I left Dulles airport and drove north this past Wednesday to Frederick, MD. While much of the landscape was endearing, large parts of it were unfortunately the very familiar post-WW II, American-style of development, complete with vacant strip malls, half-developed subdivisions and the same excessive roads section the entire route, despite the change in place.

Then I reached my destination and drove into Frederick. I had no idea such a beautiful place existed and I was blown away by the absolutely amazing human habitat they have constructed and maintained. It was literally street after street right out of a planner's dream. Enchanting!

Today I am speaking, along with my friend Kaid Benfield of NRDC, at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy's Vibrant Towns conference, and so I'm going to skip the normal Friday News Digest and schill for the city of Frederick in the hopes that they will invite me back again someday soon. Here are some of the photos I took.

Guess which house below is a single-family home and which one is a triplex rental (AKA affordable housing). I'm not even going to bother to give the answer because it really doesn't matter, and that's the point anyway.

Streetscapes like this went on for literally blocks and blocks. In a Strong Towns context, not only does this neighborhood have an amazing sense of place, it was largely built when we were a much poorer country, prior to all of the investments in growth we made over the past two generations. My only criticism of Frederick is their obsession with one-way streets. I suppose they have to give the engineers something so they can be accepted by the rest of the profession.

I love how this street terminates. It is such a simple design, but so effective. Symmetry is gorgeous. And notice the lighting is not the standard penitentary cobraheads but something scaled to light the pedestrian space in addition to parking areas.

I snapped a picture of this door, but the attention to detail like this ornamentation was everywhere. When people take pride in their homes and their neighborhoods and then inject that with a touch of creativity, the place comes alive with these little treats. Reminds me of some of the Swiss or Italian small towns I've been in.

This bridge below they call the "Community Bridge". What you are seeing here is a plain bridge over a drainage ditch, only they have painted a mural on it (yes, that is a painting, not rock) that tells a story about the community. Functional turned into loved.

Here's a closeup. This is some brilliant work.

The artist queried the community on what they felt was most important about their place. This board below explains the different elements of the mural and their inspiration.

How is this for a drainage ditch? Look anything like the one in your town? Taking a liability and making it a community asset is just brilliant.

And hidden there on the side there is not your plain engineered wall. They actually used the change in elevation to do something else creative; they built a little outside amphitheater. Again, why build a plain wall when you can build a place instead?

Here's a little brick in the sidewalk honoring Frederick's past. Many of the old houses had these bricks out front, which displayed the name of the original occupant of the home. What a subtle, yet powerful, connection to your roots. You won't see anything like this in our modern-day suburbs, will you? And why? We all know the answer....they are not places worth this type of reverence.

This is so simple to build, yet so effective. It is baffling how we've lost this art, although if you travel to the edge of Frederick, you'll see that they've lost the art there too, despite the vivid example. 

Even the fire hall fits into the character of the community. Function follows form, not the other way around, and even with narrow streets, somehow they still manage to keep people safe.

Frederick is now one of my favorite U.S. cities. Another is the place I am in right now, that being Easton, MD. I'll write more about Easton, the Vibrant Towns conference and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy when I get back next week.

Enjoy your weekend.


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