Green in the City: A recipe for mental and environmental health

Kaid-BenfieldThe National Arbor Day Foundation has a simple app on its website that allows visitors to see how a city changes as it adds tree cover and other vegetation. Using a little sliding tool, one can gradually change the illustration from one with few trees to one with abundant trees. The difference is striking: everyone I know would prefer to live in the greener city.

I love the Arbor Day app, but this is not a new subject for me. I have long maintained that the fates of nature and cities are intricately related: Nature needs cities, a truth still not sufficiently appreciated in the world of environmental advocacy, because compact urban and suburban communities reduce development pressure on the natural and rural landscape.

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‘Gentrification’ Redux: Wealth, opportunity, community

It’s pretty clear that breaking news in American cities is not going to let us duck debates about race, inequality and public policy. About time, right?

Still, it doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere, what with partisans screaming, “You just don’t get it!” to their opposites across a wasteland of failed ideas. We seem to keep picking away at the edges of problems, focusing on sub-issues that fit our predispositions and ignoring everything that complicates our perspectives.

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Suburban Retrofits: A deep dive

A couple weeks ago, Ellen Dunham-Jones produced a Placemaking@Work webinar that she described as a deep dive into the suburban retrofit case studies, with an hour-long lecture in preparation for the 23rd Congress for the New Urbanism in Dallas, April 29 through May 2. This session is free until the beginning of the CNU here, but in the mean time, I had a few follow-up questions that she kindly answered for me.

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Here’s to Zimmerman/Volk and to ‘Attainable Housing’

I should maybe feel at least a little guilty for escaping the cold weather in the North Carolina mountains where I live and heading to Florida over the weekend. But I don’t.

The destination was, after all, Panhandle Florida, the vertically challenged part of Florida that folks farther south call “LA,” as in “Lower Alabama.” Which means I was still wearing a down jacket when I ducked outside.

Also the trip was for a good cause. The occasion was the annual Seaside Prize Weekend, sponsored by the Seaside Institute.

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The Human Scale

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.

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Letting Love Rule: All urban density is not created equal

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.

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Can Preservationists Let Love Rule?

Call me naive.

When I was first exposed to the New Urbanism in the 1990s, it was as a 9 to 5 brand marketer with an appreciation for music and art. Killing time one day in my dentist’s waiting room, I stumbled upon “Bye-Bye Suburban Dream,” the cover story of the latest Newsweek magazine.

I still remember the feeling I had as I read it. Unbelievable, I thought. This is a movement pursuing places where people, community, beauty and culture are once again prioritized. Where the interconnected everyday human experiences that color our lives are valued. Where commerce and art can both thrive.

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SimCity Adopts a Form-Based Code?

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.

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Small to Go Big in 2015?
Maybe. Finally. Here’s why.

Those of us who’ve been tangling with status quo protectors in housing design and policymaking got a charge out of Justin Shubow’s Forbes blog post earlier this month. Shubow backhanded modernist starchitects for persisting in their personal artistic vision without regard to the human use of real places:

“Modernism might appear outwardly impregnable: it dominates the practitioners, the critics, the media, and the schools. But as the example of the Soviet Union shows, even the strongest-appearing edifice can suddenly come crashing down when it turns out it no longer has internal support.”

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