Category Archives: Living Urbanism

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

 

Artistry is Missing in Planning Today

Artistry is needed in today’s cities and towns. I am completely sick of statistics and computer models for city planning. Yes, I agree that enough water must be provided, and capacity for waste measured. However, these are not the issues that make cities great. The meaningful relationship of buildings, the vistas and views, and the beauty that enlightens those citizens blessed by being residents of a place built with artistry are minor points in the planning of cities today. The goal of a street must be more then moving cars. You must ask more of your urbanism if a place will be resilient, and even more of it to be competitive. Artistry is a powerful, and forgotten, tool for the building of our cities and towns.

How Can Your City Support Extreme Sports?

With Bill on his way up the eastern sea board, there is a buzz of activity taking place in preparation for some potentially epic surf & kiting. Having talked with a half dozen friends this afternoon about the best spots, times and equipment needed to enjoy the most Bill has to offer I came to realize an interesting connection between cities and progressive sports. The video above was taken at Pleasure Bay in South Boston. You can literally take public transportation to one of the best kiteboarding location I’ve ever rode. How does your city take advantage of its natural environment to support these extreme sports? Sure, a glass calm, wind swept bay is not a straight forward as a little league baseball field, but skate parks, kitesurfing launches, surfing access to beaches and urban bouldering can all become unique amenities to a city. What type of riding can you enjoy in your city?

Volume 2 of Living Urbanism Just Published

We just posted the 2nd volume of Living Urbanism to the web. The print edition will hopefully be available next week. Check out the essays here. A big thanks needs to be given to all the contributors. It has been a real pleasure working with them over the past year. The publication would not be possible without their commitment and talented contributions.

Another big thanks to my co-editors Matt Lambert and Mike Lydon! Next up, volume 3. Keep an eye out for how to submit soon.

Living-Urbansim-Postcard-2009-final-low-1

Discussing Living Urbanism at CNU

Living Urbanism Hill Living 1We held an open source conversation about the concept of Living Urbanism at CNU17. Below are a series of point that summarize the conversation. Many insightful topics were discussed such as redefining our understanding of the neighborhood, how to create elegantly sustainable places, how the community of a place is the foundation for its success and the power of using the concepts of social media in the real world, with real people.

Thanks to everyone who took more then an hour out of their Congress to share their thoughts on this emerging concept. I produced the image above as a diagram for how some of these concepts could effect the form of our built and natural environment. Please comment if I have missed anything or want to introduce additional ideas.

Characteristics of Living Urbanism:
1. Served by locally produced food.
2. Served by power produced by a local, renewable system.
3. Served by water provided by a locally renewed aquifer or water body and
4. supplemented by captured rain.
5. Served by infrastructure and commerce that supports a zero waste
economy.
6. Served by a transit system providing access to needs not easily reached
by foot.
7. Served by convenient access to Nature and the countryside.

Discussion on Living Urbanism:
What do we define as truly being “daily needs”? It could be stated that social interaction is the primary daily need.

Where does a sense of community come from and how do we capture that in a place?

What are the “loose fitting” characteristics of timeless places that we are not apply to our contemporary designs? More focus on the detailed characteristics of flexible buildings and neighborhoods need to occur. Rome being the best example of enduring and flexible form.

Streets need to be thought of more as places and not only thoroughfares. Public space is the platform for social interaction to occur. A Living Tradition needs the support of a community to carry on the lessons.

Creating high quality, beautiful public spaces throughout a neighborhood and city is, perhaps, the best economic development tool available. A piece of Living Urbanism must have fantastic postcards of it’s many publics spaces.

Stuff that sucks isn’t going to last.

Living Urbanism is a threshold. It supports a lifestyle that is resilient and, perhaps, more enjoyable. Regardless of form, a person’s daily commute to work would ideally be no more then 15 to 20 minutes.

The local geography of a person’s daily routine is important to consider when thinking about the structure and life of a neighborhood. This local geography is smaller then we think. What is the pattern of your daily life and how does your current built environment not support a comfortable routine.

There is an over concentration of jobs. How can technology support a decentralization of the workplace that is economically sensible? We need tools for linking and creating small outposts for big business.

All aspects of vertical sprawl need more concrete positions to be effective. If the train doesn’t work can you walk? Can urbanism really be resilient if it relies too heavily on technology that is not enduring through recession, depression and crisis.

We must remember that a high quality Civic Realm is directly related to the ability to create smaller units and therefore more density in less space.

Living Urbanism Publication Preview Party

2009_06_livingurbanism_partyOur new media project, Living Urbanism, had a great preview party for the next issue due out on July 1. You can find Living Urbanism online here. Big thanks to the CNU Nextgen and the local ULI Young Leaders group for coming out and making it a great event. The party was at Lodo’s which has a fantastic vista of the roof tops of the neighborhood anchored in the background by a good urban stadium.