Good Side of the Downside: The end is (only) near

Chuck Marohn needs a hug.

That was my first thought reading this in his July 17 Strong Towns post :

Let me be clear about what I actually imagine is in store for us. I look at America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods and I see overwhelming levels of fragility. I see a development pattern that destroys wealth; the more we do, the poorer we become. I see municipal debt levels rising as a consequence, as well as an increased dependence on state and federal assistance. I see property values and consumption rates (property tax and sales tax) artificially manipulated higher by federal monetary and fiscal policy—a lofty perch I don’t see as stable. I see local governments overwhelmed with liabilities, from infrastructure maintenance to pensions and rising health care costs. And I see the people in the system — politicians, professional staff and residents — all with powerful short term incentives to simply increase the level of fragility.

 . . . I think we’re royally screwed.

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Land Use: Preserving the rural landscape with agrarian urbanism

As the harvest starts to come in here in Manitoba and conversations with my farming friends point to a good yield, I’ve been thinking about how to preserve these lands. Rural communities are often the ones with the greatest constraints, especially when it comes to finances. Without federal support, holistic zoning reform in agrarian places is rare. This, coupled with perverse incentives in lending practices, leaves some of the most valuable assets in North America – highly productive farm lands – with the least resources available for land use reform to protect them.
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CNU 25 Seattle: Highlights from the silver anniversary

Last week was the 25th annual Congress for the New Urbanism, where 1,400 city planners, architects, developers, economists, and mayors from around the world gathered to discuss the future of cities. Hosted in collaboration with the Urban Land Institute, comprised of an additional 6,000 developers and builders, the two events brought significant inspiration and insight to those working in the city building trenches. Here are a few of the ideas that resonated the most with me, along with some of my favourite spots in downtown Seattle, where the “unboxed” conferences were held. All images are clickable for a larger view, and have CreativeCommons ShareAlike License with Attribution to Hazel Borys. Continue Reading

Hello Seattle: Project for Code Reform

As most of us at PlaceMakers settle into Seattle for this week’s 25th Congress for the New Urbanism, we look forward to seeing many of you on the west coast. For those of you who can’t make this year’s congress, be sure to check in with the social media hashtag, #CNU25. We’ll bring you a recap of some of our favourite ideas this time next week. In the meantime, to contribute to the virtual sharing of ideas about how to up livability in our communities, we are making many of our Placemaking@Work webinar series free for the month of May. Continue Reading

Goodbye Winter: Until next time, a few reminders on lovable winter cities

Last week, Super Man and Ghandi rolled into my neighbourhood. I know, it sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it isn’t. Henry Cavill and Ben Kingsley were in town for a film set in winter and the active core of my city, Winnipeg, is one of the best choices for lovable urbanism and dependable winter – two of my favourite subjects. While most of the northern hemisphere is now experiencing full-on springtime with trees bursting to life and the chill effectively chased, winter cities are still capitalizing on the last of our winter wonderlands. Continue Reading

Codes Study: Trends in zoning reform

About twelve years ago, I started the Codes Study to analyze cities, towns, and counties taking proactive steps toward zoning to encourage livable places. And by livable, I mean mixed-use, economically vibrant, convivial, walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly. Many places are using form-based codes to encourage livability, in jurisdictions covering over 45 million people worldwide.

Such code responds to today’s market pressures of families and corporations alike wanting to dwell in walkable urban places. It saves critical infrastructure dollars because of building in more compact forms. It can let us preserve more wilderness and productive farm and range lands with less sprawling development. It encourages wellness by making it easier to connect with others, instead of isolating us in single-use pods. It reinjects nature into cities in keeping with the character of its surroundings. Continue Reading