The Chorus of “No Planning, Please” is Making My Head Hurt

In his July 10 New York Times column, David Brooks noodled about in a Brooksian sort of way with the notion of what is and what is not within the realm of predictability. Using Brazil’s loss in the World Cup as a hook, he argues that soccer — unlike baseball, which has been reimagined by math nerds — turns out to be too complex a game to bow easily to predictive modeling.

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The Perils of Whimsy: Bookshelf reveals community dysfunction

Spoiler alert: This is not breaking news. The story’s actually been at least temporarily resolved. Think of it more as a post-game analysis.

Little Free Libraries — resident-initiated community bookshelves — are an increasingly popular tactic for bringing neighbors together through their shared love of browsing and reading books. Unless you live in Leawood, Kansas, that is, where the front-yard kiosk of 9 year old resident Spencer Collins was the subject of a citation for being what the city considered an illegal accessory structure.

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Housing Policy Repair for a New Era: Let’s review

Since the data keep rolling in, confirming changes we should have anticipated even before the Great Recession, maybe it’s time to revisit the tasks ahead for communities if they’re to avoid flunking the tests of livability and prosperity in the 21st century.

Consider:

Though a narrow sliver of the population seems to have emerged from the recent economic unpleasantness richer than they were going in, the rest of us have to come to terms with the idea we aren’t as smart or wealthy as we thought. What’s more, we sense we aren’t likely to improve our financial situation much without help from the lottery or late life adoption by Russian oligarchs.

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“People Habitat”: Kaid Benfield takes Smart Growth to a higher level

For several weeks now I’ve intended to write up my thoughts on “People Habitat,” the recently-released book from NRDC smart growth sensei — and friend — Kaid Benfield. Not that it’s anything he needs, mind you. A quick look at his reviews over on Amazon reveals a diverse collection of accolades, consistent only in their five-star assessments, and I suppose my hesitation has stemmed from a desire to not just heap on a little more well-deserved praise but to add something fresh to the discussion.

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[Holiday Leftovers] Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict: Speed Humps on the Road to Recovery

[Originally run Sept. 17, 2010] Hi. I’m Hazel and I was a Sprawlaholic.

If you’ve been reading awhile you may recall that, with the loving help of my friends and family, I went cold turkey, dumping life in a Florida subdivision for the intense urban charms of downtown Winnipeg. It was a life-changing move with no regrets. Yet, as good as it’s been, I’m finding that puritanical denial of guilty pleasures is sometimes out of sync with life’s reality.

And by reality, I mean kids.

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[Holiday Leftovers] Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict

[Originally run Jan. 15, 2010] Hi, my name is Hazel, and I’m an addict.

For the last 25 years, I’ve been addicted to a string of takers. Time-draining, money-grubbing, fat-building, resource-depleting, toxic machines. For the last 18 months, I’ve been clean. Ever since our move to Canada. And this last weekend, I realized I may be cured.

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Tonic or Toxic: Reimagining Homeowner Associations

Dan-SloneA 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.

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Resilience: It’s who ya know.

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.

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