Benchmarks: Places on the move measure up

As spring tempts us to pick up the pace of our outdoor activities, it’s clear that not all places have equal footing. Those well-positioned to draw us out into health-boosting active transportation are enjoying all sorts of benefits. City planners across North America are trying hard to even the playing field. The 2016 Benchmarking Report for Bicycling and Walking in the United States came out earlier this month, and if you haven’t taken the time to read it yet, here are some of the important highlights in this biennial review published by the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

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Making Better Places to Fail: Take those jobs and . . (Part II)

First, let’s review:

Of all the sub-topics in urban planning and design, the ones likely to generate the most anxiety are those where land use planning intersects with economic development. Old-school economic developers signal their nervousness pretty quickly when they sense planning strategies are heading in directions that might keep them from promising infrastructure goodies or regulatory exemptions to firms they’re wooing.

No parking in front or drive-through capacities? Zoning that pulls buildings up to the street? Well, there goes business investment in our community. And you know what that means: Fewer JOBS for our people.

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Take These Jobs and…
(You know the rest)

Cheerleaders for American business used to get peeved when cynics contorted a quote by General Motors CEO Charles Erwin Wilson in 1953. The popular, misinterpreted version: “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” What Wilson actually said: “I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

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A Comprehensive Accounting of Economic and Environmental Performance: Who’s in?

For the last several decades, North American cities have used growth as a primary economic engine. Increasingly less dense new growth is subsidized by the more dense core, but requires a growth rate that is not supportable by the market cycle in most places today. As growth rates stalled, decreased, or went negative, city budget deficits have escalated despite cutting key city services.

Particularly in Sunburnt Cities and Rust Belt Cities, Smart Decline is replacing Smart Growth. Cities face a new imperative of behaving more like businesses, and less like ponzi schemes.

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Why Placemaking Matters: The ROI of Cities

Thanks to all of you who made last week’s Why Placemaking Matters: What’s in it for me? conversation so interesting. Robert Steuteville, editor of Better! Cities & Towns, jumped in with his own elevator pitch that beautifully connects much of the wonk-speak that I listed last week. Kaid Benfield from Washington D.C. and Brent Bellamy from Winnipeg both started interesting Twitter conversations, which also sparked a rumination on minimum densities from Winnipeg developer, Ranjjan Developments. Continue Reading

Why Placemaking Matters: What’s in it for me?

When a mayoral candidate from my city wrote me to ask me to repeat in writing what I’d said the night before, I realize I need to de-wonk and make my elevator speech more memorable. Why does city planning matter to people who aren’t urban designer types? If I could take an extra five minutes of your time, I’m interested in hearing each of your pitches, in the comments below. Here’s mine, thanks in part to countless conversations with many of you: Continue Reading

Next Urbanism Lab 01: The layers that built San Diego

My city’s downtown is built on decades of layers. Planning trends layered upon planning trends. Over its history, through a long list of award-winning vision plans, San Diego has earnestly followed what every other city has done.

Not to discount the quality of the plans, mind you. After all, John Nolen did two. Kevin Lynch prepared one. Mike Stepner, FAIA, FAICP, gave us several. Incoming APA President Bill Anderson, FAICP, did our latest city plan, and John Fregonese is preparing a new one this year.

The point instead is to illustrate a legacy of following rather than one of leading. Consider, for example, the history that led us to where we are today.

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Places that Pay: Benefits of placemaking

When we updated and republished the Codes Study last week, I was deeply encouraged by all of you who expressed support. Thank you! From Rome to Finland to the UAE and across North America, I enjoyed the conversations and online exchanges regarding this group of towns and cities that are using character-based land use laws to guide proactive, locally-driven efforts to improve quality-of-life and become more economically competitive.

Others of you were asking for insights for how to get this change rolling at home, looking for value capture. Many reports quantify the value of the sorts of livable, walkable places that a form-based code generates. Here is a selection of studies that help make the case for walkability.

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