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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Aggravated 15 Year Olds as a Measure of Place

I’m always on the lookout for simpler ways to make important points about how we grow. Ways that people intuitively understand, and can easily share with others.

Regular readers here may recall the last time I talked about this, when my mention of the neighborhood-measuring popsicle test — the ability of an 8 year old to safely get somewhere to buy a popsicle, then make it home before it melts — experienced a healthy does of viral replication across the interwebs.

It made for a good lesson, and I’ve continued to look for similar hooks in the time since.

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“People Habitat”: Kaid Benfield takes Smart Growth to a higher level

For several weeks now I’ve intended to write up my thoughts on “People Habitat,” the recently-released book from NRDC smart growth sensei — and friend — Kaid Benfield. Not that it’s anything he needs, mind you. A quick look at his reviews over on Amazon reveals a diverse collection of accolades, consistent only in their five-star assessments, and I suppose my hesitation has stemmed from a desire to not just heap on a little more well-deserved praise but to add something fresh to the discussion.

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Reaching the Limits of Passionate Defense: Time to turn back

When House Speaker John Boehner, indulging his inner Howard Beale, launched a Republican counterattack against the party’s far right wing, it seemed to me the GOP was finally rubbing up against the same rough edges of reality that have become apparent in big-time sports. And the lessons apply as much to civic life in towns and regions as to Washington politics.

Here’s what the life lab of sports tells us: Stressing defensive disruption over offensive accountability is a losing proposition.

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Happy City Highlights

Ever had one of those doctor’s visits in which your physician questions you in great detail about your family medical history? Trying to tease out the nebulous connections within your DNA to explain certain strengths, weaknesses, and anomalies. And then he uses that connecting thread to help solve something that’s been bothering you? Charles Montgomery does just that in his new book, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.

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One Chart to Explain Everything: You’re welcome

Welcome to what we all need: A single chart that explains everything. Okay, maybe not everything. But a lot of stuff, especially stuff related to making rules for growing businesses and communities.

It’s simple. And here’s what it illustrates: When you’re shaping rules to live by, the more you optimize flexibility, the more you sacrifice predictability. The higher you prioritize predictability, the lower your chances for flexibility.

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Informing Excellence (Not Imitation)

The flurry of social media discussions sparked by my recent series on lessons from great cities has made it apparent that a few things aren’t clear. When I write about a particular square in some inspiring place, I’m hoping you won’t take away from it that we should stamp 5-story buildings on 50-yard wide squares all across the landscape. But rather I’m reaffirming that a sense of enclosure can indeed provide a feeling of comfort and satisfaction. You’ll know, if you’re a frequent PlaceShakers reader, that this sense of enclosure is illegal across much of North America because of auto-centric land use laws that require wide, fast roads.

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Cottage Simplicity: Keeping it easy, making it attainable

We talk often here on PlaceShakers about cottage living, as well as drilling down into how to make that happen at home, with conversations like Small Y’all: A Cottage Solution to the Housing Problem and “Pocket Neighborhoods”: Scale Matters.

This weekend, strolling through Victoria Beach — an insightful cottage community in Manitoba, Canada — I was struck by many of the lessons learned through all the conversations we’ve had together here. And one of the biggest is to keep it simple. And in many cases, that means inexpensive. Victoria Beach does it with a dirt street grid and very simple architecture on the town square, which is really more of an oversized town ramble. Most of the lots on these dirt streets are not cleared keeping the costs lower and privacy higher.

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Here Comes Chaos: David Lynch sketches the landscape

If I’d been paying better attention (which is how I start a lot of sentences these days), I could have begun my reeducation in the ways things work in 1986. That’s when film director David Lynch gave us Blue Velvet.

Back then, the way Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini embraced Lynch’s sex and violence mash-ups distracted me from much in the way of Big Idea exploration. But, like a lot of others, even though I couldn’t explain the effect they had on me, I never forgot the film’s opening two minutes.

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