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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Let Love Rule: Resilience in Mesquite

Andrew-Von-MaurCrossing Campo Street from downtown Las Cruces into the Mesquite Historic District is like crossing between two urban worlds that are often misunderstood.

To the west is one of the country’s textbook examples of everything that could go wrong with federally subsidized Urban Renewal, including the obligatory seas of parking, corporate CBD architecture, vacant properties, and a one-way loop that locals derisively refer to as “the race track.” The stunning aerial view from 1974 shows the city after its failed open-heart surgery. Even today, after a heroic struggle to dismantle the virtually abandoned pedestrian mall and reinstitute automobile-access on Main Street, the pain of this flattening experience lingers on. The place is deserted on a beautiful September evening.

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Stayin’ Alive: The life and death prospects of community ties

“We had better get together on this or we’re going to die.”

People talk a lot about community these days. How we’ve lost whatever sense of it we might have once had. How we don’t really know each other much anymore. How we yearn for more intimacy, with connection that transcends the typically weak ties of social media.

We talk about it in the abstract, not fully understanding the whole of what it really means, as though we were recalling some endearing product feature lost to time. Like we’re asking, “Remember that little bongk sound from Pong, the original home video game? Boy. You just don’t experience sounds like that anymore.

Oh, well. Back to life in the now.”

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13 Ways to Kill Your Community

Not so long ago, fellow urban scribe and recently elected mayor of Concrete, Washington, Jason Miller, recommended the book, “13 Ways to Kill Your Community.” The timing was fortuitous. For a while, in an ongoing series of internal conversations, I’d been wrestling with a fundamental question of human nature: Are people basically good, with periodic displays of malice and pettiness or, are we born broken and then distinguish ourselves through virtuous acts that transcend our inherent limitations?

“13 Ways” would seem to suggest the latter, though I’ve likely drawn a conclusion unintended by its author, Doug Griffiths, who co-wrote the book with journalist Kelly Clemmer.

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The Seeds of Permanence: Building a multi-century home

For the past 18 months, PlaceShakers has been covering the work of my friend, Clay Chapman, and his quest to build a near-permanent, structural masonry home for a price accessible to the middle class. I wrote this introduction when he was breaking ground and, later, when the shell of his test home was completed, I posted a follow-up.

That house, which launched his “Hope for Architecture” initiative, is now complete and Clay’s been engaged to build a new house — a modest variation of the original HFA house — for a new client.

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