I did not realize that one of my fellow presenters this morning at Next Gen was Mike Lydon, one of the co-authors of the Smart Growth Manual. Co-author with Andres Duany and Jeff Speck. Mike’s presentation on Bicycling and Placemaking was excellent. I recorded it and he agreed to share his slides and so I will be able to share his thoughts and voice with you here in a future podcast. Look for that.
For the afternoon session I signed up for an extra session on the Smart Growth Manual. Andres Duany kicked off the discussion. I recorded his comments here too and will absolutely provide that audio in a future podcast format. Some of the highlights:
“The economic downturn we are experiencing is not a real estate bubble but an overlay of many crisis.”
He listed three separate crises that we are experiencing.
- Standardized suburban development. He put emphasis on the term “standardized” since it is the homogeneous nature of the development that allowed the financing to be bundled in large financial instruments. This is essentially manufacturing of the development pattern (cookie cutter meets finance).
- We’re incredibly impoverished. When I first heard Duany say this a few years ago – that we are no longer a rich country – it was startling. If it startles you, think it through because it is true. As Duany said, we are a country that is “living beyond its means.”
- Climate change, which I would simply categorize as the oil-dependency externalities (my thought, not his). While I would not lay the future of smart land use decisions on the arguments of climate change, there is no question that we have a huge problem with the mentality that prompts us to waste energy and grow inefficiently while we subsidize the cost of energy with our money and, in the case of our military, our lives and our capacity.
Duany made another insightful comment about the current crisis.
The 21st Century began in 2008.
He went on to explain how the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo marked the end of the 18th Century. The people living after that time were fundamentally different from those living prior. The same goes with the onset of WW I, which was really the end of the 19th Century. Duany described our current situation as equivalent to a Frenchman in 1914 who thought that the first world war would be a short, momentary interruption in their lifestyle. Little did they know in 1914 that the world around them – their country and really all of Europe – was about to change dramatically, with war, revolution and changes in the forms of governments the norm for the coming generations. We’re going through the same amount of change right now and few people are aware of how dramatic it will be.
Duany then talked about the Charrette process. I had written about his thoughts on the blog some time ago in response to a Mailbox question, but I did not understand then how the Smart Growth Manual fits in with this. Duany talked about the public process and how expensive it is. I agree. His example was a $200k charrette, which he said $30k was technical advice and analysis and $170k was facilitating a big group hug. The Smart Growth Manual is designed to educate people and make the public process – which is truly an education process (again, I could not agree more) – more efficient, shorter or perhaps even unnecessary.
The Smart Growth Manual was written for the participant of the public process. Duany said they actually give them out to people at the beginning. When people ask if that is expensive, he indicates that it is a fraction of the cost of their time in educating people.
The presentation on the Smart Growth Manual continued with Mike Lyndon and Jeff Speck, who went through the entire manual in rapid format.
Speck talked briefly about the Mayor’s Institute in response to a question. He indicated that it is a non-profit that provides training to mayors (free of charge, all expense paid) on community design.
Cities are made up of three characteristics: neighborhoods, districts and corridors. If you analyze cities in that way, the decisions on placement of uses become more logical. They had a good diagram that showed this.
Running out of battery power, but will continue with my notes and will update with more later....
Going to finish off my notes from Thursday continuing with Lydon and Speck.
After looking at some photos of schools, playgrounds and parks - where the highway ran right next to it in a too-familiar pattern - Speck commented that the phenomenon of the "soccer mom" is a function of community design. We can't let our kids walk or bike to these places, so we must drive them. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy.....build the road bigger to handle more traffic and, whatdoyouknow, there's more traffic.
Besides their own book, they strongly recommended a couple of books that I had not heard of before.
- Green Metropolis by David Owen. They called it "essential" and, at less than $10 for a hardcover, seems like you can't go wrong giving it a try.
- The Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva. The book has not been released yet but can be pre-ordered. It helps envision the answer to that difficult question: We have these neighborhoods that don't work, now what?
The pair also threw out an interesting idea that will rattle my engineering friends. To truly measure traffic on a street, don't just count cars but count people. Lydon indicated that this was done in NYC and they found that a very high percentage of the traffic was non-automobile, while almost the entire right-of-way was dedicated to cars. This helped them reconfigure some streets to reallocate the space to where it was actually providing the greatest mobility.
There are a couple of videos that Mike Lydon recommended that I am going to try and find. If I am successful, I'll put them in a follow-up posting.