One of our favorite Strong Town'rs is Ron Beitler. He's a township commissioner in Lower Macungie, Pennsylvania, and writes a very informative blog aimed at constituents and the public at large. In a recent post, titled "We can do better in Lower Macungie", he demonstrates the virtues of good urban form through photos, storytelling, and statistics. 

Every once and awhile I like to do a post primarily of photos demonstrating visually what I think represents more community serving and friendly development for Lower Mac. The type of development that we need more of. Alternatives to sprawling strip commercial. Specifically in the Villages of East Texas & Wescosville and along the Hamilton Corridor. I’m often critical of development projects and our current zoning ordinances that allow them. It’s only fair that I present what I think the alternative looks like. 

Below is a photo of a WaWa convenience store that is, and that could have been. As Ron explains: "The problem here isn’t that this is a convenience store. It’s the context, form and function. You can build almost any use save for the most auto dependent in a more community friendly way. Yet our zoning codes continue to fixate on separation of uses, when really we should concentrate more on the built form." Also check out his post comparing the traditional development pattern to the sprawl model. #dothemath #wecandobetter

Great stuff Ron. We should all have city commissioners as proactive and thoughtful. 

Is your town building plazas and parks as an afterthought, or are the buildings shaping your gathering places in a thoughtful manner? In Intro to Urbanism, Part Seven, Dave Alden outlines the factors that make for successful community life. 

In the words of Jan Gehl, Danish architect and urban designer, “First life, then spaces, then buildings.  The other way around never works.”

Of course, the other way around is often how development occurs.  The function of the building dictates the building footprint, with the leftover land becoming a plaza.  The subdivision is configured to maximize the lot count, with the awkward leftover chunk becoming a park, even if it falls in a location inconvenient to the new residents.  Gehl, and urbanists everywhere, correctly argue for a different approach.

In this must-read essay from Granola Shotgun, the system of communist Soviet housing is juxtaposed with the informal real estate economy of 'dachas', plots of land outside the city on which Russians built quite lovely summer houses. But the essay gets really interesting when it compares Soviet housing with American suburbia. Read on.

These are all just basic rules to keep the neighborhood from getting run down and trashy, right? They’re voluntarily accepted by all the residents who willingly choose to conform, right? This isn’t communism. These are all upright freedom loving Americans who don’t mind accommodating lots of self-inflicted rules while doing their community duty by making sure that all their neighbors also conform. But it doesn’t change the fact that the folks building their little dachas on the edge of Leningrad actually had more real personal freedom in many regards, at least when it came to their homes and gardens.

Which of these images depict a rigid system of land usage regulation and bureaucracy?

Check out this video from Matt Taylor's "Analysis" blog. Fascinating 'what-if' analysis of a traditionally developed street, if modern parking standards were required. Hint: Not good.

Family Friendly Cities ran the numbers on families with children choosing walkable communities, and the usual suspects appear. Boston, San Francisco, Washington DC make the top list of increased population of children in the city, but there are some surprises. In the top 3 spots are Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Nashville. There are also many cities that show decreases in the population of children in walkable areas, predominantly newer sunbelt cities. A Strong Town shouldn't be merely a playground for millennials but for the next generation as well.  Getting millennials to stick around once they are of child-rearing age is one of the biggest challenges facing us as we build Strong Towns. 

Has your city gone to the dogs? I sure hope so. Man's best friend helps foster social interaction on the street, assists the disabled, and sometimes even rides the bus solo. There's a lot a service dog can do, but to do it well, it's pretty important the dog not have to drive to do it (unless you're this guy). Just another in a long list of reasons for building walkable places scaled to humans (and their best friends).

Photograph of service dogs from Bill Emory's blog.


You can check out the entire member blogroll on the Strong Towns member site. If you're a member with a blog and would like your work to show up there, please let us know about it.