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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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, Here the Day After That

They may not be new but I was recently introduced to a series of comics by English artist Grayson Perry taking on the world of creative arts, particularly one entitled “Gentrification.”

The tale is familiar. Old industry fades, artists take possession of the infrastructure, ragtag commerce blossoms and, ultimately, evolves into something only fleetingly reminiscent of what it once was. Laid out by Perry, it’s biting and funny stuff that deftly pushes all the cynical buttons we’ve adopted as self-defense mechanisms against a world in a constant state of flux.

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Comp Plan for Westeros? Same issues, more swordplay

Frustrated with efforts to pull your little kingdom together for long term strategizing? It could be worse. You could be caught up in the public outreach drama in Westeros. The battles renew on Sunday night, when HBO debuts season seven of “Game of Thrones.”

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Livability, Division, Exclusion and Other Naughty Words

This is what we’ve come to: An escalation in urban property values and cost of living so extreme in some quarters that there are now those who, with a straight face, argue against efforts to improve neighborhoods. Don’t bring those improvements goes the often implied but less frequently articulated point of view, as improvement increases quality of life, quality of life increases desirability, desirability increases demand, and demand brings newcomers and drives up cost.

That’s how the process goes, for sure. You’ll get no argument from me in that regard. But surely we’re capable of something better than leave suffering areas suffering so they can stay off the radar.

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The Other Side of Anxiety? Realism. And maybe hope.

When the dust settles after the current traumas, I think we’ll see this time in our lives and in our nation’s history as a period in which what we’ve learned about human psychology, democracy and policy-making at every scale has exposed weaknesses in ourselves and our institutions that will take a while to fix. And that could be a good thing.

We’re wired to seek simple solutions, even when evidence suggests hairballs of complexity. And the more stressed we are, the faster we default to The Answer. Evolution encourages us to be hammers in search of nails. Needless to say, this has not always worked well for us. (See racism, genocide, xenophobia, etc. Also Urban Renewal and the 2016 presidential election.)

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Beuvron-en-Auge: 15th century town planning stands the test of time

Every month or so, we add to our collection of lessons from livable places. These are the neighbourhoods where walking the streets and looking carefully at the urban forms provide insights into what makes for lovability over time. Today, I’d like to consider Beuvron-en-Auge, deemed one of the most beautiful villages in France by Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. In the heart of cider country, the half-timber construction and picturesque Norman streets suggest a timeless beauty that belies the recent struggle for historic preservation and restoration. Continue Reading

The (Irrational) Criminalization of Walking

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, if only there was a concise resource available that articulates key reasons why walking is so much less prevalent in the modern age; why this presents unanticipated threats to safety, health, the environment, child development, and social equity; and what we in our communities can do to effectively advocate for change; and that argues the case in a manner compelling to folks across the political spectrum, then today’s your lucky day. Because yesterday marked the release of “The Criminalization of Walking” by law professor and congenial urbanist, Michael Lewyn, and it’s got all the tools you need to restore common sense, wherever you live.

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