Good Side of the Downside: The end is (only) near

Chuck Marohn needs a hug.

That was my first thought reading this in his July 17 Strong Towns post :

Let me be clear about what I actually imagine is in store for us. I look at America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods and I see overwhelming levels of fragility. I see a development pattern that destroys wealth; the more we do, the poorer we become. I see municipal debt levels rising as a consequence, as well as an increased dependence on state and federal assistance. I see property values and consumption rates (property tax and sales tax) artificially manipulated higher by federal monetary and fiscal policy—a lofty perch I don’t see as stable. I see local governments overwhelmed with liabilities, from infrastructure maintenance to pensions and rising health care costs. And I see the people in the system — politicians, professional staff and residents — all with powerful short term incentives to simply increase the level of fragility.

 . . . I think we’re royally screwed.

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Codes Study: Trends in zoning reform

About twelve years ago, I started the Codes Study to analyze cities, towns, and counties taking proactive steps toward zoning to encourage livable places. And by livable, I mean mixed-use, economically vibrant, convivial, walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly. Many places are using form-based codes to encourage livability, in jurisdictions covering over 45 million people worldwide.

Such code responds to today’s market pressures of families and corporations alike wanting to dwell in walkable urban places. It saves critical infrastructure dollars because of building in more compact forms. It can let us preserve more wilderness and productive farm and range lands with less sprawling development. It encourages wellness by making it easier to connect with others, instead of isolating us in single-use pods. It reinjects nature into cities in keeping with the character of its surroundings. Continue Reading

Choosing to Overlook the Obvious

I live in an old house that overlooks a single-track CSX rail line. Between my front gate and the train is a two-lane, neighborhood-edge thoroughfare with a speed limit of 35 mph and an average speed closer to 40.

Though it functions as an in-town, city street, it’s classified as a state highway by the Georgia DOT, which means that, while modest in scale, it’s not exactly context-sensitive in its behavior. It’s been repaved many times without being milled, so the historic curbs once in evidence are now long covered up with asphalt, and the 4 and a half-foot sidewalk that runs along it is separated by a planting strip of 24 inches or less (depending on the block) which, ironically, can’t legally be planted with anything other than grass.

Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns might classify it as a baby-stroad.

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Infrastructure Deficit Disorder: The doctor is in

This past week, Chuck Marohn and Justin Burslie of Strong Towns gave their Curbside Chat in the beloved San Diego neighborhood of Hillcrest. Chuck’s visit was possible through a fun collaboration between Walt Chambers of Great Streets San Diego, Ben Nicholls, Executive Director of the Hillcrest Business Association, and myself. Forty of San Diego’s most engaged built environment professionals filled the room with a happy-hour sense of electricity in the air.

Chuck then proceeded to ground that spark.

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Punk Rock and the New Urbanism: Getting back to basics

By the early to mid 1970s, something was wrong with rock and roll.

It no longer fought the system. Worse than that, it had become the system. Bloated. Detached. Pretentious.

Performer and audience, once fused in a mutual quest to stick it to the man, now existed on separate planes –  an increasingly complacent generation sucked into the service of pomp and circumstance. And the shared experience of joyful rebellion? Replaced by pompous, weed-soaked, middle-earth mysticism.

Rock and roll needed to get back to basics. What country pioneer Harlan Howard characterized as “three chords and the truth.” Enter punk rock.

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The Future of Planning: Going meta

“In a world where the peddlers of invention dominate progressive discourse, a willingness to acknowledge–let alone heed–the lessons of history and tradition is a truly radical act.” –Scott Doyon

Check the wiki-hip Urban Dictionary (or watch an episode of Community on NBC) and you’ll find the term meta’s common usage on the street is “to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.” Consult a more conventional dictionary and you’ll see this derived from its earlier (as well as current) use as a prefix meaning “beyond, about.” That is, taking a subject to a higher level.

As a stand-alone term now, it’s typically applied to works of culture — television, music, film and art. But I suggest we expand that usage because, to me, it’s also the best means of expressing the challenge facing anyone concerned about our urban future.

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