Ta-may-toe, Ta-mah-toe: Lessons in complexity from a fruit

Want to know where we go wrong solving single-mindedly for parking, affordability, sustainability, accessibility and all the other stuff on urban planning’s high-priority list?

Consider the tomato.  More specifically the winter tomato, as designed and manufactured in Florida.

In Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, food writer Barry Estabrook shows how things go haywire when you’re determined to dumb down complexity. As Estabrook describes it, Florida tomato growers have one big advantage, a winter growing season, and one big marketing concept: A tomato defined by factory-perfect roundness and redness.

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Why Placemaking Matters: The ROI of Cities

Thanks to all of you who made last week’s Why Placemaking Matters: What’s in it for me? conversation so interesting. Robert Steuteville, editor of Better! Cities & Towns, jumped in with his own elevator pitch that beautifully connects much of the wonk-speak that I listed last week. Kaid Benfield from Washington D.C. and Brent Bellamy from Winnipeg both started interesting Twitter conversations, which also sparked a rumination on minimum densities from Winnipeg developer, Ranjjan Developments. Continue Reading

Why Placemaking Matters: What’s in it for me?

When a mayoral candidate from my city wrote me to ask me to repeat in writing what I’d said the night before, I realize I need to de-wonk and make my elevator speech more memorable. Why does city planning matter to people who aren’t urban designer types? If I could take an extra five minutes of your time, I’m interested in hearing each of your pitches, in the comments below. Here’s mine, thanks in part to countless conversations with many of you: Continue Reading

You’ve Got Lemons: What now?

A few months ago, I wrote about Leawood, Kansas’ efforts to shut down Spencer Collins’ Little Free Library because it constituted an illegal accessory structure. What made the story interesting is that, while certain advocates were using it as an example of government overreach, a closer look at the facts on the ground revealed that the town’s actions were precipitated by not one, but two neighbor complaints.

Now here we go again.

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Euro-Envy Reconsidered: Talkin’ time, distance and change

When my wife and I headed to Europe for our first two-week vacation in 15 years, I don’t think I realized how grouchy I was getting about change adaptation in the US. So much political paralysis. So little leadership. No sense of urgency on issues of huge importance. It was way past time for a getaway to be among grown-ups.

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Lean Urbanism: A century practice?

Spending time in Victoria Beach, I’m again enjoying one of Manitoba’s best examples of Lean Urbanism, experienced with family and friends. Many of you heard me talk of the history and practice of this place last year. This 100-year old cottage community, accessible to most ages on foot and bike, has much to share with the nascent Lean Urbanism movement.

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Let’s Get Metaphysical: Considering the value of soul in redevelopment

Not so long ago, in a conversation about technology and green building, there was mention of some high-tech green building models coming out of Europe. Models that, according to reports, perform so well that even if you factor the embedded energy of a previous structure torn down to accommodate them, they still come out ahead.

That’s a potential game changer, at least in terms of selling high-tech green, and I’m not sure it’s one that I welcome.

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Are We There Yet? Affordability in the ‘New Normal’

Pretty soon we’ll have something like a decade of experience in losing our innocence about housing affordability. Isn’t it about time we got over it?

For a good part of the last century, we trained generations of housing consumers and housing enablers to buy and sell into what Chuck Marohn calls a “growth Ponzi scheme.” It was fun while it lasted, allowing a lot of us to postpone paying the tab for our delusions to some unspecified date in an imaginary future. Then we got to the real future.

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Urbanists Soak Up Buffalo: PlaceMakers empty their notebooks

The 22nd annual gathering of the CNU wrapped up Saturday night, June 7, in Buffalo. We’re looking forward to the recordings at cnu.org over the next few weeks to fill the inevitable gaps, since the competing sessions and hallway conversations presented the usual embarrassment of riches.

Rather than go for a tidy narrative, let’s just share some random observations and sound bites from the four days.

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Climate Change: a global commons problem

The report published week before last by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that climate change is a global commons problem. The solution is to decouple rising temperatures from economic and population growth. Hundreds of the most prominent scientists with divergent political views from around the world have run thousands of scenarios, and I’m going to take a moment here to extract some of the land use issues woven through the report.

This is practical advice for city planners about how to move in a cleaner direction and pull as many local decision-makers as possible along with you. So “wonk alert” to our less technically interested readers, who may prefer this Yale 360 piece from prominent enviro thinkers about paths forward. Or this older piece by Emily Badger in Atlantic Cities about how reformatting the single family home’s relationship to its neighbourhood will help.

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