Urbanist provocateur Steve Mouzon says the 2009 “Best Practices Guide“ from the New Urban News “just might be the most useful single book on the New Urbanism I have ever seen.” (Read Steve’s complete review here). That’s hefty praise coming from Mouzon, who is famously cranky about architectural details and planning practices.

The latest edition of the "New Urbanism Best Practices Guide" reflects the movement's ever increasing, and ever-improving, body of knowledge.

The latest edition of the "New Urbanism Best Practices Guide" reflects the movement's ever increasing, and ever-improving, body of knowledge.

The book, by NUN editors Robert Steuteville and Philip Langdon and “special contributors,” runs more than 400 pages and utilizes some 800 illustrations and tables. Which bolsters the claim that this is indeed “the definitive reference on new urban ideas, practices, and projects.”

Among the new chapters are ones on architectural styles and building types, land development, parking, and health and aging. And the editors have revised and updated chapters that have to do with revitalizing cities and towns, retail, the workplace, civic spaces, marketing, finance, transit, and affordability.

The price: $129, plus shipping and handling; $99, plus shipping and handling for New Urban New subscribers and members of CNU. Student price is $79, plus shipping and handling. Download the order form from the NUN website.

- Ben Brown 

Katrina Cottages Finding Traction on Gulf Coast

Neighborhood Sites in the Works

Finally, after more than three and a half years, one of the key New Urbanist efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is beginning to grow legs. And perhaps more importantly, the models being created have implications for affordable housing everywhere. (In the interest of full disclosure: I’ve been a consultant on various Katrina Cottage projects, including the Cottage Square effort covered below. Also: Fellow PlaceMaker Scott Doyon and I revisited lessons-learned since the Mississippi Renewal Forum with our 2008 update of the official charrette website).

The Katrina Cottage movement, born during the Renewal Forum in Biloxi in October of 2005, put forward a series of designs for affordable, storm-worthy structures small in scale but beautifully proportioned and in keeping with the Mississippi coastal vernacular. The idea was to offer emergency housing designed and built so well that they could transition to permanent dwellings, as opposed to FEMA trailers that often ended up in landfills. Read about the history of the KC effort here.

Because of its mandate to focus on emergency management issues and not permanent housing, FEMA resisted investing directly in Katrina Cottages but was nudged into an alternative housing experiment because of pressure from the politically influential Mississippi Congressional delegation. Louisiana, which lost even more homes during the flooding aftermath of Katrina than Mississippi lost in the storm surge, got part of the appropriation, as well. And the two states pursued separate tracks for creating cottages inspired by the work of the Forum architects.

Mississippi designed its own Mississippi Cottages and contracted manufactured housing companies to build them. And while the designs didn’t measure up to the standards set by the Forum architectural team, they came close enough to be embraced by folks desperate to escape from FEMA trailers and to appear capable of taking the next step envisioned by New Urbanist designers in 2005: Transitioning to permanent dwellings in existing neighborhoods and serving as building blocks for cottage clusters in new projects.

What stalled the transition was resistance from citizens who were stuck in the perception that anything made in a factory was a mobile home. So they pressured planning commissions and local officials to keep the cottages out, even, ironically, out of neighborhoods zoned for mobile home parks. In its April 2009 issue, Governing magazine lays out the debate and features one of the reasons the tide is changing: Bruce Tolar’s Cottage Square.

Mississippi Cottages in Cottage Square (Harry Connolly/Enterprise)

Mississippi Cottages in Cottage Square (Harry Connolly/Enterprise)

Tolar, an Ocean Springs, MS, architect, was on the original MRF architectural team and took to heart Andres Duany’s admonition to create model Katrina Cottage neighborhoods. The Cottage Square, created by a development team Tolar assembled, is a transit-oriented, mixed-use infill project on two acres a half-mile from Ocean Springs’ historic downtown. The site is home to six Katrina Cottages, including the first one, Marianne Cusato’s “little yellow house” that was such a big hit at the 2006 International Builders Show. And now it also has eight of the state’s Mississippi Cottages permanently set on foundations, massaged into neighborhood friendliness by Tolar’s building crews, and rented to locals displaced by Katrina. Go here to see how the Mississippi Cottages were wedged into Cottage Square in time for the third anniversary of the storm last year.

As more and more citizens and elected officials get the chance to tour the Square, official resistance to the cottages, including the manufactured Mississippi Cottages, is shrinking. “Most people don’t get this place,” Tolar told Governing, “until they come here.”

