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.
I tend to take the road less traveled.
For whatever reason, conventional approaches have never interested me. And the process I came up with for my city’s comp plan was no different.
Why? Well, first off, conventionalism leads to….. “BORING!” (Yell it out like no one can hear you!)
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.
“For forty-one million, you built a playoff team. You lost Damon, Giambi, Isringhausen, Peña and you won more games without them than you did with them. You won the exact same number of games that the Yankees won, but the Yankees spent one point four million per win and you paid two hundred and sixty thousand. I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall always gets bloody, always. It’s the threat to not just the way of doing business, but in their minds it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods, it’s threatening their jobs, it’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people who are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch — they go bat shit crazy. I mean, anybody who’s not tearing their team down right now and rebuilding it using your model, they’re dinosaurs. They’ll be sitting on their ass on the sofa in October, watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series.”
–From the movie Moneyball: John Henry, Boston Red Sox owner
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.
Ways to Fail at Form-Based Codes 03: Misapply the Transect (to the region rather than the neighborhood)
When it comes to misapplying — or, more commonly, overly simplifying — the Transect, we’re all guilty on some level. For instance, I often speak generally about its inherent rural-to-urban spectrum and how, as you move through it, the landscape changes its character. The highways and byways whisking you through the wilderness and countryside get increasingly slower as you approach the city center, becoming streets of very specific proportions. Buildings change too, sitting on their lots in much more formal fashion as you move to the core, with trees and sidewalks dutifully matching the rhythms of their formality.
Since meeting Chuck Marohn, I’ve advocated for his rational Strong Towns approach to reforming our inefficient auto-oriented infrastructure system. Chuck’s message to focus infrastructure decisions on their long-term return on investment is radical because he is a Traffic Engineer. Honestly, the most frustrating and irrational meetings I have held are not with any citizen group or elected officials, but with local Traffic Engineers. Over the years, smarter growth traffic specialist like DeWayne Carver, Rick Hall, Rick Chellman, and Peter Swift have protected me from having too many direct encounters, but all are located east of the Rockies.
As the planning profession roils in the confluence of the 21st century’s Great Recession, Peak Oil/Peak Auto Travel, Millennial [Re]urbanization, and the borderline religious fervor of sustainability, I have officially declared that ours is not the same planning profession John Nolen built. So, how can planning rebuild its brand?
A while back, we talked about Connections, Community, and the Science of Loneliness, and how our laws have separated not just building uses — residential, commercial, retail, civic — but have also separated people. And that separation has led to a spate of ills — ill health, ill economies, and ill environments. We looked at some of the places that are reversing those use-separated laws of the last 80 years, allowing a mixture of compatible uses where people have a better chance of growing up healthy and aging in place.
Taking shots at the suburbs is like playing bass in a garage band: Easy to do, but hard to do well. After all, their original intent — an idyllic melding of town and country, with all the advantages of both — implied a tranquil, family-friendly promise that, over time, has proven notoriously unfulfilled.
Surely that’s a subject worthy of more than just another McMansion joke.