Letting Love Rule: All urban density is not created equal

Last week we resurrected a look at the preservation movement — asking if, rather than strict adherence to ideology, love of place could ultimately rule the day — so that, this week, we could put a spotlight on Kaid Benfield, the latest addition to the PlaceMakers team, and his thoughts on the issue’s flip-side.

In short, do we in the placemaking game — New Urbanists, Smart Growthers and the like — also fail to let love rule, getting so lost in particular baseline goals that we miss the finer-grain details that connect most deeply with the human condition?

Here’s Kaid’s take below, originally featured on the NRDC Switchboard. And for more of his perspective on urban challenges and opportunities, check out his thoughts on poverty and gentrification just posted over on the HuffPo.

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Can Preservationists Let Love Rule?

Call me naive.

When I was first exposed to the New Urbanism in the 1990s, it was as a 9 to 5 brand marketer with an appreciation for music and art. Killing time one day in my dentist’s waiting room, I stumbled upon “Bye-Bye Suburban Dream,” the cover story of the latest Newsweek magazine.

I still remember the feeling I had as I read it. Unbelievable, I thought. This is a movement pursuing places where people, community, beauty and culture are once again prioritized. Where the interconnected everyday human experiences that color our lives are valued. Where commerce and art can both thrive.

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SimCity Adopts a Form-Based Code?

No, but I do wish they would. Over the holidays, my ten-year-old and I started playing SimCity. As the many other city planners who’ve played the game have observed, it’s a great way to explore basic city building concepts with people who don’t think about it too often. Now as I gripe about some of the things that a form-based code would fix, my kid commiserates, and suggests an open letter to SimCity.

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Happy New Year: Celebrating Venetian biophilia

This reflective time of year is ideal for thinking back on the people, places, and experiences that brought solace in 2014, and offering thanks. I was particularly struck by the power of community in challenging moments, and how support from friends, family, and colleagues makes a real difference. And by the power of place for solitary and convivial comforts alike.

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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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