Increasingly, they’re getting it. The architect is now working with non-profits, local governments, and private developers to place as many as 200 cottage units in site-planned neighborhoods over the next six months. Some of the sites are likely to contain three or four times the number of units as Cottage Square and may inspire, at long last, an acceleration in the manufacture and on-site construction of safe, affordable housing in neighborhoods built back better than they were before the storm.

Tolar is also getting attention beyond the storm zone. A visiting group from MIT was by recently, and the affordable housing non-profits like Enterprise are spreading the word about potential adaptations of the Cottage Square model for other communities. In the area of the New Austerity, living small and smart could catch on in a big way.

The Katrina Cottage example may provide “recovery housing for the new economy,” Tolar told Governing. “Maybe it’s the home we can all afford. When people ask me why I spend so much time on these cottages, I say it’s because I may be living in one.”

– Ben Brown

DPZ Promotes Mall Makeovers

Firm Suggests Model Legislation in Florida

Will Florida put the “suburban retrofitting” movement on the fast track?

Making it easier to do something about this.

Making it easier to do something about this.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ) is providing state officials with a legislative template to do just that. On April 20, the Miami-based design and planning firm submitted to Florida’s Division of Community Assistance a suggested draft for a State of Florida Sprawl Repair Act. It’s intent: To enable, among other things, “the retrofit of shopping malls and shopping centers into dense, walkable, mixed-use town centers.”

In an appendix, the document even provides a list of 48 enclosed shopping malls that may be ripe for retrofitting. The effort, says DPZ principal Galina Tahchieva,  “is about stirring ideas about how to incentivize the private sector through easier permitting and infrastructure funding.” And the hope, of course, is that other states embrace similar initiatives.

“The repair, retrofit, and repurposing of commercial nodes — these malls and shopping centers — should be the first in a number of sprawl interventions,” says Tahchieva. That’s because they promise maximum bang for the investment buck.

“These nodes command the largest monetary and real estate investments in suburbia, and in most cases, they’re still under single ownership,” she says. What’s more, if dead or dying malls are redeveloped and intensified as complete town centers with residential and office components to supplement the retail, “transit between these intensified nodes will then start making sense.”

The next target, says Tahchieva, “should be the failing residential subdivisions.  The choices are: evolution into mixed use neighborhoods, if they are lucky with location and have potential for intensification and leadership, or devolution, abandonment or conversion to park or agricultural land. The future growth of Florida is dependent on such actions.”

Tahchieva headed a DPZ design team that, during a February charrette in Atlanta, explored design alternatives for an out-of-date mall in the city’s northern ‘burbs. See our coverage here.

The broader retrofitting initiative is already influencing form-based coding efforts. The Center for Applied Transect Studies is working on a SmartCode module for suburban retrofitting – and, incidentally, for the emerging “agricultural urbanism” movement. See CATS’s new modules here.

– Ben Brown

What We’re Reading: A Legal Guide to Urban and Sustainable Development

It probably won’t surprise most folks that the pursuit of more traditional (and sustainable) urban patterns is often thwarted by…  lawyers! But here’s a refreshing change: Two of them – Dan Slone and Doris Goldstein, with Andy Gowder – have just released A Legal Guide to Urban and Sustainable Development for Planners, Developers and Architects, a wellspring of practical solutions for beating them at their own game.

Put the power of lawyers to work for <em>you</em>.

Put the power of lawyers to work for you.

From planning and zoning to development and operations, this richly illustrated resource lays down the law on all aspects of smart growth and development: incorporating good urban design into local land regulations, overcoming impediments in subdivision and platting, structuring community associations for mixed-use projects, maneuvering the politics and, yes, surviving litigation.

In a solid nod of approval, it’s perhaps equally unsurprising that the book’s foreword is provided by Andres Duany, who’s spent a career running the gamut of these legal and political hurdles – some successfully, others not.

And in a not-too-shabby September 2008 review, The New Urban News says, “Immensely practical, this guidebook is loaded with techniques that can enable New Urbanism to jump hurdles erected by the legal system, the political apparatus, and the day-to-day difficulties of community life.” Finally, Law of the Land, in an October 2008 post, summarizes, “Justice Brennan: ‘If a policeman must know the Constitution, then why not a planner?’ is a perfect lead-in to a wonderful new book.”

We agree. Get your own copy here.

- Scott Doyon