Why Technology is Driving More Urban Redevelopment

By Mark Suster
Published: July 31, 2012
The Urbanophile

Like many I read the headlines about Pinterest moving from Palo Alto to San Franciscoand thought about the trend it portends. For those not familiar with the local geography, Palo Alto is the north end of what most consider “Silicon Valley” although nobody local calls it that. Palo Also is about 35 miles south of San Francisco.

Palo Alto is home to Stanford. It is the birthplace of Hewlett Packard. And Facebook. It is adjacent to Mountain View, home to Google. Further to the south are the legendary companies of Cisco, Apple, Intel, eBay, Yahoo!, Juniper and countless others.

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Retailers’ Idea: Think Smaller in Urban Push

By Stephanie Cliffor
Published: July 25, 2012
NY Times

As young Americans move to cities, retailers that grew up in the suburbs are following them. And unlike previous efforts, they are doing it the cities’ way.

With little room to expand in the suburbs, retailers, including Office Depot, Wal-Mart and Target, are betting that opening small city stores will help their growth.

It is a significant shift from their approach in the past, when they tried to cram their big-box formats into cities, often prompting big fights. This time, the retailers studied city dwellers with anthropological intensity and overhauled things as varied as store sizes (the city stores are a small fraction of the size of the suburban ones), packages (they must be compact enough for pedestrians) and signs (they are simple, so shoppers can get in and out within minutes).

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Enticing visitors downtown…and then incarcerating them.

Published: July 24, 2012
American Dirt

As much as street-level engagement for large projects in city centers should, by this point, seem like a foregone conclusion, it continues to amaze how many big ticket items—in cities of widely varying size—either engage in terpsichorean negotiations around it or neglect it completely.  When developers confront a zoning ordinance or design guideline that insists on activating the sidewalks with retail, commercial, residential, or offices, they might challenge the requirement through a number of arguments: the development itself is too small, the street is not prominent enough, the economy for retail is particularly soft.  If the public-sector approving agency for the development fears that the proposal will collapse without kowtowing to the developer’s demands, chances are likely it will pass, therefore lacking that street-level engagement otherwise mandated by code.

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Designing Buildings that Evolve with the City

By Carolyn Flower
Published: July 24, 2012
Sustainable Cities Collective

Resilient cities need infrastructure that lasts and planning teams that are willing to step up to the plate. Designing structures that can sustain decades of use requires forethought beyond the basic combination of blocks, steel and glass. Just like sidewalks and street corners, city buildings have the power to connect people to one another. Buildings are shelters from unpredictable weather, places where people can have a good time or sit quietly and think. Buildings can also serve as checkpoints or another step in someone’s journey from point A to B.

Developing cities that thrive through the ebb and flow of time are not simply about creating infrastructure that can persist, but about designing buildings that evolve as cities evolve. Sustainable design transforms as cities develop visions for furthering connections among neighborhoods and city sectors. Design features such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and heat reduction that better regulates a building’s temperature are significant elements that replenish a city’s vitality through buildings that are capable of adapting to a city’s needs. Infrastructure that is greater than the sum of its parts also requires infrastructure that functions according to the changing needs of residents.

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Virginia Developer Is on a Mission to Revive His Town

By Melena Rysik
Published: July 24, 2012
NY Times

The Kirk Avenue Music Hall, a four-year-old club named for its downtown block here, offers an unexpected perk to its performers: an apartment. For a night or so, before or after gracing the stage, artists stay at no charge in a loft a block away, signing the guest book with notes of gratitude.

“We don’t have money, we don’t have fame, so hospitality is really critical,” said Ed Walker, the club’s landlord and a founder.

It is hard to miss Mr. Walker’s brand of hospitality on Kirk Avenue. He owns nine of its storefronts, turning what was a forlorn block not long ago into a social destination. The music hall doubles as a microcinema and event space. There is Lucky, a restaurant run by a touring rock band that decided to stay put, and Freckles, a cafe and vintage shop with monthly craft nights, whose owner called Mr. Walker the town’s Jimmy Stewart, a favorite son and guiding light.

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Walk Appeal

By Steve MouzonPublished: July 24, 2012
The Original Green

Walk Appeal promises to be a major new tool for understanding and building walkable places, and it explains several things that were heretofore either contradictory or mysterious. It begins with the assertion that the quarter-mile radius (or 5-minute walk,) which has been held up for a century as the distance Americans will walk before driving, is actually a myth.

Both images below are at the same scale, and the yellow dashed line is a quarter-mile radius. On the left is a power center. As we all know, if you’re at Best Buy and need to pick something up at Old Navy, there’s no way you’re walking from one store to another. Instead, you get in your car and drive as close as possible to the Old Navy front door. You’ll even wait for a parking space to open up instead of driving to an open space just a few spaces away… not because you’re lazy, but because it’s such a terrible walking experience.

The image on the right is Rome. The circles are centered on the Piazza del Popolo (North is to the left) and the Green radius goes through the Vittorio Emanuele on the right. People regularly walk that far and then keep on walking without ever thinking of driving.

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14 Keys To Building People Friendly Communities

By Kaid Benfield
Published: July 23, 2012

I’ll be speaking later this week to a new (to me) audience on the subject of sustainable communities, and I’ve been thinking about what I would like to say.  In particular, I’ve been honored by an invitation to appear at the California Center for Sustainable Energy in San Diego, where my companions on the program will be Howard Blackson of the excellent town planning and marketing firm Placemakers – whose work I cite all the time– and Matthew Porrecca of BNIM Architecture, a sustainability practice best known for leading the green restoration of Greensburg Kansas, destroyed by a tornado in 2007.

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