Author Archives: Russell

Making Extra Pavement into Plazas

For those of you in the northeast U.S., go take a short walk around your neighborhood while the snow is still on the ground. This is a simple way to see all the extra pavement that is consuming valuable land in your neighborhood. Wouldn’t it be great if this left over asphalt could be made into public space? We think it would be great and have launched an effort,, to help metro Boston make these opportunity sites more visible. We’d love to hear from you and please do submit any of the sites you happen to find in your neighborhood here.

The Pavement to Plazas project is based on the tactic summarized in Tactical Urbanism Vol. 2 as:

To reclaim underutilized asphalt as public space without large capital expenditure. These installation are usually pilot projects that are used to test possible longer term improvements. We think the Boston region has a lot of extra asphalt that could be better used as public space.

If you are interested in learning more about how cities are utilizing the Pavement to Plazas tactic check out San Francisco, New York and, the recently launched, LA effort. Principle Group is also working with the City of Somerville on a pilot plaza that we hope to have open this Spring. Join the Pavement to Plazas mailing list to keep up on news about that project and other effort to reclaim public space for people.

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Thanks Mayor Curtatone and to everyone who came out last Thursday for the screening of The Human Scale. There was just under 900 people (!) at the show. Big thanks to the Somerville Theatre as well for putting on a great event.

Special Screening of Jan Gehl’s “The Human Scale”

Over the years I’ve been influenced greatly by the work of Jan Gehl’s office. I’ve been helping CNUNE and the City of Somerville setup a special screening of the Jan Gehl documentary “The Human Scale” and am excited to announce that registration for the FREE showing went up today. Here is a link to all the details and to register for the January 30th showing at 6:30 at the Somerville Theater.

I’d like to give a big thanks to Ian Judge at the Somerville Theater for providing the theater for the show and for recognizing how important the subject of this film is to local efforts. I’d also like to thank Ian Stimler from KimStim for making this whole thing happen.


Selling Public Transit with Smart & Sexy Advertising

Americans have been being sold the dream of driving for decades. Cleaver advertising campaigns have been manipulating our collective conscience to keep cars synonymous with freedom. However, change seems to be in the air. I think I am going to take the bus this week.

This clip comes from M2 Film out of Germany. It does a great job:

1.) Glorifying small details as tremendous technology.
2.) Leaving a lasting image of the open road in viewers minds.
3.) And, of course, positioning riding the bus as a sexy activity.

Seems like a lot of the same tricks the automobile industry has been using for decades.

Ten Questions that Every Downtown Needs to Answer

As part of the Green Living Seminar, I’ll be giving a talk on downtown revitalization at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts tomorrow, and will share with them the ten questions every downtown needs to answer. Many great speakers and friends have already given lectures in the series which are available as podcasts here. If you happen to be in the area please come by and join the discussion. The class starts at 5:30 at Murdock Hall, Room 218. More details can be found here. I’ll post the podcast from the event when it goes up. Giant thanks to Imagining North Adams, the Environmental Studies Department and the MCLA Berkshire Environmental Resource Center for making this great series possible.

Turning a Highway into a Public Plaza is Possible

Streets are for people. People on foot, on bike and in motor vehicles. But, at the end of the day they are all just people regardless of what mode they are using. We have forgotten this fact in the planning of our streets. It is so refreshing to see that communities such as Poynton are using the design of their streets and major intersections as the foundational elements for the renewal of their economy.

Now, many of you might be thinking that the above video is about the UK and that shared space is not in the character of our towns and cities here in the States. Plus we love our cars so why would we not put them as top priority. However, in a number of projects over the past five years I’ve advocated for the use of shared space and included shared space in the urban design plans. Alas, only one of them has been built… and its an alley so that doesn’t really count. However, the story in Poynton has convinced me even more that shared space is a key solution for not only traffic safety and efficiency, but economic development.

However, there are several hurtles that these projects will need to jump when being implemented in the States:

  1. Finding an engineer that will put their professional stamp on the project drawings.
  2. Negotiating with the “science” of modern day traffic models to convince the powers that be that shared space can increase traffic efficiency.
  3. Ensuring everyone that these spaces can be designed to accommodate the impaired and as the above video conveys even improve mobility for the disabled.
  4. Figure out how to work around the “if it is not in the guidelines it cannot be built” mentality that so many DOTs are limit by in regards to shaping our built environment.

There are several projects in the States in addition to the one in Providence that I know about that have been able to pull of the impossible (Montgomery, Cambridge, etc.). However, what we all have forgotten is that shared space was the only way streets were built in the U.S. less than 75 years ago. Jason King from Dover Kohl reminded me of this fact when he sent me the image below of Madison Square.

I applaud Ben Hamilton-Bailie and all those involved with implementing Poynton on what was surely a giant hill to climb in order to get this project built. If you know of any shared space project on the drawing boards in your area please do leave a comment with the details. Thanks to Chuck at Strongtowns for sharing this video with me.

Madison SquareShared space in Madison Square, New York

Poynton Shared SpacePoynton Share Space. Image: Hamilton-Bailie Associates


Contemporary Use of Public Space Panel Discussion

OCCUPIED_BSAThe Boston Society of Architects is holding a panel discussion on the contemporary use of public space. I’ll be presenting some of my recent work, and participating in the panel with a great group of people. A big thanks to Janne Corneil and David Glick for organizing this discussion. If you are in the Boston area and interested in Tactical Urbanism I hope you can attend. Here are the details:

“Occupied: Contemporary Use of Public Space”
Boston Society of Architects
March 21, 2013
6:30 – 8:30 PM


The Great Cultural Shift by Shaheen Sadeghi

What are Little American Businesses? Shaheen Shadeghi makes a compelling case for why American’s are in search of the authentic more and more today. Through an introduction from the talented Andrew Consigli, we were able to have a chat with Mr. Shadeghi earlier this month. It was fascinating to hear about the early days of developing the Lab and the Camp. For those interested in how to nurture a locally oriented  and people friendly destination there is much to learn from Mr. Shadeghi and the 20 years of Lab Holding‘s work. I have been reflecting on several of his placemaking concepts since our conversation that I will certainly be expanding on in future posts. Here is a preview of some of that wisdom he dropped on us:

  1. America is maturing as a country and the palette of taste’s throughout is becoming more varied. Truly authentic places are picking up on a local cultural and tapping into that culture to make their businesses distinct.
  2. American’s are more interested in paying for a $6.00 latte and sitting at a cafe with friends then buying a $7.99 pair of jeans from a national retail chain. Real places include a social experience.
  3. Don’t be afraid to do it yourself. If there seems to be a market in a place for a barbershop that doubles as a bar and no one wants to open one then just go ahead and open one. (This is also a great example of the “Micro-mixing” trend we pointed out in the latest version of Tactical Urbanism.)

There is definitely an art as well as a sciences to what LAB Holding’s is working on. More on creating authentic places to come. Have a great weekend.

Investment Ready Places: The New American Frontier

How do you know if your neighborhood is ready for investment? Investment Ready Places was just launch by friends Atul Sharma, Joseph Nickol, Kevin Lavelle and James Michael of Street Sense. The premise is:

The small towns and cities of America are once again becoming the new frontier for development.

The thoughts and ideas that are included in this tool are on target with the type of triage thinking that we need in so many of our country’s smaller towns and cities. There are six key characteristics of Investment Ready Places that are essential for attracting investment that will contribute to the creation of authentic, pedestrain scaled places.

  1. Nourishment for residents
  2. Stable supply of water
  3. Manageable infrastructure
  4. Connected places
  5. Creative knowledge
  6. Heritage and living culture

I would encourage everyone to hand out the checklist at the back of the report to their city council, community leaders and neighbors. There is a good dose of reality in this little booklet that is timely. This is a new paradigm tool for an increasingly more competitive landscape of places that get it and those that are going to be left behind economically, culturally and, unfortunately, environmentally. It was so great to hear from Atul and Joe as they were developing the core ideas that are now so nicely conveyed in this booklet. Please pass it along and use it wisely.
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Chuck Marohn gave a great lecture last night at MIT, I’ll have blog coverage of it here soon, and thanks Chuck for the much more solid review of IRP on the blog.

Placecraft: The Art of Shaping the Built Environment to Create Value

This term, Placecraft, is new. My friend Jen Krouse coined it while producing a month long planning event Imagining North Adams that is happening now. I need to thank Jen for asking me to participate in, as far as I know, the first Placecraft Summit happening this Friday in North Adams. She has defined the term as:

Placecraft = the careful art of shaping the built environment to create value, strengthen community, and protect the ecosystem. The term encompasses like-minded movements such as Placemaking, Smart Growth, and New Urbanism, among others.

I have been looking forward to this event because it is opening up the dialogue for how we can go about crafting great places. This is very much linked the Tactical Urbanism effort currently underway. There are several questions that keep coming up for me that I hope to discuss while in North Adams:

  1. How does local culture inform the building of authentic places?
  2. What role does the public have in the building of authentic places?
  3. More importantly, what role should the public not play?
  4. And, since we’ll be near Mass MoCa, what role should art have in the shaping of our towns and cities?

This month long series of events and Tactical Urbanism installations is a wonderful model for smaller towns and cities to explore for how to move big planning ideas forward. North Adams is very lucky to have Jen volunteering her time to make this all happen. If you are looking for a reason to visit the Berkshire Mountains stop by the Placecraft Summit or the Tactical Urbanism Salon this weekend.

Image Credit: Imagining North Adams Facebook Page


What is Innovation City

There are some incredibly smart people working on making Boston a more innovative city. David Hacin is one of those people who I have had the lucky opportunity to work with in recent months. David’s office produced this nice video in conjunction with last month’s Architecture Boston. David was the guest editor.

I keep coming back to the core idea that a city’s civic spaces and transit served housing has to be top notch to continue to attract the classes of people that make new ideas happen. It seems that #placemaking , or the creation of engaging destinations, activities and uses that these creative folks find desirable in a place, will become even more important as cities continue to compete for talent.

On a related note, +Ian Rasmussen spent a week with me in Boston recently to kick off a project were are working on that is exploring how existing places can leverage their infrastructure in new ways to spur innovation. More on that later. Enjoy the video.