Tough Love for Architects in Charleston- and Lessons for the Rest of Us

I recently came across an enjoyable blog called Buildings are Cool by architect Steve Ramos. In his most recent post Steve covered the hurricane-like effect that Andres Duany recently brought to Charleston.

Duany is a world renowned ‘new urbanist’ Architect.  Charleston garners prominence for its authentic style of buildings, including the famed Charleston single house.

Andres Duany

Andres Duany speaking at the Michigan Municipal League in Detroit in 2013

It seems like a match made in heaven, right? As it turns out… not so much.

From Steve’s blog, here a few highlights:

  • Architects who only want to design buildings that say “look at me” have contempt for the community.
  • NIMBYs and preservationists in Charleston (and elsewhere I presume) are intent on creating a ‘Geriatric Monoculture.’
  • Traffic problems? Not for Andres, who claims traffic problems are unsolvable and “arguing about traffic is beneath our intelligence.”
  • The only people who stand to gain from more convenient parking are “parasitic suburbanites.”

Classic stuff. And, truth be told, I am 99% sure he LIKES Charleston!

For anyone who knows or has worked with Andres you realize early on that he revels in diagnosing problems of all shapes and sizes wherever he goes. His critical eye goes to many unnoticed facets of a community and his ability to uncompromisingly describe challenges is without match in my experience.

You can read the rest of Steve’s excellent blog, The Week of Duany, here.

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The Prosperity Agenda: A Conversation with Governor Snyder on Proposal 1

governor-snyder-and-dan-gilmartin1

Dan Gilmartin and Governor Synder on
The Prosperity Agenda

prosperity-agenda-thumbWe had a very special guest for our March radio show to discuss why voters should Vote Yes on Proposal 1 on May 5. Governor Rick Snyder joined us in studio for two segments on the Prosperity Agenda on News/Talk 760 WJR. The governor is the strongest supporter of the road funding proposal in the state and we had a great conversation. This is a must-listen episode for all those planning to vote May 5. We discussed all aspects of the road-funding plan and addressed many of the questions that people have about it. My co-host this month is freelance business writer Rick Haglund and our other guest was Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Chamber of Commerce. The Detroit Chamber is another strong proponent of Proposal 1.  The Michigan Prosperity Agenda is a monthly radio show that challenges listeners to help make Michigan a better place to live, work and play by creating vibrant and prosperous local communities. It has aired on News/Talk 760 WJR since 2010. The hour-long radio program is hosted by me, Dan Gilmartin, CEO of the Michigan Municipal League (the League). The show is sponsored by the League and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). The League’s next show airs 7 p.m., March 25, 2015 on News/Talk 760 WJR, but you can listen anytime at the League’s website or by subscribing to the FREE iTunes podcast. Learn more about the placemaking concept here as well as on this blog.

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City Life Means Different Things to Different People

Cityscapes
A simple definition of the word city is “a permanent human settlement.” That seems a bit simple to me. I can only assume it doesn’t refer to the recliner in my Uncle’s living room.

The word “city” itself is a loaded one in many circles. Is a small town a real city? Is a suburb a real city?

Core cities, especially large ones, are often at a scale that feels foreign to outsiders. Even to those who live within spitting distance. Then you throw in the dreaded “U” Word (Urban) and you experience a total breakdown in people’s vision of what qualifies.

The language itself is confusing, too. We have cities, villages, suburbs and exurbs. The accepted, though never adequately defined, descriptions of places often refer to “big” cities and “small” towns. In Michigan we even have over 1,200 townships, the duck billed platypus of local government: are they a city, a town, something else? Thanks in large part to Thomas Jefferson, founding father and second-rate amateur surveyor, most of the Midwestern states enjoy the same status, compliments of the federal government’s 250 year-old thirst to tax inhabitants of the Northwest Territory. Today township residents, even those who live in populated metropolitan areas, have an allergic reactions to the term “city.”

