A little over eight years ago I hosted a seminar on Homeowner Associations (HOAs) with my friend and collaborator Doris Goldstein. One of our speakers, David Wolfe, offered a unique perspective on HOAs. David, who had successfully managed hundreds of HOAs without litigation, argued that HOAs retain the personality that they are “born” with. Consequently, if their developer “parent” makes them so that they have little real information on what things cost, they will be unrealistic when it comes time for them to take over costs. If all of the developer’s conversations with the HOA are about maintaining the sales value of the community, then that is the only value the community will track. If the HOA has no responsibility for decisions about their community, then it will be irresponsible.
If there’s one thing the 20th century gave us, it’s the luxury of not needing each other. It so defines our culture that it’s physically embodied in our sprawling, disconnected landscapes.
That alone begets a classic, chicken-n-egg question: Did the leisurely lure of the suburbs kill our sense of community? Were our social ties unwittingly severed by the meandering disconnection of subdivisions and strip malls or was sprawl just a symptom of something larger? After all, for all their rewards, meaningful relationships take a lot of work. Perhaps, once the modern world elevated our prospects for personal independence, we cut those ties ourselves, willingly, and embraced the types of places that reinforce those inclinations, lest our happy motoring be weighted down with excess emotional baggage.
The places we inhabit are rarely if ever arbitrary. They’re the products of intention. Personal. Economic. Environmental. Religious. We choose for ourselves, individually and collectively, the kind of places we want and — through leadership, policy, investment, advocacy, action and, at times, inaction — those places begin to take form.
It’s a complicated dance of complementary and competing interests. Making it something that happens for us, rather than something that happens to us, requires, perhaps more than anything, a shared understanding of exactly what it is we’re talking about. A common language.
Want to get some sleep tonight? How about snuggling up with your local Development Code? Read any section, such as Sign Violations and Enforcement Procedures, and I’m willing to bet you’ll be out before you get past the Statement of Purpose.
That’s a problem, because such volumes don’t exist to cure insomnia. They exist to engage us in the collaborative project of creating our shared surroundings. That means something and, while I understand that Comprehensive Plans, Zoning, and Subdivision Ordinances, by virtue of their lofty stature, might make for poor everyday reading, we all suffer when they end up so… tedious.
“Our life is frittered away by detail … simplify, simplify.” – Thoreau
In her September 2011 blog, Special Districts Getting All Mixed Up, Hazel Borys questioned why we treat large format areas with distinctive uses, such as manufacturing or aviation, as “special” to the point of exclusion from our efforts to integrate all urban land uses and activities into a spatially coherent whole, ending with an inspiring contemporary example of planned “strict integration” of land uses in the corridors and boulevards connecting the El Paso International Airport to the city.
Urban Design is concerned with the practice of designing, repurposing and revitalizing 3-dimensional places. These place types are described in Charter of the New Urbanism principles, as, “The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor are the essential elements of development and redevelopment in the metropolis. They form identifiable areas — centers, edges and in-between — that encourage citizens to take responsibility for their maintenance and evolution. Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, such as airports, campuses, and industry. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways.” Personally, I add ‘downtowns’ as another essential element of city-making.
As an urbanist, writing about Paris is both delectable and daunting. Tempering that is the fact that we visited in June, when the strain to both infrastructure and pricing makes my memories of past trips look more lovable. Still, the timelessness of the City, as shown so compellingly in this 1914 to 2013 series of comparisons, is still delightful and satisfying.
You say the word “Paris” and anyone who’s ever been there immediately has some good memory to share. The grandeur of its urbanism and romance of its streets is without peer. However, the city seems to be bulging at the seams.
I’m big on local. Not because I hate Walmart and 3,000 mile Caesar salads but because, as I see it, communities built on human-scaled, interdependent systems are better suited to taking on the challenges and opportunities presented by time.
That’s why, when it comes to the decisions that most directly impact day-to-day quality of life, I tend to advocate for smaller, more local, more responsive increments of control. Things like neighborhoods, NPUs, districts, and towns.
The world around us, whatever form it takes, comes to reflect the priorities of the people setting policy, making rules, and allocating funds. The more those people understand the nuances of context and maintain a shared stake in the outcome, the better things tend to be.
If I’d been paying better attention (which is how I start a lot of sentences these days), I could have begun my reeducation in the ways things work in 1986. That’s when film director David Lynch gave us Blue Velvet.
Back then, the way Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini embraced Lynch’s sex and violence mash-ups distracted me from much in the way of Big Idea exploration. But, like a lot of others, even though I couldn’t explain the effect they had on me, I never forgot the film’s opening two minutes.