Good Side of the Downside: The end is (only) near

Chuck Marohn needs a hug.

That was my first thought reading this in his July 17 Strong Towns post :

Let me be clear about what I actually imagine is in store for us. I look at America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods and I see overwhelming levels of fragility. I see a development pattern that destroys wealth; the more we do, the poorer we become. I see municipal debt levels rising as a consequence, as well as an increased dependence on state and federal assistance. I see property values and consumption rates (property tax and sales tax) artificially manipulated higher by federal monetary and fiscal policy—a lofty perch I don’t see as stable. I see local governments overwhelmed with liabilities, from infrastructure maintenance to pensions and rising health care costs. And I see the people in the system — politicians, professional staff and residents — all with powerful short term incentives to simply increase the level of fragility.

 . . . I think we’re royally screwed.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Comp Plan for Westeros? Same issues, more swordplay

Frustrated with efforts to pull your little kingdom together for long term strategizing? It could be worse. You could be caught up in the public outreach drama in Westeros. The battles renew on Sunday night, when HBO debuts season seven of “Game of Thrones.”

Continue Reading

Livability, Division, Exclusion and Other Naughty Words

This is what we’ve come to: An escalation in urban property values and cost of living so extreme in some quarters that there are now those who, with a straight face, argue against efforts to improve neighborhoods. Don’t bring those improvements goes the often implied but less frequently articulated point of view, as improvement increases quality of life, quality of life increases desirability, desirability increases demand, and demand brings newcomers and drives up cost.

That’s how the process goes, for sure. You’ll get no argument from me in that regard. But surely we’re capable of something better than leave suffering areas suffering so they can stay off the radar.

Continue Reading

The Other Side of Anxiety? Realism. And maybe hope.

When the dust settles after the current traumas, I think we’ll see this time in our lives and in our nation’s history as a period in which what we’ve learned about human psychology, democracy and policy-making at every scale has exposed weaknesses in ourselves and our institutions that will take a while to fix. And that could be a good thing.

We’re wired to seek simple solutions, even when evidence suggests hairballs of complexity. And the more stressed we are, the faster we default to The Answer. Evolution encourages us to be hammers in search of nails. Needless to say, this has not always worked well for us. (See racism, genocide, xenophobia, etc. Also Urban Renewal and the 2016 presidential election.)

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.

Continue Reading

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

Florida Man Fails to Fix Everything, Reconsiders Position

You know magical thinking about cities is fading when one of the gurus says stuff like this:

“My optimism has been tempered and I’ve become more of a realist.”

That’s Richard Florida, the guy who inspired a (mostly unsuccessful) stampede to hipness 15 years ago with the publication of The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life.

Continue Reading

Parking is a Commodity, Not an Experience

Yesterday the Atlantic ran a piece on the Great Retail Meltdown of 2017 which, to summarize, tied the present culling of the retail herd to three phenomena: the rise of online shopping; a half century of overbuilding retail space; and the present shift in spending from goods to experiences.

In short, with people increasingly getting their everyday stuff online and valuing an interesting meal with friends over a trip to the mall to get a Hollister sweater, our overly abundant providers of commercial goods are taking a beating.

Continue Reading