Congress for the New Urbanism Zeros in on Motown in New Video

“You know there’s still a part of this city that no one’s really ever going to truly get.”

The following video profiles a few of my new urbanist friends and tells the story about what is happening on the ground in Detroit right now. It is a promo for CNU24, coming to Detroit in June of 2016- and you’re all invited! The video is worth a look.

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Learning Lessons in Savannah

Savannah, GAI’m here for a couple of days on business. Here is a quick take away.

Cities must be themselves. If you’re an old, southern town blessed with breath taking architecture- Savannah- then play it up for the whole world to see. Cities must own who they are all of the time, or risk becoming caricatures. Savannah obviously gets this as much as anyone. Their rich history is part of the brand and visible in large and small ways from one end of the city to the other- in the benches, railings, signage, public projects and elsewhere. The attention paid to the small details allow the real stars of the show, the city’s many gorgeous 19th Century buildings, to impress even more.

Yet there is still room for progress, which is a key element of their brand, too.

Not every place has assets like Savannah, but all cities must figure out who they are and strive to put their best foot forward. This holds true for rust belt towns, waterfront cities, out-of-the-way places and everybody else.




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People and Cities

“First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.” -Jan Gehl

This quote got me thinking. How many times do we as city advocates hang our hats on a shiny new development as a means to improve living conditions? It seems that for every perceived problem in a city- mobility, poverty, safety, etc.- we often attempt to ‘fix’ our way to prosperity.

We must never forget that cities are about people. The rest is just window dressing. Literally, in some cases. Architecture, commerce, government services and street design must aid people in improving their lives or they become part of the problem, not the solution. When perceived ‘silver bullets’ precede the collective desires of the citizens you lose.  If you think differently, I have a few empty cities in China to show you.

Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces likes to say, “when you build places around

Jan Gehl

What’s not to like?

people, everything changes.” As community leaders we need to view everything we do on behalf of the community through the human lens. Often times we fail at this simple task by choosing aesthetics over practicality and defer to passing commercial trends in lieu of human scale design. Buildings need to compliment local context, street design should help people to move freely throughout the community and public spaces must foster positive interaction.

We’ve all seen new developments that, while ambitious, dwarf a community’s character. Buildings that work perfectly in one city aren’t always a good fit for another. And if I drive by one more over-planned, over-produced park that sits idle for days at a time because its designers forgot that parks are supposed to be accessible and active places, I may scream. Sadly, these are the ones that often win awards. “Have you seen the lovely gazebo, sir?”


A perfect compliment of new and old in the Northville Town Square

The lessons that local leaders can learn from Gehl and Kent are numerous- involve the people, design for the people, create for the people. I’m all for new strategies and pushing the envelope in every direction imaginable, but new ideas are only great when they fit the community and obtain a degree of acceptance from the citizenry.

Achieving a consensus around issues can be difficult, but moving forward without one is dangerous.



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