Neighborhoods First (and Goal)

San Diego’s new Mayor, Bob Filner, was elected on a “Neighborhoods First” campaign, as it was apparent that downtown and a select group of out-of-town developers had the past administration’s undivided attention. Today, the older, hip, cool, streetcar neighborhoods are experiencing development pressure for new shops and housing.  A progressive democrat in a historically republican town, our Mayor has a clear mandate to transform our neighborhoods from their current fear-of-change state to real placemaking possibilities… in conformance with local community character, of course.

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Next Urbanism Lab 04: Dare to live outdoors

As we re-populate our downtowns, and watch the crime statistics drop, people are seeing safety in numbers. Jane Jacobs was right about eyes on the street reducing crime. With the sense that it’s indeed safe to be in cities again, it appears that citizens are re-learning how to be connected in an urban context. Downtown’s street cafes, shops and plazas, filled with activity, are proof that we’re succeeding in bringing people back downtown. Safely.

This wasn’t always so.

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Homelessness: Testing the boundaries of “health, safety and welfare”

Homelessness is an everyday issue that gets a little additional attention during the holidays. A recent HUD report estimated that, on a single night, 633,782 people are homeless across the United States. What surprised me and others, however, was the fact that, after New York and Los Angeles, it’s San Diego, our 8th largest city (and my hometown), that has the country’s third highest number of homeless. And a too high percentage of them are military veterans.

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Next Urbanism Lab 03: Redevelopment as a tool for urban (re)investment

Yesterday, I had the great fortune of sitting on a panel to discuss the possibilities of Redevelopment 2.0 in California. The other panelists included CNU Board member Scott Polikov, APA President-elect Bill Anderson, affordable housing advocates, planning professionals and professors, as well as my lovely wife (discussing the California Environmental Quality Act).

Sadly, I blew it.

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Next Urbanism Lab 02: Planning trends captivate, but…

In not learning from the past we are destined to repeat it. So, in this lab, I’ll examine some of the trends currently dominating planning and begin examining the quirks and pitfalls that can occur when a solution for one city is transplanted somewhere else.

In my last Next Urbanism Lab post, I detailed how my city of San Diego has been built over time through a layering of national planning and development trends — silver bullets, so to speak — in order to chase economic prosperity. Our new convention center, downtown baseball park, mall, and freeway were squished into our traditional urban fabric in order to save our city from some economic malaise at the time.

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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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The New Incrementalism

The latest design trend appears to be designing a place to be realized in very gradual stages. Not in terms of planning for phases of development pods, built-out in a predetermined sequence, but about individual lots changing — evolving — over time. Very rarely now are we designing to build immediately for a project’s absolute highest and best use or, as Nathan Norris calls it, its “climax condition.” This new incrementalism focuses on how lots change — how they’re built upon and reconfigured over time before, ahem, reaching their climax.

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Great Civic Space: It ain’t the size, it’s what you do with it

While hanging out in the street last Friday, against my Mother’s better childhood advice, I felt an affirmation of my belief in why we, PlaceMakers, do what we do.

A group of us neighborhood advocates, San Diego Urbanist, participated in the annual PARK(ing) Day event by creating a temporary civic space, a Parklet, in a parallel parking spot on a local Main Street. We reframed this worldwide event as a Pilot PARK(let) Project (repeat this three times) because we have two local Business Improvement Districts and a city council member working to allow for more bikeable and walkable facilities. This change from an auto-oriented business improvement model is in direct response to our community morphing into a world-class hipster destination, as we are currently positioned #13 on Forbes’ list of America’s Best Hipster Neighborhoods.

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Elevate Your Thinking: Light, air and connectivity beyond the street

As we increasingly urbanize, relearning the craft of creating human-scaled places, I often — too often — hear that “if we just get the ground floor right” then all will be fine. While obviously a good start, and one that addresses the most immediate of pedestrian interests, I find that this line of thinking ultimately allows, even incentivizes, buildings poorly designed above the first floor, thereby marginalizing the complete urban experience.

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The Five Cs of Neighborhood Planning

I live in a city that is currently updating its Community Plans. This is an historically difficult planning job because Community Plans transcend both broad policy statements (such as the amorphous “New development should be in harmony with surrounding development…”) and specific development regulations (“Front yard setbacks shall be 25 feet deep from property line…”). An issue with updating Community-scaled plans is the personal sentiment people feel for their homes and the difficulty we have in expressing such emotion within conventional 2D planning documents. The source of most conflicts and confusion I see occurring during these updates is due to the confusion over the scale and size difference of a ‘Community’ versus a ‘Neighborhood’ unit.

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