Your Strong Towns Knowledge Base question of the week, answered here.
The answer might not be what you expect.
It matters what size chunks we build our cities in. Making room for many small-scale development projects on small lots is the universal historical model for a reason, and modern cities could stand to get back to it.
It is important when we design a building or a neighborhood to look at how it feels and interacts with the street. Too often, new development feels designed from a helicopter’s-eye-view.
The suburban development pattern is not inherently too costly to maintain: early suburbs sat much lighter on the land, with narrower streets and less public maintenance obligation. Let’s take a look at how the American suburb has evolved over time.
Professional planners are trained to yearn for tighter urban design controls, as if cities without comprehensive, top-down planning would devolve into chaos and disorder. In reality, cities evolve according to mechanisms that allow us to gradually discover optimal urban design across time.
When we aim for perfection, imperfections will disturb us. But, when we aim for imperfection, other imperfections build character.
Most cities’ zoning and development regulations obsess over things that are easy to measure, like building height and density, at the expense of the things that actually determine whether we’re building quality places.
Take a photo tour of some great streets in Syracuse and see what makes the traditional development pattern work so well on the ground.
The New York Times has released an interactive map of (nearly) every building in America. What can we learn from it about America’s suburban experiment, through the marks it has left on the landscape?
Novelty Colonies are unusual, themed settlements that promise the resident an alternative to the vinyl-sided raised ranch houses of suburbia. However, the charm of these settlements is superficial, and the good ideas they do offer would be better incorporated into our existing towns.
Wide, straight, monumental streets have always served the interests of those in power. They allow for the mobilization of military force, subordinate the unplanned chaos of the city to grandiose visions, and have been used to dispossess and displace small businesses, the poor, and racial and political minorities.
The physical design of the modern public realm, with its emphasis on speedy efficiency, advances a dehumanizing tendency. It undermines the opportunity to be a neighbor.
Can a master-planned community be consistent with Strong Towns principles of iterative, bottom-up placemaking? We take a tour of Serenbe, Georgia, an experiment in New Urbanism and eco-conscious living on the far outskirts of Atlanta.
One of the reasons Ocean Grove, New Jersey has endured intact is the presence of a religious community that had a higher calling and a longer event horizon than the dominant secular culture. There are lessons to be learned here even by people who may not identify with the church.
Like many small, historic cities, Ellicott City, Maryland is a resilient town that has always rebuilt and recovered after natural disasters. It would be a shame if it could not recover from a man-made one.
Design that provides a little psychological nudge can be an inexpensive, easily-implemented way to address problems like pedestrian fatalities. But sometimes what we need is good, old-fashioned concrete.
Akron, Ohio’s Main Street Corridor project will produce a safer and more attractive street, with more space for people, activities and public art. But this dramatic, expensive overhaul is not an end in itself. If it’s going to deliver on its promises, it must be viewed as a beginning.
Perhaps we should spend more time trying to understand and appreciate the humble, marginally better neighborhoods that are already tucked away in our cities. Here’s one such neighborhood in Lexington, Kentucky.
The scale and value of what we’ve sacrificed in order to build parking lots and highways is staggering. Only by understanding that loss can we figure out how to build stronger towns.