Finding Tucson’s Lovable Places

I was inspired and delighted last week by working in Tucson and Marana, Arizona. Whenever we are writing character-based zoning, one of the first things we do is a regional tour to analyze the DNA of the most loved places. Places cannot be resilient unless they can be loved. It’s one of the basic principles of the Original Green, which says that buildings must be lovable, durable, adaptable, and frugal, and places must be nourishable, accessible, serviceable, and securable, in order to last and thrive. Extracting that lovable DNA and allowing it by right injects a sense of place into new development, as well as infill and redevelopment.
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Why Can’t My Zoning Create a Diversity of Places?

Planners frequently use the place type framework to identify different issues, challenges, and assets throughout a municipality or a region. While there isn’t a standard used across the profession, it is generally accepted that the broadest range of places includes the hamlet, village, town and city. Historically we intuitively understood how to build these places without regulation. Commerce and public spaces were located where the majority of residents could access them, and housing was both diverse and compact. This permitted the preservation of the landscape for agriculture and natural systems.

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Lean Code Tool

We believe form-based codes are the most efficient, predictable, and elegant way to assure high levels of walkability and urbanism – even in more rural environments. However, the political and staff capacity of many local governments is not prepared for a full zoning reform effort. CNU is developing an agenda of incremental code reform that blends perfectly with the Lean Urbanism initiative funded by the Knight Foundation and led by the Center for Applied Transect Studies.

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Walkable Winter Cities

Coming in from my slow run on this morning’s packed snow, I am grateful again for my old, walkable neighbourhood that tempts me out of doors, even in the cold weather. And that’s saying a lot, since I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, one of the three coldest cities on earth of a population of 600,000 or higher.

Walkability mitigates the most extreme climates by providing interesting places to warm up, linger, and connect. And plenty of options about how and where to turn around and circle back.

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Rain: A great judge of neighbourhood character

Heading to the Wilmington, North Carolina region this week, I’m excited about seeing a city that’s one of my favourite running buddies. Last week, I was enjoying a run in Winnipeg as well, when someone pointed out, “But it’s raining.” I had barely noticed since this satisfyingly walkable neighbourhood dares people to live outdoors.

Facebook handily reminded me that this time last year, I was in Venice, where it was resolutely rainy. Perhaps Venice is not the best comparison for “mere mortal” cities, as the idyllic urbanism tends to romanticize the rain. The weather certainly didn’t stop the millions of tourists who had come just to walk the streets.

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The Plaza: What is required for a community living room?

Recent trips to Spain and Germany have me appreciating the nuances of three plazas I had the pleasure of experiencing. Each plaza was a different character and scale from the other, which if I had to sum up simply, I’d call Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor: A City Plaza, Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt: A Civic Plaza, and Zafra’s Plaza Grande and Plaza Chica: Neighborhood Plazas. All share some common qualities, including being very active almost any time of day and in any weather, populated by what appear to be locals as well as visitors, and all have third places fronting at least one side of the plaza. But after that, the differences abound. It’s enjoyable to have the pause of vacation to study these spaces and think about what lessons we might bring home.

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Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. The DNA of urban succession

Steve Jobs ended one of his most memorable speeches with the encouragement, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” He was quoting the message on the final page of the final publication of The Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand’s version of pre-Google, assembled with typewriters, polaroid’s and scissors. Jobs’ point for me was to realize that the hunger for knowledge is not neediness, powerlessness, or weakness, but rather is a transformational driver of change and growth. An essential part of wellbeing.

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SimCity Adopts a Form-Based Code?

No, but I do wish they would. Over the holidays, my ten-year-old and I started playing SimCity. As the many other city planners who’ve played the game have observed, it’s a great way to explore basic city building concepts with people who don’t think about it too often. Now as I gripe about some of the things that a form-based code would fix, my kid commiserates, and suggests an open letter to SimCity.

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