This post aired yesterday on my other endeavor The Whiskey City Collaborative.
Sometimes downtown Peoria can seem awfully cold. Those large one-way streets, concrete parking decks, and the crowds that leave at 5 make what should be a colorful place pretty drab.
But Peoria is bursting at the seams with creative people. So much so, they have taken to that drab landscape and covered it with color.
HELP CREATE THE NEXT AMERICAN URBANISM
OCTOBER 25-27 / #PLACESUMMIT / LOUISVILLE, KY
More details available online: placesummit.com/
Place Summit is a working meeting of driven individuals proactively working to improve the future of America’s cities, towns and countryside.
Our nation has the capacity to rise up from the underutilized parking lots and failing infrastructure to thrive again as a country filled with natural beauty, productive lands and inspirational cities. As we face this time of enormous economic transition, the need for a countrywide vision — a path for America to become a healthier and wealthier society — is apparent. The United States was founded on a wide open landscape. Today, we find ourselves pioneers once again, but instead of westward expansion, our great opportunity will be found by capturing the enormous inherent value trapped in our existing places.
We need to create a new continental development model for the United States.
Just as with western expansion, industrialization of our cities or the post- WW II suburbanization, this new model must harness the pioneering American spirit and build on our commitment to opportunity, prosperity and freedom for all. Our next development model must focus on creating value throughout our existing cities, towns and regions. The time is at hand to develop the next comprehensive design and policy framework for our economy that is once again based on placemaking.
In 2010, a small group of planners, designers, architects, lawyers, developers and urbanists started an annual working weekend to focus on the future of America’s cities, towns and countryside. A central project has emerged out of many long nights of debate. The brief of the ideas we have begun to target as the next American Urbanism project can be downloaded here. Tactical Urbanism has been the most notable of these efforts thus far that have spun out of the Place Summit meetings.
Your experience and knowledge is needed to help sharpen our movement’s focus for the next 20 years of work.
Tags: Place Summit
Food trucks, farmer’s markets, street vendors, etc.; all of these rebel against sterile suburban environments. They are inherently opposed to the strict separation of land uses and streets designed solely for use by the automobile.
When viewing a community as an organism, drivable suburban environments, void of interaction, provide a culturally and socially unsustainable future. The human spirit is denied the ability to fully express itself in these environs, thus preventing an organic evolution of local cultures not primarily influenced by televised popular culture. While these may be issues that would be better addressed by cultural geographers and sociologists, their causes are found in the way we design our cities.
During the early 20th century, the dominant opinion of how a street should be designed changed from one of a “socially diverse pluralistic conception,” which facilitated multiple uses and modes of transport, to one of “a modern unitary reality,” designed for speed and efficiency, heavily influenced by the modernist vision of urbanist Le Corbusier. His appeal to the spirit of industry and sterility certainly was embraced by many; however, one cannot easily escape the weight of moderation, and as urban design regains its footing and reacquaints itself with the other equally powerful needs and desires of people, such as aesthetics, passion, and a sense of place and cultural identity, we are rediscovering core principles of city life that have been forgotten by many.
We, as urbanists, must take the city from the machine and give the city back to the people. To do that, in addition to adopting traditional design principles, municipalities must decriminalize the use of public space by allowing people to use it; they paid for it and built it. When city officials enforce strict patterns of formal commerce and street decorum shared by a vocal and influential few, the lack of energy and interaction amongst people is clearly evident to an observer.
By allowing and encouraging people to use the street for more than just commuting, primarily through traditional urban design principles, but also through municipal regulations, cities will be able to drop the plastic façade of sprawl and won’t have to hide their citizens from themselves. A re-introduction between people and the American city is needed. People are imperfect, as is the city; it would be dishonest to attempt to mold each other into something they are not. Rather, we must embrace those differences and understand that we need each other’s imperfections to function and grow.
Once we open the city to our depressed economies by welcoming the street vendor, the food truck, the musician, and the artist, we will be able to provide the opportunity for successional growth from sidewalk to stand to storefront. Successional growth is key to fiscally stable and sustainable communities. While there are many successful examples, too many New Urbanist town center developments are under-utilized because of lack of demand. The same concept of “build it and they will come” that is so prevalent in suburbia has driven the development of many of these new town centers, creating empty public spaces and sidewalks. For a planner to ignore the logical metamorphosis of a town is lazy. The informal market acts as a litmus test of the community; it allows the planner to visualize developing demand for certain services and products in certain areas, and provides a buffer in the balancing of supply and demand. If demand is more than supply, the informal market can meet the extra demand until a more formal solution is provided.
In many parts of the developing world, the informal market makes up more than half of the job market. In the mid 1920’s, New York City “pushcart peddlers sold nearly 50 million dollars’ worth of food and merchandise annually,” making up between 25% and 40% of the produce market share. Potential vendors might not be able to afford the rent of a traditional brick and mortar storefront at first and are thus discouraged from setting up shop. Cities often invest in building incubator space by refurbishing abandoned warehouses, etc., but are missing a much more affordable and accessible opportunity with allowing and encouraging expanded use of the street to include vendors and the like.
