You know things are getting dicey when the outgoing president of the United States feels obliged to remind us there’s still hope for American democracy at about the same time the incomer is on Twitter alleging (again) that America’s democratic institutions are plotting against him.
It’s that time of year again, when we take a little holiday break by rerunning a seasonal staple. Until we cross paths again in the new year, best wishes to you for a warm and happy holiday season.
In the realm of supply chains and distribution logistics, Santa’s the guy. Even FedEx and UPS, the recognized leaders in the field, fail to measure up against the benchmarks he maintains, year after year, without fail.
So you’d presumably be safe in assuming that the planning and design of his village at the North Pole would reflect a similar insistence on best practices. That it would be a model worthy of emulation — not just in terms of efficiency and productivity, but in terms of the emotional, economic and spiritual fulfillment necessary to maintain a happy and motivated workforce.
Shortly before this essay’s original posting, I participated in a terrific conference called From Main Street to Eco-Districts: Greening Our Communities, hosted by a chapter of the American Institute for Architects in Corning, New York. Held a block off of Corning’s own, magnificent “Main Street” (actually named Market Street), and including many of the people who have helped make that street so successful, the conference started me thinking about the whole idea of Main Streets and what makes the best of them such delights to experience.
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.”)
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.
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.
Reprising: “Can’t we all just get along?”
Answer: Probably not. And we should be thinking about why and how that informs what we do to help neighborhoods and cities adapt to change.
Let’s pick an example unlikely to trigger the usual arguments over race, ethnicity and inequality, yet one that might be more helpful because of the absence of those factors. I give you Burning Man, the annual event in the Nevada desert where some 70,000 folks gather to test the limits of art, collaborative culture and diversity. On that last count, the one about tolerance for differences, a line was apparently crossed a few weeks back when one set of Burners decided others didn’t belong in the neighborhood.
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.
Scientists 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.
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.