Civic Space: Creating Community

Public space, or as many urbanists refer to it, civic space, sets the stage for community building. The study of how we use public space has been refined by Jan Gehl over the last thirty years, since the publication of his Life Between Buildings in 1987. A couple of weeks ago, Gehl released his Public Life Data Protocol, in an attempt to establish a standard method for the global collection of data on how we inhabit our civic spaces. And help the rest of us become better urban observers. Continue Reading

CNU Climate Summit Highlights

A group of concerned urban designers, architects, ecologists, and economists gathered last week in Alexandria, Virginia, to discuss resilience at the CNU Climate Summit. Unable to join, I reached a few participants by phone and followed the Twitter hashtag, #CNUClimate, to hear highlights of the presentations and working groups. Several of their ideas resonate with the resilience thread here, and is another step in the process of answering some of the questions we often pose. Warning, this blog is long and heavy on direct quotes.
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When Coffee Came to London (Not a Starbuck’s story)

Around 1650, coffee came to London. The refreshing and slightly habit forming beverage was a big hit. A new kind of non-alcoholic public house — the coffee house — was quickly invented.

London was a walking city, only the wealthy and businesses had personal transportation. And the weather was famously chancey. So a smart entrepreneur came up with a way of scouting locations.

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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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