Tactical Urbanism is a popular movement that has gained significant attention recently. Its approach is mainly one of a small scale reclamation of public space. It serves as a conduit for the re-emergence of interest in the informal; several steps in the right direction. As the movement and attitudes of city administrators evolve, it will ideally be adopted by a general informal urban culture, become less subversive, and more market driven.
Allowing people to participate in commerce on the street has been part of the urban experience for thousands of years, until the rise of the singular view of the street solely for the car. The market was the genesis of the city, it was the justification for its existence, and it was the impetus behind expansion. To prevent people from accessing the market, and only designing for the car, is to sterilize the petri dish that the city is meant to be. The informal use of public space should be as much a priority of New Urbanist design as the Transect. The human experience thrives in such conditions.
- Eric Pate
I had just moved back from Edinburgh, Scotland and found myself transplanted in a friend’s spare room in Indianapolis. I was young, naïve and while educated and employed, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. All it took was a place called Emerald Springs, a dying subdivision about 20 miles outside central Indy.
There aren’t a lot of exciting things to do on the outskirts of Indianapolis. Stealing drywall from a failing exurban development would have been one, but at the time I didn’t know I was committing a crime.
My friend Ryan got a good paying job right out of college with a large production home builder. He was tasked with driving around to each subdivision and inspecting homes to ensure they wouldn’t fall apart. That, and he yelled at contractors a lot for what boiled down to general incompetence.
Ryan’s territory was, you know, those new, half-built exurban developments you see in the distance while traveling along the highway. Those ones, by the soybeans, where you ask yourself: who lives there? That’s what Ryan was doing; making sure these places existed.
Toward the end of the summer of 2007, it should have been clear that the housing market was falling apart. We’d go to weekend barbecues, and with each passing week, more of his work friends were being laid off and forced into odd jobs. Meanwhile, Ryan was also renovating his house in the Broad Ripple neighborhood. He needed drywall to finish the basement. This is where I was unwillingly coaxed into a misdemeanor.
We jumped into his aging truck that sometimes worked, and headed out to a far-flung development where he said we were going to pick up drywall. The suburban collectors that dragged us out to the eastern suburbs might as well have been called Desolation Row. I had just finished reading The Geography of Nowhere, so I was particularly jaded, and I remember looking out the open window at the passing landscape and thinking; why do we build this shit?
I had heard of these developments – but I had never experienced them.
The drive took forever even as we raced against the clock to beat impending storm clouds. We hit the edge of the metro, past some fields, more housing divisions and then kept going. Finally, we hit the edge, with a water tower no less.
The place felt empty with dozens of ‘For Sale’ signs and recently planted trees. The homes were there, butlife was missing. We meandered to the back and we hit a bunch of homes under construction. The eerie ambiance lead me to believe that no one, including the construction crews, had touched this site in weeks.
The drywall was sitting untouched in an empty lot; someone decided to leave it. No one wanted this big pile of drywall and it was being left to rot in the elements? We loaded up the truck with about $1,000 of drywall right as the rain started to hit. It wasn’t until we pulled away and headed back to the city that I realized we had stolen building materials that would have otherwise rotted away, exposed to the rain, in an empty lot along Desolation Row.
When I think of the housing crash of the late 2000s, I think of Emerald Springs. How things were so belly up that someone wouldn’t even bother covering up countless thousands of dollars of building material with something as cheap as a $30 plastic tarp.
The abandoned drywall will, with little doubt, serve analogous to the future of Emerald Springs; some cheap drywall rotting in an unforgiving Midwestern field.
Rarely does one event drives someone’s decision in life. This certainly didn’t drive mine, but it left a small, but not insignificant “ah ha!” moment. Experiencing the juxtaposition of urban spaces elsewhere, from my recent departing of Edinburgh, to what we decided to build up at home, countless Emerald Springs, was motivation enough to act as a catalyst for positive change, at least in my life. If Emerald Springs succeeds in only one thing, it might well be that small moment where myself, and other passerby, may roll their eyes and ask: what are we doing here?
-Nathaniel Hood, Thoughts on the Urban Environment
It’s summertime and for many cities, that means the high season for outdoor festivals. I firmly believe some of my urbanism comes from experiencing places when the streets were open to people and a good party. I also believe it’s step number one in selling an uninitiated public on tactical urbanism strategies. Two of the 2013 Next City Vanguards used streets to open up a lot of opportunities in their area and many more opportunities pop-up daily around the world. What do I think makes a good and lasting outdoor festival culture?:
- Diversity: allowing a variety of groups to host festivals.
- Centrality: Our downtown festivals are what makes this town unique and it also brings people together and to downtown. Even when downtown was empty, I always knew about it as a place of activity and festivity.