A city to me is first and foremost a real place. It could be large or small. People gather there. There is often an important history associated with the place, even if it is only important to those who live there. The best cities celebrate local people, culture, architecture and achievements. Some density is often key, because it allows for more interaction among people and creates a sense of community.

Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns asks a provocative question that goes to the heart of what a city is:

If there were a revolution in your town, would people instinctively know where to gather to participate?

In some places the answers to Chuck’s question are easy. At a public square. On Main Street. Or, depending on who is driving the revolution, under the bed! In other places it’s not so easy because there isn’t a shared sense of place among the inhabitants. Walmart doesn’t work, although their gargantuan parking lots would be great makeshift military drilling areas. A public park that is accessible only after a lengthy car ride? C’mon, nobody commutes to a revolution!

In the end, cities (by name, or in spirit) that offer a true sense of belonging to those who live there are the ones that sustain themselves. Local leaders, elected or not, must always keep this in mind when deliberating over the issue du jour when it is easy to focus on specific fixes that may have a much longer impact on the context of the city. We have found that the feel of a place is often more important than the efficiency of service and the book of regulations.

*Image from Pioneer Trail Elementary School

 

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Progress in the Mitten State

Quicken Loans

Legislators gather at Quicken Loans in Detroit

Yesterday a bi-partisan group of over 20 state legislators accepted the Michigan Municipal League’s invitation to meet at Quicken Loans HQ in downtown Detroit to discuss talent and place. Noted economist Joe Cortwright detailed the linkages between talent attraction and economic progress and the preeminent role that quality cities play in the equation. Thriving urban cores and walkable, energetic suburbs are a region’s best assets when it comes to wooing a talented workforce. Locating where talented workers live is outpacing taxes and regulations when it comes to where businesses are locating.  The research is unassailable.

Brian Calley

LG Calley to MML Board of Trustees in 2012

Today, Michigan’s Lt. Governor Brian Calley stated that when it comes to economic development, “Its not about taxes, its not about regulation, its about talent.” His comments were part of the Governor’s 15th Annual Economic Summit in Detroit.

Last week my friend and colleague on the state’s Sense of Place Council Rob Fowler, President of the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM), outlined what he calls the three sides of the economic triangle:

  • Business needs talent.
  • Talent wants place.
  • Place needs business.

These three occurrences, when taken together, mark a real change in the tenor of conversation around strategies for building strong economies. Some may even go as far as to call this phenomenon The Economics of Place. :-)

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Whatever you call it, I believe that it is a positive sign for Michigan and a precursor to some important policy changes in our state. Changes that recognize the powerful inter dependence between great places to live and thriving economies.

Keep it coming!

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The Prosperity Agenda: What Made You Fall in Love with Your Michigan Community?

prosperity-agenda-thumbWhen you think about your community what is it you love most about it? Is it the people? Is it the things to do and places to experience? The next Michigan Prosperity Agenda on News/Talk 760 WJR explores what makes people love their cities. Specifically, we discuss the key role arts and culture can make in having someone fall in love with their town. My co-host this month is freelance writer and editor Natalie Burg and our guests are Jennifer Goulet, President and CEO of Creative Many; Peter Kageyama, author of “For the Love of Cities: the Love Affair Between People and Their Places”, and the follow up, “Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places”; and Mark Tucker, Artistic Director, and Shary Brown, President of the Board of Directors of WonderFool productions out of Ann Arbor. The Michigan Prosperity Agenda is a monthly radio show that challenges listeners to help make Michigan a better place to live, work and play by creating vibrant and prosperous local communities. It has aired on News/Talk 760 WJR since 2010. The hour-long radio program is hosted by me, Dan Gilmartin, CEO of the Michigan Municipal League (the League). The show is sponsored by the League and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). The League’s next show airs 7 p.m., February 25, 2015 on News/Talk 760 WJR, but you can listen anytime at the League’s website or by subscribing to the FREE iTunes podcast. Learn more about the placemaking concept here as well as on this blog.

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