Not so long ago I was reminded of a book my Mom used to read me as a child: “Fortunately,” by Remy Charlip (briefly renamed “What Good Luck! What Bad Luck!” for a few years as well). It tells the tale of a young boy invited to a party and the series of misfortunes he experiences on his way there.
New Urbanism, by definition, is style neutral. Its focus is getting the form — the urbanism — right but then letting the architecture be what it may.
That’s not to suggest, of course, that many New Urbanists don’t have very strong feelings one way or the other. Many do. Particularly as it relates to traditional vs. modern.
It’s that time of year again, when we take a little holiday break by rerunning a seasonal staple. Until we cross paths again in the new year, best wishes to you for a warm and happy holiday season.
In the realm of supply chains and distribution logistics, Santa’s the guy. Even FedEx and UPS, the recognized leaders in the field, fail to measure up against the benchmarks he maintains, year after year, without fail.
So you’d presumably be safe in assuming that the planning and design of his village at the North Pole would reflect a similar insistence on best practices. That it would be a model worthy of emulation — not just in terms of efficiency and productivity, but in terms of the emotional, economic and spiritual fulfillment necessary to maintain a happy and motivated workforce.
Let’s talk about dollars spent. Millions of dollars. 7.2 million dollars specifically, of which 5.5 million came directly from the local economy. The goal? At least according to local leadership, it was to increase quality of life via improved walkability.
First, a caveat: This isn’t going to be one of those pieces denouncing government spending as inherently bad. But neither will it be one that suggests all is well when spending gets characterized as an investment rather than a mere expenditure.
Five or so years ago, Better Cities and Towns publisher Rob Steuteville told me about Porchfest, a yearly community event taking root in his Ithaca, New York, neighborhood. The idea is simple: For one afternoon, porches throughout the community become makeshift stages, yards become venues, and people from within and beyond wander the streets, chatting, taking in music, and basically reacquainting themselves with what it means to be neighbors.
It’s grass roots, open to all, and totally free.
It was an idea ripe for emulation and I had the perfect idea where: My own, porch-laden neighborhood in Decatur, Georgia. So I added it to my list of things I need to get right on, then promptly neglected it for the next five years.
Thankfully, over the course of those years, a lot of other communities had similar inclinations — and better follow-through. Now, there are upwards of 40 Porchfests across the continent and the list keeps growing.
If memory serves, it was twenty years ago this year that Seaside, Florida, first showed up on my radar. That’s fairly early if you use the typical southeastern beach goer as your guide but not so early if your measure is the people who actually made Seaside happen. Their window was considerably different. In fact, by the time I clued in in 1995, they’d been at the task for almost 15 years.
Looking back over my years of writing for Placeshakers, I notice two themes that keep surfacing: First, we’re better off taking an active role in shaping the forces of community change than we are pretending that immunity to change is a legitimate or viable option; and second, connected communities are far better positioned to weather change, mitigate negative impacts, and seize opportunity than factionalized ones. Such connections, taken collectively, form the bedrock of what we call “resilience.”
Basically, working towards something beats working against something and communities where people know, trust and rely upon one another are far more effective at getting it done.
Mo’ money, mo’ problems. That’s what Biggie says. Me, I lack the net worth to fully test the premise, but I tend to agree anyways. Because it’s something that plays out at the community level over and over again.
Too often, people are conditioned to believe that, with the right vision, leadership or hard work, a community can prosper and, in time, overcome its problems. That you can exist at a point where you’re down, come together in response, then ultimately reach some idealized state where your challenging times are behind you.
Lately I’ve been thinking about “health, safety, and general welfare” — the basis by which zoning is typically legitimized and measured — and wondering just how great a disconnect needs to form between our purported values and our land use regulations before we admit that something’s not working.
“What a bunch of idiots. Don’t they know this will create a traffic nightmare?”
Sound familiar? It’s the most commonly voiced complaint any time the community conversation turns to traffic calming.
Taken at face value, it’s not an outrageous sentiment. After all, when you’re out and about, anything that stands between you and where you want to be looks like a problem. So why on earth would anyone choose to further complicate your commute on purpose?