Can placemaking – in short, the building or strengthing 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.
Yesterday the Atlantic ran a piece on the Great Retail Meltdown of 2017 which, to summarize, tied the present culling of the retail herd to three phenomena: the rise of online shopping; a half century of overbuilding retail space; and the present shift in spending from goods to experiences.
In short, with people increasingly getting their everyday stuff online and valuing an interesting meal with friends over a trip to the mall to get a Hollister sweater, our overly abundant providers of commercial goods are taking a beating.
Savannah, Georgia is arguably one of, if not the most, beautiful cities in the United States. Although I lived there for a while 25 years ago, on a recent visit I was struck by the many placemaking lessons we can learn from this lovely city. In anticipation of the 2018 CNU Congress in the city, I started taking some notes of subjects I want to explore next year.
The Power of a Plan
Much has been written on the Oglethorpe Plan of Savannah, and architects and planners continue to be enlightened by the framework of public space as the plan’s first priority. The dedication of four civic parcels – trust lots – on each square, assured each neighborhood would be served by educational and religious institutions. (Reiter, B., 2016, Savannah City Plan) Continue Reading
Planning for the future tends to be a humiliating exercise. Whatever’s headed our way is both inevitable and unpredictable. Yet because it brings with it the consequences of decisions we made or ducked in the past and now have to manage or endure in the present, we have to take a stab at decisions that are coherent and well-informed.
If you’ve been following our work here, you know we have a soft spot for Katrina Cottages and the neighborhood design movement they inspired. And you also know some of us — okay, me — have been grumpy about the way Tiny House talk has sucked oxygen out of the discussion of small scale homes in small scale neighborhoods. So it was great to see last week’s “Public Square” Q&A with two of the design pioneers behind Katrina Cottages, Marianne Cusato and Bruce Tolar.
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.
In Chuck Wolfe’s absorbing new book, Seeing the Better City, he encourages readers to think with our eyes and communicate with visual imagery in order to improve our cities. With the proliferation of smartphone cameras and an endless array of easily accessible, web-based platforms on which to display them, virtually everyone is now a photographer. And, with cities on the ascendance, many of them confronting both excitement and worries about growth and development, more people than ever want to make them as hospitable as possible. It’s time to put those trends together, argues Wolfe, and use our eyes and our cameras “to explore, observe, and improve urban space,” to quote the book’s subtitle.
About twelve years ago, I started the Codes Study to analyze cities, towns, and counties taking proactive steps toward zoning to encourage livable places. And by livable, I mean mixed-use, economically vibrant, convivial, walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly. Many places are using form-based codes to encourage livability, in jurisdictions covering over 45 million people worldwide.
Such code responds to today’s market pressures of families and corporations alike wanting to dwell in walkable urban places. It saves critical infrastructure dollars because of building in more compact forms. It can let us preserve more wilderness and productive farm and range lands with less sprawling development. It encourages wellness by making it easier to connect with others, instead of isolating us in single-use pods. It reinjects nature into cities in keeping with the character of its surroundings. Continue Reading
In this time of increasing uncertainty, of trepidation about what the future holds for ourselves, our families, our communities, wouldn’t it be great if there were something we could absolutely count on? Something we could predict with 100 percent confidence no matter who we are or where we live or what particular challenges lie ahead?
Well, brothers and sisters, I bring you good news. Actually, not news and not necessarily good in the strictest sense. More of a reminder. Here it is: We’re all going to die.
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.”