“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.

Continue Reading

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. The DNA of urban succession

Steve Jobs ended one of his most memorable speeches with the encouragement, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” He was quoting the message on the final page of the final publication of The Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand’s version of pre-Google, assembled with typewriters, polaroid’s and scissors. Jobs’ point for me was to realize that the hunger for knowledge is not neediness, powerlessness, or weakness, but rather is a transformational driver of change and growth. An essential part of wellbeing.

Continue Reading

Urbanism: Nothing to Fear

When the 9/11 attacks happened, all sorts of pundits started re-questioning whether cities should be decentralized, notably including Ed Glaeser. That questioning happened again after Hurricane Katrina and the continuing hurricanes along the Gulf Coast.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

‘Gentrification’ Redux: Wealth, opportunity, community

It’s pretty clear that breaking news in American cities is not going to let us duck debates about race, inequality and public policy. About time, right?

Still, it doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere, what with partisans screaming, “You just don’t get it!” to their opposites across a wasteland of failed ideas. We seem to keep picking away at the edges of problems, focusing on sub-issues that fit our predispositions and ignoring everything that complicates our perspectives.

Continue Reading

Suburban Retrofits: A deep dive

A couple weeks ago, Ellen Dunham-Jones produced a Placemaking@Work webinar that she described as a deep dive into the suburban retrofit case studies, with an hour-long lecture in preparation for the 23rd Congress for the New Urbanism in Dallas, April 29 through May 2. This session is free until the beginning of the CNU here, but in the mean time, I had a few follow-up questions that she kindly answered for me.

Continue Reading

Here’s to Zimmerman/Volk and to ‘Attainable Housing’

I should maybe feel at least a little guilty for escaping the cold weather in the North Carolina mountains where I live and heading to Florida over the weekend. But I don’t.

The destination was, after all, Panhandle Florida, the vertically challenged part of Florida that folks farther south call “LA,” as in “Lower Alabama.” Which means I was still wearing a down jacket when I ducked outside.

Also the trip was for a good cause. The occasion was the annual Seaside Prize Weekend, sponsored by the Seaside Institute.

Continue Reading