The City as NORC: It’s the people thing

When The New York Times used my wife and me as examples in a story about retirees’ growing preferences for urban life, it was a chance to literally walk the talk.

I’ve been writing about my Baby Boomer cohort for all my career, first in the ‘60s alternative press, then in newspaper and magazine stories as we aged through what is probably the longest adolescence in world history. The chance we’ll grow up before we die? Even money. But here’s something you can bet on:

The generation that moved markets at every stage of our lives is likely to have something left for a finale. And maybe it’s a walk-off nudge in the direction of neighborhood and community design.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Triangular Plazas: Flexible, outdoor rooms with meaningful uses

Last year I enjoyed thinking of the critical components of a successful plaza: activity, locals, and a third place. Great plazas are hosts to community engagement any time of the day or evening, they attract both locals and tourists, and always have a third place fronting at least one edge of the outdoor room. A recent trip to France provided a study of the unusual triangular plaza, or place. These triangular French spaces reminded me of a very special New Mexican plaza of my home state. They all have a civic use anchoring the base of the space, a mixture of uses framing the space, and opportunity for meaningful, flexible community activity in the space itself.

Continue Reading

Four Characteristics of Active, Healthy Neighborhoods

Kaid-BenfieldScientists are learning more and more about how where we live affects the amount of exercise we get, and thus how fit and healthy we are likely to be. In general, city dwellers are particularly well placed to get regular exercise if they can take care of some or all of their daily errands without getting into a car: walking is good for us, and so is taking public transportation, because almost every transit trip begins and ends with a walking trip.

Continue Reading

Inclusive Cities: Inclusion equals diversity plus equity

The placemakers way is to enable the triple bottom line of resilience: environment, economy, and society, trying to balance the needs of people, planet and profit. And yet it’s always easier to measure the impacts of our collective choices on profit — or even on the planet — than it is on people. We’ve blogged extensively about happiness, with equity as an essential component. Social equity has been defined as equal opportunity in a safe and healthy environment. Social equity requires fair, just and equitable public policy. Social equity is a generator of social capital.
Continue Reading

Unpredictable, High Risk, High Cost: Planning for the worst is the worst

So here we go again.

Flood waters rise in southern Louisiana, displacing tens of thousands — some temporarily,  others permanently — and potentially costing billions.

The familiar narrative cycle has cranked up. Right now we’re emerging from the stage where we celebrate the heroism of citizens, volunteers and emergency responders and question the competency of the feds. Next comes the rough accounting of damages and the fights over  funding, then the agonizing slog towards a recovery unlikely to ever be complete. Finally will come a lessons-learned wrap-up that could be copied and pasted from reports post-Camille, post-Andrew, post-Katrina, post-Sandy and post a bunch of other recent calamities without a name.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading