Category Archives: Creating Authentic Places

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.

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.

Tactical Urbanism: The Official Guide Now Available

After many months of work, the 2nd edition of Tactical Urbanism is complete. A big thanks to Mike Lydon for inviting me to contribute to the effort. If you have an interest in placemaking or improving your community I would recommend you give a few of these tactics a try. The Atlantic Monthly summarized the wisdom collected in this guide nicely:

The tactics in the guide are those that have gone through this process. They’ve had enough iterations in sometimes very different places to know what works and how to maneuver through the realities of municipal governance to make something stick.

If your community is in the process of deploying some Tactical Urbanism please let me know in the comments. Work on the 3rd edition is already underway.

I would also like to thank Ellen Dunham-Jones for bringing me down to Georgia Tech as a guest critic. The work I saw from the Tech architecture students was inspirational. Ellen’s studio focused on helping Lethonia, a small town East of Atlanta, with their redevelopment plans. What was exceptional about the studio’s approach to this task was that they crafted not only a long term, visionary, proposal for the town, but also implemented several Tactical Urbanism interventions. The resulting excitement from tactics are captured in the video above. This effort has confirmed my assumption that long term plans are more believable if they are coupled with short term action.

The Intelligent Coffee Shop by Intelligentsia

Intelligentsia, at first glance, seemed much like any other coffee house. The first few seconds of my experience is similar to my local shop: smell of roasted beans, hip indie music, chatting friends, and many glowing white apple logos. However, the similarities stop there. I was lucky enough to be staying a few blocks from the Chicago shop of Intelligentsia last weekend. I stopped by on both Saturday and Sunday, and the story was the same on both visits: not a single seat is empty, there are at least 6 people in line waiting to order always, and there are at least 4 people waiting to pick up their custom brewed coffee. The people behind Intelligentsia have perfected the 3rd place formula.

The big innovation is the brewing process is celebrated like theater. The machines, both the Clover and the espresso, are situated on the bar so that the patron can watch the barista pull their shot or monitor the Clover. The performance is amplified by the fact that every latte receives a perfect foam decoration. The theater doesn’t stop with the coffee. There are a number of different types of seating: coffee bar, window bar, couches, communal tables, arm chairs, cafe tables, and more. This variety supports any activity a patron could possibly partake in while spending time in the shop. It is both office, living room, dean and private study rolled very well into one.

The furniture, colors, flooring, lighting and even the packaging of the take home beans have a harmony that enhances the drinks. Yet, all this design, marketing and graphics would not mean anything if it weren’t for the fact that the coffee was perfect. The folks behind Intelligentsia are into producing the best coffee. This commitment to quality is what makes this place different then others. One of the keys to creating an authentic place is having a passion and letting that single thing shape the whole experience. At Intelligentsia the coffee is the passion and everything else is there to support the perfect pour of coffee or pull of espresso.

Here is a link to some photos of the shop.

We Need More Authenticity

When you hear the word authentic what comes to mind?

My fear is that most people will not picture the beautiful places, unique products or innovative practices their travels have brought them upon.  Unfortunately, they will think of all the fakes.  There are those things out there that using slight of hand or stucco covered foam want us to believe they are real, or are of quality and actually possess the mystical characteristics that add true value.  Why are we still spending so much of our day making these inauthentic things?

In a time when a dollar means more to everyone I just do not see how there is room for bogus efforts.  Throughout history authentic places, products and practices have seemed to improve their value over time.  I am guessing the new economy will require that all of our creations hold their long term value.  I could not be more happy about this because fakes can never be as good as originals.


Cafe Satan