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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Resilience: It’s who ya know.

If there’s one thing the 20th century gave us, it’s the luxury of not needing each other. It so defines our culture that it’s physically embodied in our sprawling, disconnected landscapes.

That alone begets a classic, chicken-n-egg question: Did the leisurely lure of the suburbs kill our sense of community? Were our social ties unwittingly severed by the meandering disconnection of subdivisions and strip malls or was sprawl just a symptom of something larger? After all, for all their rewards, meaningful relationships take a lot of work. Perhaps, once the modern world elevated our prospects for personal independence, we cut those ties ourselves, willingly, and embraced the types of places that reinforce those inclinations, lest our happy motoring be weighted down with excess emotional baggage.

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Going Green: What is it you really want?

Last week I spent some time in the mountains of southern Virginia visiting my folks. That’s something I not only enjoy but find productive as well, as it affords me opportunity to further explain exactly what it is I do for a living.

For some reason, “telling the story of community placemaking” still leaves them scratching their heads.

No worries. Over the years I’ve found it effective to wait for an in — spending time talking about things of interest to them, then seizing serendipitous moments to tie the subject at hand back to something I’m working on.

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Porchtastic: Living in Season

Living in season asks us to “entice people outside, where they get more acclimated to the local environment, needing less heating or cooling when they return indoors,” according to Steve Mouzon via treehugger.

Howard Blackson dares us to live outdoors where “we can again connect with our climate and place — another step towards unsealing ourselves from our hermetic suburban environments.”

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