CNU24 Detroit: Summary and celebration

You know how the sweet spot for blogs is 500 words? Well, this isn’t one of those. It’s the geek’s guide to the 24th Congress for the New Urbanism in Detroit. Feeling grateful for the food for thought, and wanting to keep the ideas fresh. This blog compiles city planning tweets from June 8 through 11 on the subject, grouping the ideas into categories of Community, Equity, Lean Urbanism, Transportation, Infrastructure, Suburban Retrofit, and Architecture, along with inspiration from Detroit and Charleston.

Here’s a shout out to all the Twitter-using urbanists in Detroit who used the hashtag #CNU24 to share this wealth of ideas, and I highly recommend following the credits list at the end, along with many others using that hashtag, whose rich content would require an encyclopedia to truly do it justice. Check out the Twitter feed for the ideas I wasn’t able to cover.

Continue Reading

The Next Frontier for Compact Walkability? It’s gotta be the burbs

This weekend in Miami, the Congress for the New Urbanism is staging one of the periodic Councils it uses to focus perspectives and best practices on topics of growing concern to CNU members and fellow travelers. This one is all about building “a Better Burb.”

The idea, says CNU CEO Lynn Richards, is “to leverage the momentum from the revival of the city.”

Local and regional governments in outlying areas, says Richards, are beginning to recognize the advantages of reversing sprawl — and the risks of not acting. “And they’re asking for tools and strategies to start or accelerate their suburban transformation. That’s what we’ll be focusing on this weekend.”

Continue Reading

Suburban Retrofits: A deep dive

A couple weeks ago, Ellen Dunham-Jones produced a Placemaking@Work webinar that she described as a deep dive into the suburban retrofit case studies, with an hour-long lecture in preparation for the 23rd Congress for the New Urbanism in Dallas, April 29 through May 2. This session is free until the beginning of the CNU here, but in the mean time, I had a few follow-up questions that she kindly answered for me.

Continue Reading

What This Innocuous Piece of Plastic Says About Our Suburban Future

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.

Continue Reading

Healthy, or Unhealthy, by Design

A few months ago, we talked about how a great city can be like a great running buddy, calling us to venture outdoors into more active, satisfying lifestyles. The photo-essay accompanying that conversation was on the urbanity of Wilmington, North Carolina. Last week, we were in another North Carolina town, Fuquay-Varina, working to create just those sorts of tightly-gridded, walkable streets connecting convivial, complete neighborhoods. Then perhaps the temptation to walk, bike, and run can overcome the lethargy of our modern lifestyle.

Continue Reading

Traditional Cities and Towns: Incubators of incompetent children

First off, before I’m assaulted by urban defenders in an all-out flame war, let me clarify that my tongue is planted firmly in cheek here. A little background:

I’ve written before on the intersection between traditional / smart growth environments and child-rearing, first at the level of the neighborhood and then, later, at the level of the house. Those posts reflect my steadfast belief that, while our modern consumer society happily provides all sorts of work-arounds to help us manage our parenting challenges, historic patterns of human settlement actually had more meaningful solutions built right in.

Continue Reading

Chicken or the Egg: Who takes the lead on incremental suburban retrofitting?

A proposed Trader Joe’s in Boulder, Colorado, brought up an interesting question this week in a spirited exchange on the Pro-Urb urban issues listserv: In auto-centric places where streets and infrastructure lack any sense of meaningful pedestrian amenity, who should take the lead on turning things around?

That is, should developers be required to build urban, pedestrian-oriented buildings fronting streets that are currently engineered as high speed arterials, in the hopes that, over time, a critical mass of new urban construction will foster the political will necessary to overhaul the infrastructure in further service of pedestrians and bicyclists? Or should the infrastructure be required to change first before any demands are placed on the private sector?

Continue Reading

DPZ Promotes Mall Makeovers

Firm Suggests Model Legislation in Florida

Will Florida put the “suburban retrofitting” movement on the fast track?

Making it easier to do something about this.

Making it easier to do something about this.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ) is providing state officials with a legislative template to do just that. On April 20, the Miami-based design and planning firm submitted to Florida’s Division of Community Assistance a suggested draft for a State of Florida Sprawl Repair Act. It’s intent: To enable, among other things, “the retrofit of shopping malls and shopping centers into dense, walkable, mixed-use town centers.”

In an appendix, the document even provides a list of 48 enclosed shopping malls that may be ripe for retrofitting. The effort, says DPZ principal Galina Tahchieva,  “is about stirring ideas about how to incentivize the private sector through easier permitting and infrastructure funding.” And the hope, of course, is that other states embrace similar initiatives.

“The repair, retrofit, and repurposing of commercial nodes — these malls and shopping centers — should be the first in a number of sprawl interventions,” says Tahchieva. That’s because they promise maximum bang for the investment buck.

“These nodes command the largest monetary and real estate investments in suburbia, and in most cases, they’re still under single ownership,” she says. What’s more, if dead or dying malls are redeveloped and intensified as complete town centers with residential and office components to supplement the retail, “transit between these intensified nodes will then start making sense.”

The next target, says Tahchieva, “should be the failing residential subdivisions.  The choices are: evolution into mixed use neighborhoods, if they are lucky with location and have potential for intensification and leadership, or devolution, abandonment or conversion to park or agricultural land. The future growth of Florida is dependent on such actions.”

Tahchieva headed a DPZ design team that, during a February charrette in Atlanta, explored design alternatives for an out-of-date mall in the city’s northern ‘burbs. See our coverage here.

The broader retrofitting initiative is already influencing form-based coding efforts. The Center for Applied Transect Studies is working on a SmartCode module for suburban retrofitting – and, incidentally, for the emerging “agricultural urbanism” movement. See CATS’s new modules here.

– Ben Brown