So, so much to share this week -- a ridiculous wealth of link riches. The only problem is that I've gotten into a sweet groove here on the headphones and can't stop drumming on the desk long enough to get this done. I'm going to have to switch back to classical or perhaps even CNBC. Yeah, that will do......zzzzzz.....

Enjoy the week's news.

  • Are cities organisms or machines? It was a question asked by Steve Mouzon after I made the observation on Monday. Since I've learned so much at the foot of the Zen Master of New Urbanism, I was really honored to see him dig into this. As usual, his writing and his photos are beautiful, not to mention insightful.

What we lost in that exchange is only now becoming clear: when we become experts in one thing and turn all other parts of our lives over to people who are experts in other things, we no longer have the authority to speak up when things get out of balance. And so the specialists get more and more efficient at doing their narrowly-defined tasks in near-ignorance of anything else. So we get arterial thoroughfares that are really efficient at moving cars, but nobody wants to live anywhere near them. We get volume builders that are really efficient at throwing up countless little vinyl boxes that cannot possibly be loved. And the whole mechanism of sprawl was one of the most efficient machines ever invented, but its excesses have literally become "cancer of the city."

Do you feel invited to fully participate in making your community better? Is there a corner of the city that you pass regularly, each time thinking, “this could be better?” Do you understand that if its public space, you have a right to make it better? Hell–why not call it a duty to make it better?

Don’t hold it in. Don’t accept foot dragging and toddling; those are simply tricks to get you to go away. Don’t let the self-proclaimed gatekeepers stifle you. It’s really not up to them.

  • My favorite commenter on the Strong Towns blog -- a guy that I have learned a lot from and someone who has been there a few key times to encourage me when I've stuck my neck out a little, is a guy named Ruben. We've never met, but this week I found out he is real, his name is Ruben and he did a talk that was recorded. It is really awesome, so enjoy.

  • One of our friends, John Simmerman, is taking on a new initiative called Active Towns. Do yourself a favor and follow Active Towns on Facebook. This is worth keeping an eye on.

Active Towns are those special places which are particularly inviting and invigorating environments. They help to encourage and engage their populous in leading active lives. Please join us as we search for and promote Active Towns.

  • Minnesota has a number of great minds thinking, talking and writing about planning and design issues. One of my favorite is Sam Newberg, aka Joe Urban. This week he had a fantastic piece on biking, parking and thinking incrementally that captured the essence of the pragmatic Minnesota spirit we like to tell ourselves we have. Brilliant work.

Bikes aren’t to blame here, and the last thing I want to suggest is that we must choose between bikes and businesses. In fact, well-placed bicycle lanes (and parking) is good for business. I want cycling to be part of the city. What is to blame is the “Standard,” the expectation that free-flowing automobile traffic is a right rather than a choice and transportation engineers’ ability to quote from an actual manual to make the case for lane widths, speeds, and clear zones. Cyclists and businesses must form a stronger alliance to fight the real enemy – the “standard.” Unfortunately the standard for moving traffic is entrenched while urbanism doesn’t yet have a recognized standard, and while we allow traffic engineers to have the final say, all in the name of making roads safer by moving cars faster, when in fact the opposite is true.

  • One of the great opportunities I've had over the past year is the chance to meet and get to know Clarence Eckerson, Jr. of Streetfilms. Besides being a really fun guy to hang out with, he does amazing work, so I'm really humbled by his latest short that builds on some of our work here at Strong Towns. More to come soon.

 

  • Nate Hood is one of the coolest guys I know. Who else could write a column equating good urbanism with a good beard.

We need incremental urban growth that can mature. This includes not only architectural context, but also urban design. Let me explain. So, we’ve got yourself some stubble. It looks good, but doesn’t quite cut it. If you let it grow for a week or two, you’ll notice that the hair gets slightly longer, but it mostly fills in. It isn’t until the beard truly fills in that you have yourself the start of a good thick, dense and rich beard. This is precisely when the beard gains character.

That is what our cities and towns need: to fill in the blank spaces.

  • Another one of our best friends around here goes by the handle Neil21. He recently wrote a very good opinion piece challenging Vancouver to up its game on a freeway reconstruction project. Not only did Neil make a strong case for a different approach, he provided a vision for what that approach should look like. Very compelling.

Some will be quick to accuse of me of naivete, calling my ‘streets’ incompatible with the economic realities of efficient goods movement and commuting traffic. I would remind such critics that a lower top speed doesn’t necessarily mean a lower journey time, which is really the thing that matters to travellers. The point about stroads is that the urban context breaks up your journey so that all the racing between stop lights doesn’t amount to much: you could travel at a lower speed more consistently and get through just as quickly, while having a less detrimental effect on other street users.

