Next Urbanism Lab 04: Dare to live outdoors

As we re-populate our downtowns, and watch the crime statistics drop, people are seeing safety in numbers. Jane Jacobs was right about eyes on the street reducing crime. With the sense that it’s indeed safe to be in cities again, it appears that citizens are re-learning how to be connected in an urban context. Downtown’s street cafes, shops and plazas, filled with activity, are proof that we’re succeeding in bringing people back downtown. Safely.

This wasn’t always so.

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We’re All Connected: Too bad more is not necessarily the same as better

Roughly two hundred years ago, working in a little Bavarian workshop, Samuel Soemmering created a crude device that, refined by others, would revolutionize communications for the emerging industrial age: the telegraph.

A hundred years thereafter, post-Victorians began to ponder its evolution — wireless telegraphy — in which individuals would receive telegraph messages, printed out on ticker tape, via personal antenna.

And what was their take on such innovation? Did they savor the prospect of a new age of enlightenment, empowered by ever-improving access to information and to each other?

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The End is Near, Part II: Leveraging imminent doom as ‘Grand Strategy’

This is maybe one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for moments. But I’m spinning it upside all the way.

In one previous post, I griped about planning’s synaptic delay dilemma. When it comes to the really big issues of our time, the time lapse between doing stupid stuff and suffering the consequences is too great to dissuade us from doing stupid stuff. (See, for instance, three-pack-a-day smoking, triple-decker cheese burgers and sprawl.)

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Backyard Chickens: WWI-Era Solution to Almost Everything

Over the course of the past six or eight decades, certain things have come to define, in part, our modern existence: Making a living out of your home has been increasingly restricted, especially in predominantly residential areas; the production of goods has fallen to fewer and larger hands; and we’ve now heard just about all we can stand about the helpless generation, with their legion of helicopter parents herding them about.

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Next Urbanism Lab 03: Redevelopment as a tool for urban (re)investment

Yesterday, I had the great fortune of sitting on a panel to discuss the possibilities of Redevelopment 2.0 in California. The other panelists included CNU Board member Scott Polikov, APA President-elect Bill Anderson, affordable housing advocates, planning professionals and professors, as well as my lovely wife (discussing the California Environmental Quality Act).

Sadly, I blew it.

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Walmart and the Quest for a Better Mousetrap

“I don’t shop at Walmart.”

Talk about a loaded phrase. Five simple words, but issue them collectively and you effectively open a Pandora’s Box of suggestion: Where you stand economically. Where you stand politically. How you feel about the environment. Or localism. Or capitalism.

It’s like erecting a giant movie screen upon which other people immediately begin projecting their own principles; or their beliefs; their biases; their satisfactions; their frustrations.

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Finally Thinkin’ Small: But can we build on what we’ve learned?

As soon as the destructive path of Hurricane Sandy became evident, I got emails and calls from colleagues who, like me, worked in disaster recovery situations on the Gulf Coast. When the clean-up gets underway, could this be an opportunity for the Eastern Seaboard states to apply some of the rebuilding lessons of the Gulf after Katrina? Is there a role for Katrina Cottages?

Well, sure. If there’s one upside in the succession of devastating weather events over the last decade, it’s the opportunity to build on lessons learned. Time between disasters dulls response capacities; shorter gaps refine best practices. And for my money, no lessons are worth more than those connected with the evolution of sustainable neighborhood design.

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“The Joel Salatin of Homebuilding”: Revisiting Clay Chapman’s multi-century, $80/sq. ft. house

“You [..] have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit.”  — Joel Salatin, author and renegade farmer

Anyone who’s paid even modest attention to what’s been happening on the food scene over the past five or six years has surely heard of Joel Salatin. Featured prominently in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and in the movie Food, Inc., author of numerous books of his own, and celebrated by chefs, locavores and organic activists alike, Salatin has become a sort of patron saint for the progressive ag movement. Half traditionalist, half innovator, he’s not so much wedded to the ways of the past as he is unwilling to ignore the wisdom they have to offer.

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Form-Based Codes? A picture’s worth a thousand words

If the attendees list of Placemaking@Work, my monthly webinar series, is any indicator, we’re increasingly united in our desire to improve the places we call home, wherever those places might be. Over time, I’ve had participants from Hawaii to Russia, from British Columbia to Saudi Arabia, and many points in between.

The common thread among these seekers is their search for tools and tactics that have proven effective. And increasingly dominating these conversations are form-based codes.

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