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.
“What a bunch of idiots. Don’t they know this will create a traffic nightmare?”
Sound familiar? It’s the most commonly voiced complaint any time the community conversation turns to traffic calming.
Taken at face value, it’s not an outrageous sentiment. After all, when you’re out and about, anything that stands between you and where you want to be looks like a problem. So why on earth would anyone choose to further complicate your commute on purpose?
The 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.
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.
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.
For reasons both mysterious and irrelevant, Citylab’s Facebook page promoted a two and a half year old post on bike theft this weekend. What proved interesting about it, at least to me, is that in explaining market demand for stolen bicycles, it referenced a study on how people perceive different types of crime — finding that receiving stolen property and failing to return misdelivered property are considered so insignificant that respondents rated them not really worthy of punishment.
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.
This weekend, I again watched The Human Scale, a film from 2013, and got more stoked to meet Jan Gehl at the 23rd Congress for the New Urbanism (#CNU23) in Dallas in April. Jan will bring the Congress an update on his human scale work since the film was complete, but the ideas are timeless. The film is on Netflix in Canada. I’m not sure if it’s also available in the U.S., but it will be screened in Texas before CNU 23. Until then, here are memorable statements from the film, and the Twitter accounts of the speaker, when I could find them.
Last week we resurrected a look at the preservation movement — asking if, rather than strict adherence to ideology, love of place could ultimately rule the day — so that, this week, we could put a spotlight on Kaid Benfield, the latest addition to the PlaceMakers team, and his thoughts on the issue’s flip-side.
In short, do we in the placemaking game — New Urbanists, Smart Growthers and the like — also fail to let love rule, getting so lost in particular baseline goals that we miss the finer-grain details that connect most deeply with the human condition?
Here’s Kaid’s take below, originally featured on the NRDC Switchboard. And for more of his perspective on urban challenges and opportunities, check out his thoughts on poverty and gentrification just posted over on the HuffPo.