The key is to remove friction from the central “through” lanes, while keeping the safe pedestrian-first ‘street’ feel of the sides. I’m sure there are many possible designs that could accomplish this, but my favourite is the Multiway Boulevard: a narrow one-way shared-space street, enclosed by buildings and a line of trees, on either side of faster through lanes.

  • Jim Kunstler is about the only blogger that I never miss. This week he was particularly on in taking some of the main stream media to task, for good reason. I'm going to be hanging out with Jim, along with some other good New Urbanist friends, in upstate New York next Friday. Can't wait.

You could call these two examples mendacious if it weren't so predictable that a desperate society would do everything possible to defend its sunk costs, including the making up of fairy tales to justify its wishes. Instead, they're merely tragic because the zeitgeist now requires once-honorable forums of a free press to indulge in self-esteem building rather than truth-telling. It also represents a culmination of the political correctness disease that has terminally disabled the professional thinking class for the last three decades, since this feel-good propaganda comes from the supposedly progressive organs of the media -- and, of course, the cornucopian view has been a staple of the idiot right wing media forever. We have become a nation incapable of thinking, or at least of constructing a consensus that jibes with reality.

  • Congratulations to Austin for being a leader. Getting rid of parking requirements in a Texas city is an amazing accomplishment. In Texas, they like their parking like they like everything else: big. I'm impressed.
  • Of course, Austin may just be responding to the market, which is what all cities should be doing. The market is not asking for more parking, more driving lanes and more traffic capacity -- as we engineers have been programmed to deliver -- but instead has a mind of its own.

  • The pinnacle of auto-centric development is the big box store. It supposedly has such a huge tax base and contributes a ton of sales tax revenue that landing one is much coveted. Unfortunately, as with the rest of the post-WW II development styles, the upside is quite limited but the downside has proven to be financially quite fragile. One little town in Michigan is finding that out the hard way.

In hopes of fending off potentially devastating continual losses in local property tax revenue, Marquette Township officials are contesting a recent state tax tribunal decision in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The township's appeal involves how valuations of the true cash value of "big box" retail stores are determined and is expected to be decided later this year with far-reaching implications.

  • Stockton, CA, is one of the country's basket cases, but I'm heartened to see people like David Garcia proposing practical strategies to approach the complex set of problem they face. Reducing crime not by more expensive policing but by relaxing zoning restrictions is one such idea.

In other words, an area with a balanced mix of apartments, condos or townhomes and commercial development actually experienced less crime than a commercial-only shopping center. Moreover, the study found that when commercial-only areas were rezoned to include residences, crime fell by about seven percent. The researchers do not provide an answer as to why this is the case, however some speculate that Jane Jacob’s “eyes on the street” theory or the Broken Window’s theory employed by William Bratton could provide some explanations. In any case, the evidence is pretty clear that incorporating residential with commercial is an ideal option when considering the effects of development on crime.

  • Alex Ihnen at the nextSTL blog provides some insightful analysis, taking on established cultural beliefs about one of the cities more successful neighborhoods. I love how he is not afraid to call out Complete Streets and a variety of other chic concepts for their failure to get at the fundamental problems. Keep being bold, Alex.

Not that a lack of parking is holding Clayton back, but rather the lack of human-scaled development is to fault. Basically the presence of wealth in Clayton has led to the assumption that retail will simply flourish in a sea of money. What the city ignores is that no one wants to walk there, no one enjoys exploring Clayton only to experience a place that heavily prioritizes car traffic and greets pedestrians with blank walls, raised plazas and dead corners. Yet nothing mentioned above will prevent businesses from blaming parking for their woes. 

  • Enjoy yesterday's blog post on traffic engineer from Bryan Jones? Here's more and yet more, both worth delving into. Many thanks to Placemaker Howard Blackson for making the introduction.
  • And leave it to Ian Rasmussen to send me a long article that I didn't want to read yet hooked me enough to finish the entire thing. Some math on how Google fiber is going to bring you free internet, and why it makes financial sense for them to do so.
  • Finally, Mountain Dew got in a little trouble this week for a racist ad, one that I never saw but will take the word of others that it was pretty bad. That reminded me of my favorite Do the Dew ad, which is rather obscure but featured a wild rendition of Route 66. Enjoy.

Have a good weekend, everyone. See you back here on Monday.

 

You can get more of Chuck Marohn's insights by reading his book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1). It is a primer on the Strong Towns movement and an essential read for those wanting to get up to speed quickly.

You can also chat with Chuck, Nate Hood, Andrew Burleson, Justin Burslie and many others over at the Strong Towns Network. Join the ongoing conversation on how to make yours a strong town.