Step Away from the Vehicle (And take back the journey)

Leading into the Thanksgiving weekend, a video of holiday traffic on Los Angeles’ 405 Freeway hit the Twitterverse.

Kinda hypnotizing, but probably not as fun to experience if you were in one of the cars “stuck in traffic.” (Smart Growth transportation planners couldn’t resist tweeting one of their favorite jabs: “If you find yourself in this situation, you’re not “stuck in traffic.” You ARE the traffic.”)

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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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Why Can’t My Zoning Create a Diversity of Places?

Planners frequently use the place type framework to identify different issues, challenges, and assets throughout a municipality or a region. While there isn’t a standard used across the profession, it is generally accepted that the broadest range of places includes the hamlet, village, town and city. Historically we intuitively understood how to build these places without regulation. Commerce and public spaces were located where the majority of residents could access them, and housing was both diverse and compact. This permitted the preservation of the landscape for agriculture and natural systems.

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Triangular Plazas: Flexible, outdoor rooms with meaningful uses

Last year I enjoyed thinking of the critical components of a successful plaza: activity, locals, and a third place. Great plazas are hosts to community engagement any time of the day or evening, they attract both locals and tourists, and always have a third place fronting at least one edge of the outdoor room. A recent trip to France provided a study of the unusual triangular plaza, or place. These triangular French spaces reminded me of a very special New Mexican plaza of my home state. They all have a civic use anchoring the base of the space, a mixture of uses framing the space, and opportunity for meaningful, flexible community activity in the space itself.

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Four Characteristics of Active, Healthy Neighborhoods

Kaid-BenfieldScientists are learning more and more about how where we live affects the amount of exercise we get, and thus how fit and healthy we are likely to be. In general, city dwellers are particularly well placed to get regular exercise if they can take care of some or all of their daily errands without getting into a car: walking is good for us, and so is taking public transportation, because almost every transit trip begins and ends with a walking trip.

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Word Eating Time: Here’s today’s menu

Whatever skills I developed in manipulating language were shaped by two decades on the staffs of newspapers and magazines. In my first interview for a newspaper job, a managing editor lectured me on the transition I should be prepared for. I could forget all that fancy writing stuff I may have learned in college. I was about to become a reporter serving customers with middle school reading skills and a lot of impatience with nuance.

Bottom line: Get to the friggin point, preferably no later than the second paragraph. So here it is: The broader you try to apply that advice, the worse it makes things.

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Aging, Self-Driving Cars, and How We Suck at Predicting Doom

As a species, we like to keep on keepin’ on. We’re predisposed to favor continuity and resist change. Which includes not wanting to be held accountable for any less-than-stellar choices we might make along the way.

For years we’ve had various prophets of doom telling us that dispersed suburban living is one of those less-than-stellar choices and that reality — in various forms — is poised to soon intervene, forcing exactly the types of change we’re so prone to denying.

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CNU24 Detroit: Summary and celebration

You know how the sweet spot for blogs is 500 words? Well, this isn’t one of those. It’s the geek’s guide to the 24th Congress for the New Urbanism in Detroit. Feeling grateful for the food for thought, and wanting to keep the ideas fresh. This blog compiles city planning tweets from June 8 through 11 on the subject, grouping the ideas into categories of Community, Equity, Lean Urbanism, Transportation, Infrastructure, Suburban Retrofit, and Architecture, along with inspiration from Detroit and Charleston.

Here’s a shout out to all the Twitter-using urbanists in Detroit who used the hashtag #CNU24 to share this wealth of ideas, and I highly recommend following the credits list at the end, along with many others using that hashtag, whose rich content would require an encyclopedia to truly do it justice. Check out the Twitter feed for the ideas I wasn’t able to cover.

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