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.

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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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Municipal Placemaking Mistakes 01: Quantity over quality

Today we begin a PlaceShakers experiment. Through a series of periodic posts, Nathan Norris will explore how cities hinder their own placemaking efforts, wasting time and money by investing in tools, policies and programs that deliver lousy results. In the process, we’ll be looking to you to help flesh out the content through examples, personal experiences and links to additional resources. The goal? A one-stop, crowdsourced primer for cities and towns seeking advantage in an ever-competitive world.

Mistake #1: Judging urban development projects on their quantity of budget/unit count as opposed to the quality of their functional design details or return on investment.

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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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Resources + Connections = Jobs

Jobs come up in every community-building conversation these days. It’s making me go back to the start, to think it through. What created jobs in the first place?

Division of Labor. Access to natural resources. Human settlement patterns: cross roads, rivers, oceans, eventually railroads and highways.

In the last few decades, many cities have been racing to the economic bottom trying to incentivize jobs. It’s led to jobs being all about giving away resources, and not so much about the value of connections.

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Ignorance was Bliss: How my urban learnin’ almost ruined everyday places

For ten years I’ve been hanging around with a pretty interesting collection of traditional architects, planners and urban designers. That’s my job. Taking their inherent disciplinary wonkdom and simplifying it for wider appreciation. Doing so means I’m frequently on the sidelines as they work, and a consistent witness to their application of accumulated wisdom to all manner of challenges currently ill served by modern solutions.

That’s put me on the receiving end of something of great professional value. And equally great personal annoyance:

An understanding of what makes great places great.

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Let’s Get Small: Placemaking as Antidote for Shrinking City Budgets

It’s that time of year, but it’s no holiday party in most city budget meetings. Cities across the continent are looking for ways to make ends meet. A quick survey turns up some sobering city deficits: New York $4.4 billion, Toronto $225 million, Washington DC $188 million, Houston $120 million, L.A. $87 million, San Diego $72 million, Cleveland $28 million. States are worse still: California $6 billion, Illinois $15 billion, Arizona $1.5 billion. Those are some major gaps to fill, before we make it to the federal level.

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