Ten key ingredients of a green and healthy community

Kaid-BenfieldIf someone asks what a green community, or a healthy one, means to you, what comes to mind? I’m willing to bet that for most people it is the visible and tangible aspects: a lovely city park, perhaps, or mature street trees, or bicycle lanes on a city street. If you’re a bit more wonky, you might also think of access to healthy food, or to public transportation. If you work on these matters for a living, you might think of more technical matters such as where we get our energy, what happens to our waste, and whether neighborhood streets are designed in a pattern that facilitates walking to accomplish everyday errands. Continue Reading

Hurricane Harvey provides a sober reminder that resilience is about mitigation and adaptation

Most of us faraway bystanders are observing Houston’s response to Hurricane Harvey with concern at the devastation as well as encouragement at the stories of compassion. With sympathy to the current human suffering from Harvey, we are wishing Houstonians continued strength, fortitude, and safe passage this week. No amount of comprehensive planning or zoning reform can prepare a city for the sort of flood Houston is currently experiencing. An expected 50” of rain in a few days makes this an event that no place in the world is likely to sustain without massive personal and economic impacts. Perhaps not even the Netherlands, who has led the world in stormwater management for hundreds of years, with protection, prevention, and preparedness.
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Ignorance was Bliss: How my urban learnin’ almost ruined everyday places

It strikes me that in the time since I originally wrote this piece a whole new slew of young urbanists have come of age, many now having similar experiences. It’s my hope that they too will find a comfortable balance between the ideal and the workable — not to excuse incompetence but to encourage and develop excellence. Urbanism is, after all, a long game.

For more than 15 years I’ve been hanging around with a pretty interesting collection of traditional architects, planners and urban designers. That’s my job. Taking their inherent disciplinary wonkdom and simplifying it for wider appreciation. Doing so means I’m frequently on the sidelines as they work, and a consistent witness to their application of accumulated wisdom to all manner of challenges currently ill served by modern solutions.

That’s put me on the receiving end of something of great professional value. And equally great personal annoyance:

An understanding of what makes great places great.

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Why City Issues are Also Environmental Issues

Kaid-BenfieldCities need nature, as I’ve written in an earlier essay. But what is not so well understood is that nature also needs cities. There is simply no way we can protect and maintain a beautiful, thriving, natural and rural landscape outside of cities if we continue to spread highways and suburban sprawl across the countryside.  Healthy, robust, beautiful cities where people want to live are critical to the protection of nature.

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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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