This year’s Congress for the New Urbanism started on Wednesday. The focus is on Health and the built environment. I find it quite difficult to explain the varying connection between health and the built environment to those less informed about the complexities of urbanism. However, I think it comes down to a simple idea. Walking more is simply better for you. This can be easily illustrated by the condition at our office building in Providence. We have a great historic stair right there when you walk into the foyer. The elevator is behind the stair, out of sight and less convenient then the stair. Most everyone in our office heads right up this stair and climbs the four floors to the office. When I’m bring people to the office who are not accustom to climbing four flights you can really note the differences in fitness by the time it takes a visitor to catch their breadth. We are lucky in our office because the stair is more convenient, and, frankly, more fun to take then the clunky elevator. Our health is a unintended benefit to the way our office’s built environment function. Walkable, beautiful places are more fun to be in and therefor us humans will actually exert ourselves more to enjoy being in them. Urbanism is just like the stair in my office. More fun to be in, and improves your health.
I hope to post some more health and urbanism connection soon. If you have a health and urbanism connection of your own please comment below.
The incredible wise and creative Mr. David Byrne lectured in Providence at the invitation of the Mayor earlier this week. I hope this is an indication that the city is ready to look seriously at its bicycle infrastructure. Biking can be such a pleasant, and affordable, way to travel the city, and with Providence’s compact size we are missing a huge opportunity. The number one excuse I hear from potential bikers in Providence is the hills. Well, San Francisco has hills and they have still managed to embrace a bicycle culture. Real cities all over the country are putting biking on an equal footing with bus, rail and streetcar as a serious transit component. It was great to hear Mr. Byrne’s thoughts on the subject.
If you have not had the chance to read Mr. Byrne’s latest book, Bicycle Diaries, I highly recommend it. There was one particular chapter that has kept me thinking. Here is a quote:
“It is as if some genetic architectural propensity exists in us, that guides us, subtly and invisibly, as to how to best organize first a kiosk, then a stall, and from there add incrementally as our innate instincts guide us. Until soon enough there exists a whole marketplace and neighborhood.” – Bicycle Diaries, p.138
He is pointing out an interesting occurrence where public markets found throughout the globe are organized in strikingly similar forms. These forms are perhaps patterns that emerge from us humans as naturally as bees construct their hives or beavers their dams. The contemporary practice of urbanists and architects might be fancied with the theory of Emergent Architecture. However, I still think more focus is needed to fully apply this natural occurrence to the planning of our cities and towns.
Here is a link to more information about the David Byrne lecture. There is also some interesting writings over at Living Urbanism that are related to Emergent Architecture.
What will your city be like in the year 2030? Over the past nine months I helped lead a group of young business and community leaders in Providence answer that question. Twenty years in the life of a city is not that much time when I realized that my old neighborhood, the South End, took 40 years to construct. However, organizations such as Architecture 2030 believe that monumental achievements are possible by that date. As with Ed Mazria, this group in Providence has hope that achieving such a goal in a small span of years is possible. That is if the idea is compelling enough…or visionary.
Here are the key themes of the Providence 2030 vision as one would explain the city in that year. The entire document can be downloaded here.
We continue to grow a vibrant economy.
We support our world renowned culture.
We care for our engaging civic realm.
We celebrate our mobility.
We value and educate our youth.
We are a leader in sustainable practices.
We hope that the Providence 2030 vision is powerful enough to help guide the change that is needed over the next 20 years. Let me know what you think? Bonus question: Has your community created a grand vision for its growth and development? If not, shouldn’t it?
A big thanks to the Providence Foundation for supporting the creation of this document. Since its publication, the Foundation has formally adopted it as the organizations vision. I hope future posts will talk about projects the Foundation is taking on that will help realize this vision.
There is a nice stretch of farmland between my in-laws neighborhood and the highway just outside Davenport that will soon be gone. It is the type of farmland that you picture when people talk about Iowa. Like one of the scenes from a holiday movie, it was a beautiful snow covered vista yesterday morning. Soon the government funded sewer project will commence leaving this lands’ future uncertain. The trouble with this lovely stretch of farmland is that we, as in the collective wisdom of our society as prescribed within our zoning laws, have declared the agrarian character of this land obsolete and in waiting. It has been reduced to “developable acres”. The irony is that there is certainly many more acres of infill parcels and parking lots sprinkled throughout Davenport that could add up ten fold what this farmland would throw off in taxes as a Walmart Super Center. Why are we not investing in projects that support long term stability in our communities?
Davenport received $2,000,000 for the West Side Diversion Tunnel Project that will inevitably lead to the demise of this farmland and the new development of 20 square miles of property. But, at what additional cost? Certainly, the rural character found in this area of Davenport will be lost forever. Once the tunnel is completed the burden of this infrastructure’s upkeep will fall fully upon the city. This cost will most likely be far above estimates leading to higher taxes or unstable infrastructure. Neither being good for citizens. At first look, the blame for this environmental catastrophe could be pointed at the shovel ready requirements of government funding. This is not the case. The sprawling outcomes of the ARRA and other public programs is only the result of a much larger systemic problem.
Davenport as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of communities across the county need to grow a pair and pass legislation that is based on long term, common sense thinking. Where does a community grow its food? Can its citizens get around town inexpensively? Can the government afford to operate its infrastructure in its current form for long? Getting smart about Davenport’s zoning laws, growth boundaries and farmland preservation should not be a seen as a problem, but as an opportunity for future stability. With some smart zoning language attached to an aggressive city wide masterplan focused on sound economic growth the beautiful farmland that still surrounds the city will be saved. Couple this with some technical training for local builders on the practices of urban construction and Davenport could catapult itself into a citywide renaissance that, by the way, costs less to maintain, uses less energy, attracts young people and provides better community for all rather than the Super Centers and strip housing that will take the place of such iconic farmland.
My friend Matt Grigsby is shooting interviews around Providence this fall for the Foundation. The first few in the series are available here with more on the way soon. I felt compelled to share the interview of Alec, from Nail Communication. Not only does he have some great things to say about Providence, but the video gives you a glimpse of their offices that I helped design and build last year.
How can a city become more creative? Providence is rebranding itself as the Creative Capital. Sure there are quite a few artists and creative people here already, but shouldn’t this campaign be more then just graphics and websites? Shouldn’t the city be investing in the creation of quality public spaces that attract even more creative people? If we are to truly be the Creative Capital, we need to figure out how we can use our urban landscape better. I presented a few of these ideas at the last Pecha Kucha in Providence.
More on making liveable cities later this weekend. If you are interested in art, sculpture and public art you should check out Gillian Christy’s talk from the same night.
The Providence Foundation convened a group of the city’s young leaders to draft a 2030 vision for Downtown. I was happy to present the first draft of this vision to the Trustees of the Foundation on July 15, 2009 with the help of Mary-Kim Arnold and Matt Grigsby. We are shooting to publish the final 2030 Vision in October. If you are interested in some ideas about how this vision could be implemented come check out my talk at Pecha Kucha this Wednesday. Please comment on this post if you have any feedback on the 2030 vision. Its a work in progress.
Visit providencedowntown.com for more information. If you know of any similar 2030 visioning efforts taking place in other cities or regions please let me know via comments. Thanks!
The video is hard to see the slides at times, please reference the slides below.
Vote here today! Now that the sprawl development is over, have you ever wondered what will happen to all the strip centers, gas station and fast food buildings that fill the suburban landscape? Galina Tahchieva, a friend and colleague, at DPZ as some ideas for these outdated building types. Help these ideas win the ReBurbia competition being held by Dwell & Inhabit. Voting close on Monday.