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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Feared Dead, Math’s Back: Planning nerds vindicated

Planning for the future tends to be a humiliating exercise. Whatever’s headed our way is both inevitable and unpredictable. Yet because it brings with it the consequences of decisions we made or ducked in the past and now have to manage or endure in the present, we have to take a stab at decisions that are coherent and well-informed.

Or not.

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The Future of Municipal Planning 02: Learning from Success

As the planning profession roils in the confluence of the 21st century’s Great Recession, Peak Oil/Peak Auto Travel, Millennial [Re]urbanization, and the borderline religious fervor of sustainability, I have officially declared that ours is not the same planning profession John Nolen built. So, how can planning rebuild its brand?

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The Future of Municipal Planning: Is John Nolen rolling over in his grave?

This is not the planning profession John Nolen built. A century later, our great recession has sparked a full re-evaluation of what a city’s urban planning department should be ‘doing’ for its citizens. As witnessed in Los Angeles and San Diego, the planning profession is being measured by its eternal conundrum between Forward Planning Departments that plan for future development projects and Current Planning Services that process today’s development applications.

And, it appears that a few radical devolutions are taking place.

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Choosing to Overlook the Obvious

I live in an old house that overlooks a single-track CSX rail line. Between my front gate and the train is a two-lane, neighborhood-edge thoroughfare with a speed limit of 35 mph and an average speed closer to 40.

Though it functions as an in-town, city street, it’s classified as a state highway by the Georgia DOT, which means that, while modest in scale, it’s not exactly context-sensitive in its behavior. It’s been repaved many times without being milled, so the historic curbs once in evidence are now long covered up with asphalt, and the 4 and a half-foot sidewalk that runs along it is separated by a planting strip of 24 inches or less (depending on the block) which, ironically, can’t legally be planted with anything other than grass.

Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns might classify it as a baby-stroad.

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Infrastructure Deficit Disorder: The doctor is in

This past week, Chuck Marohn and Justin Burslie of Strong Towns gave their Curbside Chat in the beloved San Diego neighborhood of Hillcrest. Chuck’s visit was possible through a fun collaboration between Walt Chambers of Great Streets San Diego, Ben Nicholls, Executive Director of the Hillcrest Business Association, and myself. Forty of San Diego’s most engaged built environment professionals filled the room with a happy-hour sense of electricity in the air.

Chuck then proceeded to ground that spark.

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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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