Planning wonks might have felt all warm inside when they noticed zoning topics wedging their way into broader conversations about community affordability and equity. Bring it on. Finally.
Extraordinary strides have been made in the advancement of placemaking over the past twenty-five years.
Think about it. In the years prior, the term “placemaking” wasn’t even in common use by developers, designers and planners. Nor were terms such as form-based code, new urbanism, smart growth, transect, charrette, visual preference survey, traditional neighborhood development, transit-oriented development, sprawl repair/suburban retrofit, return on infrastructure investment analysis, tactical urbanism, WalkScore, complete streets, context sensitive thoroughfare design, LEED-ND, light imprint infrastructure, WalkUP, the original green, lean urbanism, the high cost of free parking, etc.
Even before last week’s official release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, advocates and defenders were honing their talking points. In April, liberal Catholic author Gary Wills upped the ante on what was anticipated — accurately, it turns out — as the the pontiff’s vigorous critique of global inequities exacerbated by climate change:
“The fact that the poor get poorer in this process is easily dismissed, denied, or derided,” said Wills. “The poor have no voice. Till now. If the pope were not a plausible voice for the poor, his opponents would not be running so scared.”
Last week, passing my Canadian citizenship exam was a poignant moment for me. I am grateful to have dual citizenship in Canada and the US, with the right to live and work in both great countries. I realize that we often spend time on this blog talking about what stands in the way of great placemaking, but I enjoyed over the weekend looking back at our Canadian urbanism series and celebrating what all’s going right in the nation to nurture neighbourhood-scale livability: Montreal: Lessons from great Canadian urbanism | Québec City: La ville de l’amour | Ottawa: Lessons from great Canadian urbanism | Mont-Tremblant: Cottage living in the Canadian Shield | Victoria Beach Lean Urbanism: A century practice? | Lessons from the Woods.
Recent trips to Spain and Germany have me appreciating the nuances of three plazas I had the pleasure of experiencing. Each plaza was a different character and scale from the other, which if I had to sum up simply, I’d call Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor: A City Plaza, Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt: A Civic Plaza, and Zafra’s Plaza Grande and Plaza Chica: Neighborhood Plazas. All share some common qualities, including being very active almost any time of day and in any weather, populated by what appear to be locals as well as visitors, and all have third places fronting at least one side of the plaza. But after that, the differences abound. It’s enjoyable to have the pause of vacation to study these spaces and think about what lessons we might bring home.
Having just wrapped up what may have been our favorite CNU ever, in Dallas on April 29 through May 2, we want to share some of the ideas that resonated the most with us. The topics below are snippets of great insights from many voices, including the likes of Andrés Duany, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Doug Farr, and Lynn Richards on Social Connections; Dr. Antwi Akom and Dan Slone on Equity; Charles Montgomery and Hazel Borys on Happiness; Chris Leinberger and Peter Calthorpe on Economics; John Anderson, Bruce Tolar, and Ben Brown on Affordability; Marina Khoury, Susan Henderson, Matt Lambert, Jennifer Hurley, Peter Park, and Hazel Borys on Form-Based Codes; Jeffrey Tumlin on Parking (and Dancing), Andrés Duany, Hank Dittmar, and Sandy Sorlien on Lean Urbanism; Scott Bernstein and Lee Sobel on Pedestrian Malls; and Jon Coppage, Andrés Duany and Charles Marohn on Politics. The Congress was full of concurrent sessions we wish we could have attended, so if you’re blogging other ideas or the pieces missing from these topics, please give us those links in the comment section.
This weekend, I again watched The Human Scale, a film from 2013, and got more stoked to meet Jan Gehl at the 23rd Congress for the New Urbanism (#CNU23) in Dallas in April. Jan will bring the Congress an update on his human scale work since the film was complete, but the ideas are timeless. The film is on Netflix in Canada. I’m not sure if it’s also available in the U.S., but it will be screened in Texas before CNU 23. Until then, here are memorable statements from the film, and the Twitter accounts of the speaker, when I could find them.
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.
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.
Here’s a quiz for you: What’s the “it” in these two quotes? And who’s talking?
It “is a radical, government-led re-engineering of society, one that artificially inverted millennia of accumulated wisdom . .”
It “offers conservatism a new venue, one where we can couple our desire for traditional culture and morals with a physical environment that supports both.”