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

The Trifecta: Urbanism, architecture, and nature

We often blog on the benefits of nature integrated into urbanism and wellbeing outcomes of walkability. The real trifecta is when walkable urbanism, human-scale architecture, and nature come together via placemaking. A recent study from the University of Warwick points out that a scenic view delivers equal health benefits to access to nature: “Cohesion of architecture and design boosts people’s health and happiness, not just the number of parks and trees.”

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Why Can’t My Zoning Create a Diversity of Places?

Planners frequently use the place type framework to identify different issues, challenges, and assets throughout a municipality or a region. While there isn’t a standard used across the profession, it is generally accepted that the broadest range of places includes the hamlet, village, town and city. Historically we intuitively understood how to build these places without regulation. Commerce and public spaces were located where the majority of residents could access them, and housing was both diverse and compact. This permitted the preservation of the landscape for agriculture and natural systems.

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Word Eating Time: Here’s today’s menu

Whatever skills I developed in manipulating language were shaped by two decades on the staffs of newspapers and magazines. In my first interview for a newspaper job, a managing editor lectured me on the transition I should be prepared for. I could forget all that fancy writing stuff I may have learned in college. I was about to become a reporter serving customers with middle school reading skills and a lot of impatience with nuance.

Bottom line: Get to the friggin point, preferably no later than the second paragraph. So here it is: The broader you try to apply that advice, the worse it makes things.

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CNU24 Detroit: Summary and celebration

You know how the sweet spot for blogs is 500 words? Well, this isn’t one of those. It’s the geek’s guide to the 24th Congress for the New Urbanism in Detroit. Feeling grateful for the food for thought, and wanting to keep the ideas fresh. This blog compiles city planning tweets from June 8 through 11 on the subject, grouping the ideas into categories of Community, Equity, Lean Urbanism, Transportation, Infrastructure, Suburban Retrofit, and Architecture, along with inspiration from Detroit and Charleston.

Here’s a shout out to all the Twitter-using urbanists in Detroit who used the hashtag #CNU24 to share this wealth of ideas, and I highly recommend following the credits list at the end, along with many others using that hashtag, whose rich content would require an encyclopedia to truly do it justice. Check out the Twitter feed for the ideas I wasn’t able to cover.

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