Ignorance was Bliss: How my urban learnin’ almost ruined everyday places

It strikes me that in the time since I originally wrote this piece a whole new slew of young urbanists have come of age, many now having similar experiences. It’s my hope that they too will find a comfortable balance between the ideal and the workable — not to excuse incompetence but to encourage and develop excellence. Urbanism is, after all, a long game.

For more than 15 years I’ve been hanging around with a pretty interesting collection of traditional architects, planners and urban designers. That’s my job. Taking their inherent disciplinary wonkdom and simplifying it for wider appreciation. Doing so means I’m frequently on the sidelines as they work, and a consistent witness to their application of accumulated wisdom to all manner of challenges currently ill served by modern solutions.

That’s put me on the receiving end of something of great professional value. And equally great personal annoyance:

An understanding of what makes great places great.

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Land Use: Preserving the rural landscape with agrarian urbanism

As the harvest starts to come in here in Manitoba and conversations with my farming friends point to a good yield, I’ve been thinking about how to preserve these lands. Rural communities are often the ones with the greatest constraints, especially when it comes to finances. Without federal support, holistic zoning reform in agrarian places is rare. This, coupled with perverse incentives in lending practices, leaves some of the most valuable assets in North America – highly productive farm lands – with the least resources available for land use reform to protect them.
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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, Here the Day After That

They may not be new but I was recently introduced to a series of comics by English artist Grayson Perry taking on the world of creative arts, particularly one entitled “Gentrification.”

The tale is familiar. Old industry fades, artists take possession of the infrastructure, ragtag commerce blossoms and, ultimately, evolves into something only fleetingly reminiscent of what it once was. Laid out by Perry, it’s biting and funny stuff that deftly pushes all the cynical buttons we’ve adopted as self-defense mechanisms against a world in a constant state of flux.

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Beuvron-en-Auge: 15th century town planning stands the test of time

Every month or so, we add to our collection of lessons from livable places. These are the neighbourhoods where walking the streets and looking carefully at the urban forms provide insights into what makes for lovability over time. Today, I’d like to consider Beuvron-en-Auge, deemed one of the most beautiful villages in France by Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. In the heart of cider country, the half-timber construction and picturesque Norman streets suggest a timeless beauty that belies the recent struggle for historic preservation and restoration. Continue Reading

The (Irrational) Criminalization of Walking

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, if only there was a concise resource available that articulates key reasons why walking is so much less prevalent in the modern age; why this presents unanticipated threats to safety, health, the environment, child development, and social equity; and what we in our communities can do to effectively advocate for change; and that argues the case in a manner compelling to folks across the political spectrum, then today’s your lucky day. Because yesterday marked the release of “The Criminalization of Walking” by law professor and congenial urbanist, Michael Lewyn, and it’s got all the tools you need to restore common sense, wherever you live.

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CNU 25 Seattle: Highlights from the silver anniversary

Last week was the 25th annual Congress for the New Urbanism, where 1,400 city planners, architects, developers, economists, and mayors from around the world gathered to discuss the future of cities. Hosted in collaboration with the Urban Land Institute, comprised of an additional 6,000 developers and builders, the two events brought significant inspiration and insight to those working in the city building trenches. Here are a few of the ideas that resonated the most with me, along with some of my favourite spots in downtown Seattle, where the “unboxed” conferences were held. All images are clickable for a larger view, and have CreativeCommons ShareAlike License with Attribution to Hazel Borys. Continue Reading

Hello Seattle: Project for Code Reform

As most of us at PlaceMakers settle into Seattle for this week’s 25th Congress for the New Urbanism, we look forward to seeing many of you on the west coast. For those of you who can’t make this year’s congress, be sure to check in with the social media hashtag, #CNU25. We’ll bring you a recap of some of our favourite ideas this time next week. In the meantime, to contribute to the virtual sharing of ideas about how to up livability in our communities, we are making many of our Placemaking@Work webinar series free for the month of May. Continue Reading