As placemakers, we know that the challenges of the built environment require more than just new ideas — no matter how clever, unique or seemingly innovative. That was the approach of the 20th century and — no spoiler alert required — it didn’t work out all that well. In retrospect, we know now that the ideas of the modernist revolution in planning were too closely tied to a particular wish list for how we’d like the world to work, rather than reflecting the complexity of who we really are — from our natural instincts and behaviors to the inconvenient links between how we connect, live together in community and, ultimately, survive for the long haul.
Okay. So here we are, out west, working on a county-level comprehensive plan. It’s a big county, which means that each day we meet in the lobby of our centrally-located hotel, then journey caravan-style out to one of the various communities we’re serving over the course of a week.
Until we get where we’re going, it’s exclusively auto-intensive. So our options for a morning coffee stop are often limited to the Starbucks, conveniently located next door to the Applebee’s, in a strip mall outparcel at the border of the local arterial.
A few months ago, I wrote about Leawood, Kansas’ efforts to shut down Spencer Collins’ Little Free Library because it constituted an illegal accessory structure. What made the story interesting is that, while certain advocates were using it as an example of government overreach, a closer look at the facts on the ground revealed that the town’s actions were precipitated by not one, but two neighbor complaints.
Now here we go again.
Not so long ago, in a conversation about technology and green building, there was mention of some high-tech green building models coming out of Europe. Models that, according to reports, perform so well that even if you factor the embedded energy of a previous structure torn down to accommodate them, they still come out ahead.
That’s a potential game changer, at least in terms of selling high-tech green, and I’m not sure it’s one that I welcome.
Spoiler alert: This is not breaking news. The story’s actually been at least temporarily resolved. Think of it more as a post-game analysis.
Little Free Libraries — resident-initiated community bookshelves — are an increasingly popular tactic for bringing neighbors together through their shared love of browsing and reading books. Unless you live in Leawood, Kansas, that is, where the front-yard kiosk of 9 year old resident Spencer Collins was the subject of a citation for being what the city considered an illegal accessory structure.
The 22nd annual gathering of the CNU wrapped up Saturday night, June 7, in Buffalo. We’re looking forward to the recordings at cnu.org over the next few weeks to fill the inevitable gaps, since the competing sessions and hallway conversations presented the usual embarrassment of riches.
Rather than go for a tidy narrative, let’s just share some random observations and sound bites from the four days.
I’m always on the lookout for simpler ways to make important points about how we grow. Ways that people intuitively understand, and can easily share with others.
Regular readers here may recall the last time I talked about this, when my mention of the neighborhood-measuring popsicle test — the ability of an 8 year old to safely get somewhere to buy a popsicle, then make it home before it melts — experienced a healthy does of viral replication across the interwebs.
It made for a good lesson, and I’ve continued to look for similar hooks in the time since.
I’m a freak magnet.
For reasons unknown, the more, err, colorful characters of the public realm seem to find my personal space especially attractive.
If I go to a midday matinée and another patron — let’s say an agitated mumbler in a trench coat with shoes crudely fashioned out of car wash sponges — joins me in an otherwise empty theater, that person will sit in the seat directly behind mine. Which he’ll then begin kicking.
For several weeks now I’ve intended to write up my thoughts on “People Habitat,” the recently-released book from NRDC smart growth sensei — and friend — Kaid Benfield. Not that it’s anything he needs, mind you. A quick look at his reviews over on Amazon reveals a diverse collection of accolades, consistent only in their five-star assessments, and I suppose my hesitation has stemmed from a desire to not just heap on a little more well-deserved praise but to add something fresh to the discussion.
Urban circles echoed with the sound of jaws collectively hitting the floor recently, as the Congress for the New Urbanism made the unexpected announcement that famed architect Robert A.M. Stern would be dropping by CNU 22 in Buffalo to make the case for how the lessons of garden suburbs — which he explores in his new book, “Paradise Planned” — can guide both exurban and inner-city (re)development moving forward.