Filling in the ‘Missing Middle’: No new wheels, please

For lots of reasons, including the ones PlaceMakers’ Scott Doyon explains here, Seaside, on the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast, makes a great place to talk about the appeal of small-scale dwellings in small-lot neighborhoods. Certainly, hanging out in a place where the real estate market has bid up the price for small wooden houses without lawns or garages to six and seven figures makes it harder to argue that nobody will pay for the privilege.

Location, then, partially explains why some 30 prospective developers — and Bandit, the dog — arrived over the weekend to drill down on how-to topics related to just such places.

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Ideas Converging for Housing Opportunity: Some sorta oldish, lots very NUish

When we look back on this period, we might discover that the effort to ramp up realistic approaches to the challenges of community affordability reached some sort of tipping point in the spring and summer of 2015.

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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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This Just In: No one is everyone, no place is every place

Now that the recent economic unpleasantness is behind us, we can resume the suburbanization of everywhere.

The Economist apparently thinks so, given its recent special section headlined “The World Is Becoming Ever More Suburban, and the Better for It.”

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Are We There Yet? Affordability in the ‘New Normal’

Pretty soon we’ll have something like a decade of experience in losing our innocence about housing affordability. Isn’t it about time we got over it?

For a good part of the last century, we trained generations of housing consumers and housing enablers to buy and sell into what Chuck Marohn calls a “growth Ponzi scheme.” It was fun while it lasted, allowing a lot of us to postpone paying the tab for our delusions to some unspecified date in an imaginary future. Then we got to the real future.

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Finally Thinkin’ Small: But can we build on what we’ve learned?

As soon as the destructive path of Hurricane Sandy became evident, I got emails and calls from colleagues who, like me, worked in disaster recovery situations on the Gulf Coast. When the clean-up gets underway, could this be an opportunity for the Eastern Seaboard states to apply some of the rebuilding lessons of the Gulf after Katrina? Is there a role for Katrina Cottages?

Well, sure. If there’s one upside in the succession of devastating weather events over the last decade, it’s the opportunity to build on lessons learned. Time between disasters dulls response capacities; shorter gaps refine best practices. And for my money, no lessons are worth more than those connected with the evolution of sustainable neighborhood design.

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Punk Rock and the New Urbanism: Getting back to basics

By the early to mid 1970s, something was wrong with rock and roll.

It no longer fought the system. Worse than that, it had become the system. Bloated. Detached. Pretentious.

Performer and audience, once fused in a mutual quest to stick it to the man, now existed on separate planes –  an increasingly complacent generation sucked into the service of pomp and circumstance. And the shared experience of joyful rebellion? Replaced by pompous, weed-soaked, middle-earth mysticism.

Rock and roll needed to get back to basics. What country pioneer Harlan Howard characterized as “three chords and the truth.” Enter punk rock.

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Six Years Later: Katrina Cottages take hold

August 11 will be a landmark day in the South Mississippi communities still recovering from the 2005 mega-storm, Hurricane Katrina. And it’s about time.

On that day next week, 18 days shy of the sixth anniversary of the storm, the development team behind the Cottages at Oak Park in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, will host a ribbon cutting for 29 rental units that represent the latest evolution of an idea born in the Mississippi Renewal Forum following the storm.

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Livin’ Large in Small Spaces: It Takes a Town

I’m big on small.

Ever since the 2005 Misissippi Renewal Forum in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I’ve been beating the drum for Katrina Cottages and cottage neighborhoods. Most recently here and, in 2009, here.

I haven’t exactly been a voice in the wilderness. In fact, I wasn’t even among the early wave of advocates. Continue Reading