Connections, Community, and the Science of Loneliness

On my last trip to see my aging parents, I was struck again by the loneliness that comes from diminished connections. They are both inspiring people, and in their younger years were notably adept at making connections with and for others. And at helping people see the good in each other, in themselves, and in the communities they call home.

However, over time those connections are slowly dissolving. While there’s little to be done at this stage, this experience reaffirms the expediency of staying connected as long as we can to all the networks – internal and external – that make for wellness.

The process of saying “what if” does little good. However, I can’t help myself.

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Cities of Love: Paris, Boston, Venice, Québec City (and Buffalo?)

Gearing up for several sessions I’m really looking forward to at the 22nd Congress for the New Urbanism in Buffalo this week and feeling particularly grateful that winter in Winnipeg is finally over, I’m thinking about some of my happy places.

What’s more romantic than Paris in the spring? It’s a question that’ll get you 26 million hits on Google, so I won’t dive in. Romantic cities will get you 53 million hits. Clearly finding our happy place is something that we’re willing to travel great lengths to experience, and increasingly willing to change the status quo in order to build little love at home.

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Industry, Infrastructure and Intermodalism—Still Mixed Up on Special Districts?

Guest-ShakerIn her September 2011 blog, Special Districts Getting All Mixed Up, Hazel Borys questioned why we treat large format areas with distinctive uses, such as manufacturing or aviation, as “special” to the point of exclusion from our efforts to integrate all urban land uses and activities into a spatially coherent whole, ending with an inspiring contemporary example of planned “strict integration” of land uses in the corridors and boulevards connecting the El Paso International Airport to the city.
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London’s Lived-In Look

It’s summertime, and that means another installment of lessons from great cities. Last summer, I shared some images and impressions from Montreal, Mont-Tremblant, and Ottawa. Over the next few weeks, look for updates from Berlin, Paris, and this week, it’s London calling.

Before, I focused on elements in those great Canadian cities that have been made illegal in the suburbs, under contemporary land use practices. What’s on my mind this week are the benefits of great transit and civic space, as well as how to codify some of London’s highly functioning non-tourist neighbourhoods using the form-based codes we often discuss here on PlaceShakers.

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Ways to Fail at Form-Based Codes 04: Don’t Capture the Character

The other day, I was riding my bike from a deeply walkable, bikeable neighbourhood to a more auto-dominated environment, and I was struck again by the tactile response when you’re walking or biking through this change. In the walkable neighbourhood, fellow cyclists were in the streets or in bike lanes, mixing safely with the traffic-calmed cars and frequent pedestrians. But as I moved into the autocentric roads, otherwise law-abiding cyclists take to the sidewalks out of sheer terror at the fast moving cars that often fail to see them.

And pedestrians? They become scarce to nonexistent.

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Ways to Fail at Form-Based Codes 03: Misapply the Transect (to the region rather than the neighborhood)

When it comes to misapplying — or, more commonly, overly simplifying — the Transect, we’re all guilty on some level. For instance, I often speak generally about its inherent rural-to-urban spectrum and how, as you move through it, the landscape changes its character. The highways and byways whisking you through the wilderness and countryside get increasingly slower as you approach the city center, becoming streets of very specific proportions. Buildings change too, sitting on their lots in much more formal fashion as you move to the core, with trees and sidewalks dutifully matching the rhythms of their formality.

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Crowdsourcing = Data = Better Places

You know what the payment is for crowdsourcing? By asking other people to step up and think through solutions to some collective problem, I must commit to making a difference myself.

Every time I’ve asked you to share information with me, you have. Then I feel the need to compile it, analyze it, and organize it into a useful tool. I often get behind in answering all of your individual emails – thanks for all you send – but the power of your collective comments comes through loud and clear.

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Zoning as Spiritual Practice: From me to we to Thee

Get right with God. Fix your zoning.

That’s not something you hear regularly from the pulpit, maybe. But it’s gospel nonetheless. Here’s why:

If there’s one common thread woven through the world’s most enduring religions, it’s the call to connectivity: Self to others to everything.

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Walkable Streets: Considering common issues

As municipalities throughout North America seek to reform their development patterns (or at least expand their options) from the single-use zoning and automobile oriented regulations of the past century to those that allow for walkable, compact, mixed use places, there is a long list of standards and regulations that must be addressed. Often we discuss these issues in isolation, particularly the reform of use-based zoning into more responsive form-based zoning, and the reform of street standards from automobile-focused approaches to those that also balance the needs of bikes and pedestrians. Not only are these two regulations inextricably linked, but a roster of appropriate walkable street standards is absolutely essential to a form-based land use regulation. Where conventional zoning districts come with their own menu of street types (the ubiquitous local, collector, and arterial — all named for their vehicular function), so does the zoning for walkable urbanism (the street, avenue, and boulevard — to name a few).

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