Black Friday: Get your gorilla on

We’re happy when we go for a run. We’re even more happy when we go for a run in a gorilla suit — at least according to Roko Belic, director of the award-winning documentary, HAPPY. That’s because some change is gonna do ya good. Which is one of the many reasons that we placemakers advocate for immersive urban environments, and not the monoculture of suburbia. And why we go as far as to argue that these sorts of diverse, character-rich neighbourhoods actually make us happier.

Continue Reading

Berliner Kinder: Berlin and its playborhoods

You’ve heard my fellow Placeshaker, Scott Doyon, say Smart Growth = Smart Parenting. More than once, actually. As well as how living in a walkable neighbourhood may shape our children. I’ve also talked about how my winter city, Winnipeg, nurtures active kids, as well as put some of those ideas into a TEDxTalk. Last week, walking around Berlin, my 10-year old pointed out the exceptional numbers of downtown kids, and really enjoyed hanging out in some of the neighborhood parks.

Continue Reading

Lessons Learned from Berlin Shopfronts

Like many European cities, Berlin teaches us myriad lessons in building successful shopfronts. While the exclusive international shops along Kurfürstendamm and Friedrichstrasse are elegant and effective, the more creative successes are found in neighborhoods and courtyards. Kaid Benfield’s People Habitat describes in detail the reasons Hackeschen Höfe is so successful at the holistic level, and last week Hazel Borys discussed the diversity of uses, so here we’ll just explore the interesting shopfront contributions. There are some very successful shopfront examples in the Prenzlaur Berg neighborhood as well.

Continue Reading

Mixing Light Industrial with Residential: The artisan’s delight

We’ve talked extensively here on PlaceShakers about how to integrate industrial uses into walkable neighborhoods. And the sorts of land use modifications, often via form-based codes, that are necessary to enable these uses within safe parameters. This week in Berlin, I was particularly inspired by the example set by Hackeschen Höfe, for mixing artisanal manufacturing with residential in mid-rise mixed-use. And they’ve been doing so successfully since 1906.

Continue Reading

Euro-Envy Reconsidered: Talkin’ time, distance and change

When my wife and I headed to Europe for our first two-week vacation in 15 years, I don’t think I realized how grouchy I was getting about change adaptation in the US. So much political paralysis. So little leadership. No sense of urgency on issues of huge importance. It was way past time for a getaway to be among grown-ups.

Continue Reading

Lean Urbanism: A century practice?

Spending time in Victoria Beach, I’m again enjoying one of Manitoba’s best examples of Lean Urbanism, experienced with family and friends. Many of you heard me talk of the history and practice of this place last year. This 100-year old cottage community, accessible to most ages on foot and bike, has much to share with the nascent Lean Urbanism movement.

Continue Reading

Québec City: La ville de l’amour dans la belle province

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, with Paris, Boston, Venice, and Québec City high on the list. 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.

Continue Reading

Lessons from the Woods

Half-way through our family’s relocation to the woods for the month of August, placeshakers have been asking me for town planning lessons learned. It’s challenging to encapsulate a place as extraordinary as Victoria Beach, with its 101-year history of car-free summers and an elegant street grid of dirt roads that are tremendously kid-friendly. I’ve been blogging about the plan here and here, although am really just beginning to scratch the surface.

Continue Reading

Informing Excellence (Not Imitation)

The flurry of social media discussions sparked by my recent series on lessons from great cities has made it apparent that a few things aren’t clear. When I write about a particular square in some inspiring place, I’m hoping you won’t take away from it that we should stamp 5-story buildings on 50-yard wide squares all across the landscape. But rather I’m reaffirming that a sense of enclosure can indeed provide a feeling of comfort and satisfaction. You’ll know, if you’re a frequent PlaceShakers reader, that this sense of enclosure is illegal across much of North America because of auto-centric land use laws that require wide, fast roads.

Continue Reading