- Universality: Provide a variety of activities for all ages and cultures, and also activities, such as ones specifically for children, that are expected.
- Regularity: If you have a popular festival, please do what you can to stay solvent and provide the same experience year after year.
- Affordability: Remember that your primary purpose is as a local showcase or a local market. Festivals are not the places to trot out your most expensive wares, activities, or dishes. High-end or exclusivity is only good in the brick-and-mortar realm.
Now I want to hear from you. What makes up a great outdoor festival culture? How has it lead to lasting urbanism and placemaking efforts in your community?
To start my contribution on NextGen blog I’d like to present a series of 3 articles focusing on the interest of comparing France and the United States when it comes to public participation. Urban sprawl issues in the US are more and more observed as a prospective in France and in Europe. Even if the issue is far more consequent on this side of the Atlantic, New Urbanists have developed tools and processes relying on strong and coherent principles that could make sense in France when reconsidering public processes.
In the US, public participation was first designed as an emancipation tool for the poorest neighborhoods in the 50′s, but really rose in the 80′s with the progressive disinvestment of the Federal State. In the 90′s the Community Action Program invested the CDCs as catalyses of public involvement. Chaskin et al. explain in 2005 that “even if community capacity building seems to be new in public policies, communities haven’t waited the 90′s to organize themselves and have a long history.”
Participation is indeed well embedded in the original political philosophy of the country. Its grassroots are to be found in two democratic pillars; the ideal of direct democracy and the ideal of republican democracy.
If for Thomas Jefferson individual rights are far more respected in a community that allow the individual civilian sovereignty, the community ensures an intermediary role in a representative system and protects individuals from centralist drifts. In parallel to this notion of local governance, Madison argue in favor of the extensive republic, notion in which each and everyone as individual may take his contestations in front of the highest instances of the American legislature. For Johnston (1984) who speak about the US in terms of “decentralized democracy” (compared to Europe “decentralized administrations”), “this reflects a theory of individualism and of local control which very much emphasizes the rights of groups living in particular areas to act in their own perceived best interests.” Participation in the US is henceforth well relieved within institutions from local to federal governance level.
In France, this concept is best known under the notion of empowerment which underlines a strong dissociation between participative structures on the one hand, the State and public policies on the other hand. History has shown French people as “easy strikers” and it’s probably true – even if 1789 or 1968 are far in our mentalities and we observe from our comfortable couches the Arabic Spring with a slight fear of change.
A lot of people would therefore think that public participation is as well embedded in our culture as it’s in the United States, but actually it’s not the case. The need to institutionalize participation was revealed to be necessary in the 70′s when the first environmental laws were ratified. Concerning participation, a first law passed in 1983, known as Loi Bouchardeau, in order to calm a conflict on a fast train line in South East of France but apart from making public surveys compulsory for big infrastructures, it didn’t change much. It’s only in 1995 with the Loi Barnier that the principles of participation were finally written down in the French legal system. An equivalent of the CDCs were established in 2002.
Since then, public participation is still showed to be ineffective. While it is seen by the politicians as a way to look for a lost legitimacy, the large public is divided in two unequal groups, one defending the public processes as “democratic engineering” and the other as a “perpetual mockery”. A recent French study (Rui, 2010) on the last 40 years of “public involvement” shows that very few of the projects designed in concerto with the large public are really implemented.
These two contexts are fundamentally different: when one prevails with the implication of public services, the other assume the complete disinvestment of the Federal State. When one refuses the individual interests as a matter of general interest, the other serves the individual accomplishment. When one tries to look for inspiration at its oversea neighbor, the other is designing new tools and new processes to overcome public disinvestment… Whatsoever, I truly think that the strength of this comparison lies in its oppositions.
A largely diffused critic says that if public involvement tools are ineffective it’s because too many people have stopped to believe in the infernal paste of the technostructure.
Covering 379 Planning programs in more than a dozen countries, Planetizen’s online Directory of Planning Schools is the definitive guide for individuals considering study in the field of urban planning. The expanded, updated, and redesigned directory is easier than ever for prospective students to navigate.
The new directory includes graduate, undergraduate and International planning programs, and enables students to find schools by County, State, type of degree, and 25 different specializations, ranging from Agriculture & Food Policy to Zoning Administration.
“With the release of this comprehensive online directory, we hope to make it easier to help connect those interested in planning education with the right programs, whether that is here in the US, or across the world,” said Abhijeet Chavan, co-founder and Editor of Planetizen.
The online directory is 100% free and is available on the Planetizen website at http://www.planetizen.com/schools
This directory, like Planetizen itself, is optimized for smartphones and tablets, recognizing the rapidly growing trend of students using mobile devices to perform research about educational options.
This directory is based on Planetizen’s fee-based Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs, the only comprehensive ranking and listing of graduate urban planning programs available.