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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Git ‘Er Done | Hazel Borys
This year’s CNU was all about doing again, unlike the past few years where we’ve focused on stop-gap measures to redirect our investment choices to more resilient patterns. Looks like they might be starting to pay off. Still, we have plenty of hard work ahead to remove both legal and financial hurdles.
It’s that time of year again, fellow urbanists. The Congress for the New Urbanism, perhaps the country’s most comprehensive gathering of city planners, city builders and city lovers. This year, the 21st, is themed Living Community which, according to organizers, “balances the demands of physical, social, economic, and environmental values by connecting people to place. It awakens a stewardship for our land and each other. It is measured by how well we care for the people around us, the places we make, and the land that hosts us.”
As always, you’ll find us there. And to keep it easy, we’ve compiled this handy compendium of everything we’re up to. Come find us, and let’s get into something.
Following up on their debut episode, “Sprawlanta,” the good folks at First + Main Media have unveiled the latest installment in their “American Makeover” documentary series: “Seaside: The City of Ideas.” (Disclosure: PlaceMakers is a sponsor of the series.) In it, town designer Andrés Duany leads a guided tour through New Urbanism’s most iconic project, spelling out a host of best practice lessons and applications that, perhaps most importantly, are not exclusive to resort development.
The other day, I was riding my bike from a deeply walkable, bikeable neighbourhood to a more auto-dominated environment, and I was struck again by the tactile response when you’re walking or biking through this change. In the walkable neighbourhood, fellow cyclists were in the streets or in bike lanes, mixing safely with the traffic-calmed cars and frequent pedestrians. But as I moved into the autocentric roads, otherwise law-abiding cyclists take to the sidewalks out of sheer terror at the fast moving cars that often fail to see them.
And pedestrians? They become scarce to nonexistent.
Slow and steady progress is built on an ongoing series of course corrections. Subtle variations in direction based on new variables, new challenges, and new innovations.
As times and circumstances change, some things inevitably become less productive. Or effective. Or conducive to contemporary sensibilities. So, we make changes.
Historically, they’ve been made by a matter of degrees. A minor turn here, a more substantial turn there. But today, in the modern era, we seem overly-fascinated with just one increment in particular. The most extreme increment. 180 degrees.
Out with the old, in with the new.