Walkability: Good money after bad

Let’s talk about dollars spent. Millions of dollars. 7.2 million dollars specifically, of which 5.5 million came directly from the local economy. The goal? At least according to local leadership, it was to increase quality of life via improved walkability.

First, a caveat: This isn’t going to be one of those pieces denouncing government spending as inherently bad. But neither will it be one that suggests all is well when spending gets characterized as an investment rather than a mere expenditure.

Continue Reading

Making Better Places to Fail: Take those jobs and . . (Part II)

First, let’s review:

Of all the sub-topics in urban planning and design, the ones likely to generate the most anxiety are those where land use planning intersects with economic development. Old-school economic developers signal their nervousness pretty quickly when they sense planning strategies are heading in directions that might keep them from promising infrastructure goodies or regulatory exemptions to firms they’re wooing.

No parking in front or drive-through capacities? Zoning that pulls buildings up to the street? Well, there goes business investment in our community. And you know what that means: Fewer JOBS for our people.

Continue Reading

How to Make Smart Growth More Lovable and Sustainable

Kaid-BenfieldWhile on my way to a dental appointment last week — not my favorite activity, truth be told — I had the distinct pleasure of walking through Georgetown, Washington’s oldest neighborhood and one of its most lovely. As I ambled through the historic, tree-lined streets, I was reminded of how our older neighborhoods so often embody the characteristics that we now ascribe to “smart growth.”

In particular, Georgetown has a walkable urban density; well-connected streets and sidewalks that make it notably pedestrian-friendly; a central, convenient location just a mile or so from the heart of downtown; good transit service; many shops, restaurants and civic amenities mixed in with, or a ridiculously easy walk from, the neighborhood’s homes.

Continue Reading

The Unkickable Can: Towards a ‘Livability Synthesis’

Maybe it’s a brief glimpse, inspired by Pope Francis’s visit, of a collective will to be better humans. Or maybe it’s just the math. But I’m feeling more hopeful about future traction for arguments — and for action — for more meaningfully connected, livable communities.

Continue Reading

Walkability: It’s not about the buildings, or even the streets. It’s about the experience.

We are excited to see the high level of understanding in the Surgeon General’s Step It Up call to action last week, to promote walking and walkable communities. The Surgeon General noted, “Improving walkability means that communities are created or enhanced to make it safe and easy to walk and that pedestrian activity is encouraged for all people. The purpose of the Call to Action is to increase walking across the United States by calling for improved access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll and by creating a culture that supports these activities for people of all ages and abilities.”

Continue Reading

Remember that Katrina Cottages thing? Whatever happened to that?

This is the second of two parts addressing Hurricane Katrina 10 years after the storm. The first looked at issues in New Orleans. This one focuses on one hoped-for innovation in the storm’s wake in Coastal Mississippi.

Right about now, a couple and their two children are getting much-needed affordable housing help via a move into one side of a cool-looking modular duplex in Mobile, Alabama.

Continue Reading

Top 10 Techniques for Educating Community Leaders about Placemaking

Extraordinary strides have been made in the advancement of placemaking over the past twenty-five years.

Think about it. In the years prior, the term “placemaking” wasn’t even in common use by developers, designers and planners. Nor were terms such as form-based code, new urbanism, smart growth, transect, charrette, visual preference survey, traditional neighborhood development, transit-oriented development, sprawl repair/suburban retrofit, return on infrastructure investment analysis, tactical urbanism, WalkScore, complete streets, context sensitive thoroughfare design, LEED-ND, light imprint infrastructure, WalkUP, the original green, lean urbanism, the high cost of free parking, etc.

Continue Reading

Katrina ‘Ten Years After’: And the band plays on

I guess it says something about where I am on life’s conception-to-compost journey that the phrase “Ten Years After” evokes a forgettable British group from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. But, hey, let’s at least credit Alvin Lee with capturing a timeless sentiment in his lyrics for the band’s 1971 hit, “I’d Love to Change the World”:

I’d love to change the world
But I don’t know what to do
So I’ll leave it up to you

Kinda resonates through the ages, no?

Continue Reading

Pope Goes Global: Let’s talk local

Even before last week’s official release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, advocates and defenders were honing their talking points. In April, liberal Catholic author Gary Wills upped the ante on what was anticipated — accurately, it turns out — as the the pontiff’s vigorous critique of global inequities exacerbated by climate change:

“The fact that the poor get poorer in this process is easily dismissed, denied, or derided,” said Wills. “The poor have no voice. Till now. If the pope were not a plausible voice for the poor, his opponents would not be running so scared.”

Continue Reading