I’ve been invited to blog for Planetizen. You can find my first post here. Much of my city planning writing will likely live there for the coming months, though this blog will live on for comic-related content, among other things. Thanks for checking in.
In planning vibrant cities, residents get excited about parks, multi-use dense neighborhoods and public transit. But there are also necessities that most folks don’t want near their houses or workplaces: power plants, heavy industry, halfway houses or shelters are also necessary for societies to run effectively and thrive. The authors of The Smart Growth Manual called these developments “Locally Undesirable Land Uses” or LULUs.
Where LULUs get built should be planned as carefully as we plan the locations of highways or bike paths. If, because of a lack of political will or imagination, the LULUs collect in the part of the region with the least political capital, that area will become or remain blighted. Shortsighted politics can put resources in places that compound their negative attributes, this reduces their ability to accomplish the purposes they’re designed for.
At the same time, no benevolent dictator should decide at random where things should go. In an ideal situation, a regional design authority can create plans to distribute LULUs in a way that is both equitable and efficient to the geographic and cultural realities of the region. Then, that planning group can share this plan with the public to try to understand the concerns of the community. Though some single-issue residents can create counterproductive discussions, engaging with the public usually uncovers insights that are impossible to uncover through any other method. Public comment provides a way to bring the views of a wider audience into the conversation and give planners access to view they wouldn’t necessarily hear otherwise. Read more
There’s mountains of writing on cities, planning, and transportation written everyday. I’ve collected links to some of my favorites, feel free to add yours in the comments below.
- Before and After Photos of the Riverfront (Detroit)
- The Need for Low Quality Housing
- E.P.A. Faces Bigger Tasks, Smaller Budgets and Louder Critics
- BART’s Communications Team Explains Brutally Honest Social Media Strategy
- De Blasio Unveils Citywide Ferry Plan (New York)
- The Fading Romance of America’s ‘Cinderella Homes’
This phrase comes from Alastair Bonnett’s Unruly Places. He uses it to describe train trips in suburban London where he lives. Bonnett is talking about the way in which so many places have become completely interchangeable, even in a country with much older structures than we have in the States, as well as an infrastructure that predates the car. The sameness of franchises, the many prefab objects of our world and the way zoning creates uniformity is oppressive. And Nowhere is expanding.
In Who’s Your City Richard Florida makes a powerful critique of the “flat world” idea of Thomas Friedman’s. He talks about how, though technology has made some things possible to do from anywhere, the world has, if anything, become less flat. The world’s economy and innovation is increasingly localized to key places. Cities become specialized powerhouses. The world of finance is rooted in cities like New York and London, Silicon Valley is a magnet for technology companies and innovation, Boston and Philadelphia specialize in medical research and pharma. What we learn, discover, and the work we do depends heavily on where we are located. Read more
Ryan Gravel’s Where We Want to Live takes a measured approach to explaining the modern metropolis. He looks at cities through the lens of large-scale infrastructure projects like the New York High Line, the Los Angeles River Project, and especially the Atlanta BeltLine which he has been closely involved with since its inception. Gravel isn’t a fiery preacher of new urbanism, he’s a dedicated student of the city. It’s not enough for him to diagnose what’s wrong with Atlanta (and the book is more concerned with Atlanta than any other city) Gravel needs to get to the root cause. He’s tireless in his investigations of cities’ histories, pulling from the great events of a city’s past as well as his own anecdotal experiences. But Gravel is not writing history for its own sake, he wrings useful information out of the pasts of these cities. The projects he describes are informed by the history of the particular place in which they originate.
The project he explores most deeply is Atlanta’s BeltLine project, envisioned to take abandoned railroad lines that encircle the city of Atlanta and turn them into a 22-mile ring of parks and green space around the city’s center. Gravel knows the project well because it was born out of his own master’s thesis written decades ago where the idea was first proposed. The history of the BeltLine, built to serve the growing 1900s Atlanta is key to the project. The pride in the city’s past and the diverse communities that have grown up around those train lines (including Martin Luther King’s own church) fuel the reasons for and the rationale behind the project. Read more
Parks create more beautiful and happy cities. Open green space in urban settings has a positive effect on the happiness of the city dwellers, which has been documented in study after study. Further, as CO2 traps, they make cities healthier. Cleaner air benefits everyone, but its effects are particularly acute for seniors, children and asthma sufferers.
So how does Chicago compete with the rest of the country in open space and parks? According to Parks Score, not horribly, but not too well. While Chicago (ranked 12th) is not able to break the top 10, it does stand close to the top. What causes that disparity? In part, it’s the challenge of having so many small parks. This distribution makes parks accessible to large numbers of people but it’s also more expensive to manage. So although Chicago ranks high in park spending, the city doesn’t boast as much parkland as its greener counterparts. Read more
I was surprised by this table from an article in Fast Coexist, listing the top cities for walk and bike commuting. It would have been impossible for me to guess that Boston would top the list, and I’m surprised to see Baltimore above more trendy cities like the rapidly growing Austin TX.
Overall, it’s striking to see how little weather seems to effect the walk/bike commuting percentage. The statistics seem like further proof of the power of design and infrastructure to get people on their bikes. I’m glad Chicago made the list but it’s a little embarrassing to be so far behind frigid 400,000 person city of Minneapolis.
Neighborhoods change, it’s inevitable. The area that was once Cabrini-Green housing project is now populated with big box stores and cookie-cutter yuppie fortresses, while other, once prosperous, (or at least working class) neighborhoods on the west and south side, are losing people and money. UIC has defined 14 Chicago neighborhoods in South and West Chicago as in “severe decline” these neighborhoods “have populations that are, on average, two-thirds African American.” These are the same neighborhoods that have put Chicago in the national news for having high rates of homicide.
For some, gentrification carries benefits, landowners see their properties increase in value and small business may stand to benefit if their customers are more comfortable being out and about in the neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that are richer or more densely populated are often more walkable, and foot traffic on the streets correlates with safety. For other people, gentrification can be devastating. A person learns a neighborhood. Our lives get built around where we shop, send children to school and live from day to day. If your neighborhood gets a rapid infusion of new people from a different background, if the neighborhood businesses no longer cater to you and, most importantly, if it becomes unaffordable in terms of services, parking and rent, that’s going to have a huge impact on your life. Read more
The tempting green bookstalls that sit on the banks of Paris’ Seine started life as unsanctioned sellers of pamphlets, many of which were illegal to distribute. If you’ve visited Paris, you’ve probably seen these lovely little shops. They are an important part of a city whose citizens are known for being cultured and captivated by the arts. So important, in fact, are “Les Bouquinistes,” as they are called, that they have earned the UNESCO designation of World Heritage Site.
This account comes from Tactical Urbanism by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia. It’s a perfect example of what the authors are looking to encourage.
Many of the things that make cities great don’t come from a huge bureaucratic system or the decree of a powerful mayor but by the will of the people that live in the city. Projects like the book stalls on the Seine were not city-sponsored or even encouraged by the city, but the people wanted them, supported them and kept coming back to them, and that was enough.
“Granny Flats” or ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) inspire a lot of excited talk right now. These are small carriage houses built in the backs of homes on land that would traditionally be a garage or a yard. They can contribute to making a more walkable, healthy, and affordable city, but they’re having trouble getting off the ground in the U.S., even in cities that allegedly love them.
The reason for this is regulation: limitations around who can live in the home, aesthetic concerns or (and this is the most onerous and counterproductive one) parking. Growing cities that pay lip service to remaining affordable are unwilling to serve the citizens who aren’t drivers and this keeps them from continuing to attract young, talented people. Read more