Category Archives: Urbanism

Urbanism

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.

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

 

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.
– – –
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 Strongtowns.org blog.

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.

Jan Gehl’s Incremental Approach to Urbanism

My ongoing study of how best to design the human habitat has been consumed by the research of Jan Gehl. I am pleased that the CNU will be hosting him for a keynote lecture at CNU20. If you have not picked up a copy of his latest book, Cities for People, I highly recommend you give it a read.

In the film above, Mr. Gehl mentions the importance of Copenhagen incremental approach to the city’s public space improvements. Planners should find it particularly important to note that a master plan would have never been able to get the city to where it is today, and that it was the slow build up of small projects that allowed a greater vision to be created. Perhaps this is the best approach to 21st century city building? Lighter, quicker, cheaper, and, overtime, better.

The emerging Tactical Urbanism discussion can certainly learn from Copenhagen’s story.

Event Planning 101: Running a One Day Conference Well

Producing a meaningful event is hard. Producing an event that encourages dialogue that leads to innovation is near impossible. Yet, shouldn’t we try? My time is too valuable to pitch it away to a panel of talking heads with little meaningful discussion. Today’s professional events need to address our new paradigm in better ways. Meaningful, exciting ways. My time and attention is worth that much. This post is a little off topic from our normal discussion of how life collides with urbanism. However, so much of what I have been doing lately is organizing people that it seems worth a post.

Ok, so how does a new paradigm event get done? I had the pleasure of working with a fantastic group of CNUNE members on the production of the recent Sustainable Urbanism Summit. This small group was able to pull off an exceptional meeting that was interactive, inspirational and, perhaps most impressive, produced on practically no budget. Robert Orr and Robin Bergstrom deserve a massive thank you for taking on the leadership of this effort. The Summit would not have been the event that it was without their passion. That is the first lesson: let passionate people run things.

But, what else matters? Below is how CNUNE produces the Sustainable Urbanism Summit. These guidelines only plot the course. It seems every year things change due to new ideas. Which is perhaps lesson two: stay flexible. You could get on quite well with only these two lessons and produce a fine event. No matter how much planning is in place things come up, and having great people on the team who are not afraid to change is key.

What events have you been to lately that were full of meaningful discussion and ideas? And if you have run one of those events let me know what you think of the event production guidelines below?

GIVE THE EVENT A VISION:

The New England Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU New England) hosts the Sustainable Urbanism Summit annually in a transit accessible New England community with the goal of creating a forum for the exchange of ideas for improving our regions built and natural environment. Throughout its history, CNU New England has focused on the improvement of the human habitat. After many years of advocacy and design guidance, the organization feels that now is a critical time for action. As the political and economic conditions of our country change, it is imperative that we tackle our environmental crisis, collectively identifying challenges, exploring opportunities, and planning for a better, more resilient way of life in New England.

Our hope is that the speakers and the discussions one experiences at the Summit will both inspire and better connect you with professionals, public servants, academics and citizens that share a commitment to improving our built and natural environment. New England has the physical framework to become a model for sustainable urbanism at every scale. Healthy and complete town centers can be one of the most comprehensive solutions to climate change. Building on this idea, we urge attendees to take advantage of the ideas discussed at the Summit. Now is the critical time for our region, we need your help to solve the critical challenges facing our villages, towns and cities.

DEFINE THE EVENTS GOALS:

  1. Produce an experience that inspires all into action.
  2. Create a platform for connections and projects to be created.
  3. Provide our speakers with an engaging audience.
  4. Make sure everyone has a fun and memorable time.

PICK THE RIGHT VENUE:

  1. One lecture hall that has good light and inspiring architecture. The capacity should leave no chairs empty. Moveable chairs are best. The room should have fine details and grand features that will enhance the presentations.
  2. The venue in general should reflect the importance of the Summit.
  3. Space for up to 10 breakout group meetings. It is ideal if several or all of these can happen in the lecture hall. Other meeting rooms should be located very close to the main hall to encourage cross pollination between small group discussions.
  4. Free space is best, but low fee space is acceptable. Religious and community meeting halls have been successful venues in the past.

PROGRAM SHOULD BE ABOUT THE PEOPLE:

  1. The group of speakers should be as multidisciplinary as possible. Strive to include all industries that might effect the built and natural environment.
  2. There should be at a minimum two big name speakers. These marquee speakers should draw attendees, and can help kick off and conclude the program.
  3. Several of the speakers should not be from New England states. This insures that we import new thinking into the region.
  4. At least one of the speakers should be “out of left field”. This speaker might be minimally related to the central theme of the Summit, but brings a unique perspective. This “sideways” speaker’s presentation will hopefully be refreshing and provocative. A little surprise is good.

TELL THE EVENT’S STORY:

  1. The Summit is designed to be an intimate affair. This requires that the population be kept below 150 people. Use this fact to encourage early registration. (Reserve your seat today. Don’t miss the latest thinking on creating Sustainable Urbanism. Space is limited!)
  2. Keep the ticket price low, and announce early so municipal people can get a request into their budgets.
  3. As much as it is hard to believe, not everyone uses Twitter and Facebook. Tell the story of the event to people.
  4. Word of mouth is great. Make sure people know what to tell other people.

HAVE A CHECKLIST OF MILESTONES:

Six Months:

  1. Setup Summit Planning Committee
  2. Assign team leaders: Program, Sponsorship, Events, Volunteers, Communications
  3. Brainstorm possible speakers and themes
  4. Lock in a city and venue.
  5. Lock in a date.
    1. Before committing fully to a date make sure any other regional conferences or large academic events do not occur on the date.
    2. A Thursday night start, and all day Friday event works best.
  6. Announce event on main CNUNE website.
  7. Begin production of the Summit Website from the template.
  8. Lock in the marquee speakers.
  9. Create a short list of speakers.
  10. Begin inviting speakers.
  11. Scout out a pub or drinking hall for the night before cocktails and kick-off speaker.
  12. Create event budget.

Four Months:

  1. Launch event website with date, marquee speakers, location and early registration instruction.
  2. Begin to blog about everything that is going on with the Summit production.
  3. Finalize speakers list with first and second choice speakers.
  4. Make invitations to speakers.
  5. Execute venue contract.
  6. Finalize the kick-off cocktail location.
  7. Contact colleges and universities to begin outreach for registration and volunteering.
  8. Send save-the-date email blast.
  9. Create fundraising plan and sponsorship packages.
  10. Make fundraising calls to sponsors.
  11. Monitor event budget.
  12. Scout hotels in the city, and inquire about deals for groups.
  13. Invite key bloggers and press to the event.

Three Months:

  1. General registration opens.
  2. Key speakers should be on the website. Headshots and bios for each speaker are important to include because the Summit is heavy on speaker interaction. It is all about the speakers and we need to market them well. Links to speakers websites and blog should be included as well.
  3. Create draft of the program & schedule.
  4. Communicate with speakers who are traveling.
  5. Make formal call for volunteers.
  6. Finalize any hotel deals for the Summit group. We should not be committed to having to fill a certain number of rooms.
  7. Continue to update the blog.
  8. Work to confirm final speakers.
  9. Hit 50% of fundraising goal. Collect checks from pledges, and put their logos on the website.
  10. Recruit partner organization. Send them text for an email blast to their members. Add them to the website.
  11. Update industry publication about the event. Make sure it shows up in their calendars & announcements.

Two Months:

  1. Email information on hotels and travel.
  2. Finalize tour details if occurring.
  3. Finalize extra workshops if occurring.
  4. Select volunteers from applicant pool.
  5. Finalize speakers.
  6. Recruit video or reports to capture the event.
  7. Followup with key bloggers and press about attending the event.
  8. Begin blogging about individual speakers to help marketing. Interview speakers if possible. This should be a “sneak peek” and should encourage registration.

One Month:

  1. Begin email series of “Top 10 Reasons to Attend the Summit”.
  2. Monitor registration.
  3. Confirm travel details for speakers.
  4. Confirm AV requirements at the venues.
  5. Assign tasks to volunteers.
  6. Monitor budget.
  7. Send speakers guidelines.
  8. Post draft schedule for the program.
  9. Review second draft of program.

One Week:

  1. Assign equipment and material procurement.
  2. Complete “Top 10 Reasons to Attend the Summit” email blasts.
  3. If registration is full announce it.
  4. Send thank you to volunteers and remind them of their instruction.
  5. Confirm final details with speakers.
  6. Confirm event bloggers and documentation is in order.
  7. Confirm travel plans.
  8. Issue production team and speakers contact list. Cell phone numbers should be included.
  9. Post final schedule and program to website.
  10. Print program.
  11. Relax.

Two Days:

  1. Email team leaders will any last minute changes.
  2. Confirm any last minute program changes.
  3. Update schedule if needed & post to website.
  4. Print sign-in-sheets, name tags, signs showing the way to the event, etc.
  5. Confirm venue logistics.
  6. Monitor budget.

One Day:

  1. Relax.
  2. Enjoy the chaos.

Good luck with your event. I hope this guideline can help in some little way make your event a more meaningful experience for all involved. Keep an eye on www.cnunewengland.org soon for the outcomes of the Sustainable Urbanism Summit.

Removing Highways Improves City Life & Economic Vitality


Would you install something on your computer that slows it down, makes it less valuable and (for Mac users) ruins the beauty of it? No, of course not. Then why are we letting this happen to our cities? A compelling case for removing inner city highways is made in the video above by fellow CNU board member Jack Davis, and CEO John Norquist. For more information visit the Highways to Boulevards page at cnu.org.

Integrated Transit Planning: Principles for Providence’s Mobility Network

Public Transit is the live blood of the modern city. It has become more and more apparent that the cities that have robust regional transit options will be the cities that prosper. I am excited about the plans that the Rhode Island Public Transit Administration is drawing up for the first Streetcar line serving downtown in over 60 years. With all the talk of transit going on due to RIPTA’s Core Connector Study, I pulled together the principles below to hopefully inspire the creation of a better plan that supports a more prosperous region that is, of course, a nicer place to live.

This is an incomplete list, and it would be great to hear your additions in the comments below.

The Region

The physical organization of the Metropolitan Providence should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile.

A transit system should support the ongoing development of towns and cities by respecting historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.

Transit should serve to connect activity centers within the region. Corridors should be located to encourage the redevelopment of existing city fabric. The evolution of suburban development should also be considered when locating these corridors. Failing suburban retail center, big box stores and office parks should be consider retrofit opportunities that would add higher densities if served by transit.

Strong connection to regional rail and shipping services is not only an economic necessity, but will provide further alternatives to highway driving for the business and citizens in Providence.

Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways. Transit spines should work with these larger linear features to enhance the connections between neighborhoods.

Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, will help organize Providence’s metropolitan structure and revitalize the urban core. These corridors should be planned to connect neighborhoods and to provide easy access to the services and destination located in Downtown.

Wherever possible, new development shall be sited on underutilized, poorly designed or already developed land. Transit stops should be located in these areas to encourage redevelopment. Future development should be organized based on the principles of a walkable neighborhood with plans for transit integrated into the design.

Neighborhoods must be compact, with a range of densities that are compatible with existing places and cultures. Successful transit options require lively, mixed-use urban places.

Brownfields shall be redeveloped, using cleanup methods that reduce or eliminate site contaminants and toxicity. Redevelopment of these sites should rely on transit and reduce or eliminate parking requirements.

Networks

Multiple transit option should be provided to ensure all citizens of Providence have access to jobs, entertainment and recreation. Automobile travel should be discouraged to promote more sustainable forms of mobility.

A resilient transportation network requires many nods, stations and multiple opportunities to navigate to a destination. Planners must recognize that people will change their course if needed and the network should provide as many choices as possible.

A transit system should be organized around a network of corridors, and thoroughfares. Transferring from one mod to another should be easy and well organized. Expansion of the network should create a web of transit facilities.

Providence has a fragmented urbanism which transit should work to connect. The network should provide transportation option within a neighborhood as well as travel between neighborhoods.

Streets and Blocks

The design of streets and the entire right-of-way shall be directed at the positive shaping of the public realm to encourage shared pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular use.

All transit stops should be designed as permanent amenities to the streetscape. These stations should build on the culture and identity of both the corridor and neighborhood.

Development should create a positive public realm that is designed to provide pedestrian comfort and safety. Transit should be integrated within developments and public space to further enhance these aims.

Retail and first floor commercial uses are important elements of a mixed use neighborhood. Transit should be planned to enhance the economic development potential of first floor uses that will add life to the street and enhance community safety.

Buildings

Development within a five minute walk of transit should not require parking. The market should dictate if any off street parking is needed based on sales or leasing requirements.

Transit infrastructure should respect the character of the neighborhood. The streetscape, including transit facilities, should be designed to improve the pedestrian experience, and enhance the surrounding businesses.

For more on smart planning principles click herehere and here.

[Image By food_pvd]

A New Vision for a Public Square

Cities often overlook their forgotten public squares and parks as key economic development tools. Providence is slowly rediscovering this fact. I have had the pleasure of illustrating the redevelopment vision for Kennedy Plaza. Currently, the square is mostly know as a bus transfer center. However, it is the planning groups aim that one day this space will house New England’s largest, outdoor public market. I am particularly excited about this goal considering my bike ride to and from the office passes right through the square.

It has been a pleasure working with all the partners on the creation of this vision. It represents the best ideas the Friends of Kennedy Plaza have today, and they are looking for ways to improve upon it. Visit www.kennedyplaza.org to submit your comments.

The film would not have happened without the skills of Ben Chace. Check out his award winning film Wah Do Dem on Hulu. If you would like to know even more about what is in store for the future of Kennedy Plaza click here.

Retrofitting Suburbia: The Future of Real Estate


Fellow CNU board member, Ellen Dunham-Jones has a wonderful presentation up on TED Talks. I am lucky enough to be working on one of the projects she mentions, Mashpee Commons. She, as well as Galina Tahchieva with her Sprawl Repair Manual, have been doing a wonderful job pushing this emerging innovation in real estate development that is sure to help change the American landscape for the better.

How can your community address the following?

1. Plan for retrofitting  suburb locations at a regional scale. These projects are improved by their proximity to transit, and additional density in these locations can help waterways, food production and habitat recover from over development in other locations.

2. We must demand better architecture. New buildings must have a timeless quality that is flexible enough to change over time. The architecture must also be beautiful so people will love it, manage it and care for it as the building ages.

3. Everyone needs to demand more dynamic and sustainable places. Support the projects that are in you community, and “let the suburbs grow up” by voting yes on zoning, land use or planning bylaws that will allow retrofitting to be possible.

We are trying our best in Mashpee on all three of these, but there is still much more work to be done. Thank you Ellen for pushing this important innovation forward.

If you are interested in more details I recommend ordering Ellen’s new book, Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs