By Tanya Snyder
Published: August 13, 2013
All of a sudden, I feel like all anyone is talking about is whether it’s a good idea to raise kids in the city. I’m raising a kid in the city. I feel great about it when she has a blast on the back of the bike, or makes friends on the bus, or gets excited about pressing the beg button at the corner. I feel a little less certain when we toddle down the sidewalk and come upon guys peeing on the dumpster or passed out on the stoop. When I look at the test scores for our neighborhood schools, I get a knot in my stomach.
A few days ago I visited my friends’ new home in Potomac, a wealthy, second-ring suburb with enviable schools. Their new house sits on two acres with a pool and a basketball court. After a few hours sipping beer in their landscaped yard and watching our children frolic in the pool, I had to do some mental gymnastics to remind myself why I didn’t pick this path for myself.
By Yasha Wallin
Published: August 3, 2013
Guerrilla gardening has been used for ages as a means of protest, a way to beautify a neighborhood, cultivate food, and build community. It’s often done illegally, on appropriated land, and while some have equated it vandalism and trespassing, plenty of others argue it affects a locale positively, greening abandoned and forgotten spaces. While Johnny Appleseed could be considered our nation’s first guerrilla gardener, some recent examples of how people are using green interventions to better their unused public areas, show the phenomena growing. Here’s a round up of ten of our favorite guerrilla gardens—in many iterations—from around the world.
By Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman
Published: July 30, 2013
Sustainable Cities Collective
I call myself an urbanist, but what does that really mean? Being an urbanist is not something that requires a rigidly defined body of knowledge. There is no degree for urbanism, no certificate or qualifying test. Urbanists come from a myriad of disciplines: sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, economists, city planners (and other such “-ists” and “-ers” I’m sure I’ve missed). While these degrees are good for other things of course, they are by no means necessary to be an urbanist. It seems then the people who decide to call themselves urbanists are simply those that are united by a passion for urban environments and have some sort of urban-related knowledge – which therefore could technically be anyone. In a world where more than half of all people now live in cities, and with no degree for it, I wonder – where are all the urbanists?
By Kaid Benfield
Published: February 5, 2013
Better! Cities & Towns
Here’s the nutshell: 20th-century land use won’t help your city attract and retain 21st-century people. It just won’t. This is because the lifestyle values of the Millennial generation, sometimes called GenY, are markedly different from those of previous generations when they were the same age as the Millennials are now (roughly 18 to 34).
The prolific urban observer Richard Florida has been telling us this in various ways for years, as he researches and charts the shifting economic geography of the US. (I’ve gotten to know Rich over the last year and consider him a kindred spirit on these issues.) Rich believes that the housing and finance industry collapse of the last few years signals the end of one economic era and the beginning of another, though I’m sure he would be the first to tell us that we’re in a messy and hard-to-pin-down transition. But he is clear that the new economy – based less on manufacturing and established institutions, more on creativity, entrepreneurship, connectedness and interaction – will prosper best in places suited to a new kind of lifestyle, one that has already emerged in leading cities.
Published: February 1, 2013
Sustainable Cities Collective
So writes Jim Russell in a recent post over at Burgh Diaspora, in arguing that cities are wasting their money on Placemaking when they should be focusing more directly on talent development. In his view, widely held these days, Placemaking is about plunking down “cool urban amenities” and increasing token diversity to make a city seem edgy or superficially interesting. It’s a simple cut-and-paste process of taking some signifier of young, contemporary, urban hipness (a bike lane, public art, a funkily decorated coffee shop) and inserting it into a neighborhood in the hopes of re-framing that neighborhood as the Next Big Thing.
By Richard Greenwald
Published: January 31, 2013
One of the worst things you can publicly call someone today is a fake. The controversy surrounding Beyonce’s “singing” of the National Anthem at Obama’s inauguration demonstrates the point and shows, according to the Washington Post, “how confused our culture has become over its wobbly standards of authenticity.” We are, in a word, obsessed.
It is little wonder, then, that we seek out spaces, food, and clothes that affirm a sense of realness and rootedness. The more alike we become, the thirstier we are for perceived individuality. And in crowded cities, being an individual means being rooted in modern notions of authenticity.
Cases in point can be seen in almost every moderately hip or gentrifying city neighborhood. It is clearly evident in certain parts of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Flea is in many ways an archetype for the consumption of modern, urban authenticity. The Flea features hundreds of vendors of antique furniture, vintage clothing, and crafts by local artisans. Part of its charm is its curation of things from the past (antiques and vintage clothing) and a hand-crafted and local present.
By Charles R. Wolffe
Published: January 28, 2013
In recent months, architect friends have explained how several post-Recesssion projects focus sustainability goals on the end-user experience, rather than simply pursue flagship “green” designations. It seems there is a commendable and renewed emphasis on the particular needs of building use, and, significantly, the specifics of a building user’s relationship to the surrounding urban area.
I see this as a tilt to the qualitative aspects of the urban experience—an approach I believe should stay as a lynchpin of evolving urbanism.
I find that when writing outside of the confines of my day job as a lawyer, I usually pursue these qualitative aspects. I like to emphasize the impressionistic and, essentially more ethereal, emotional “bookmarks” of experiences in cities around the world. By and large, these bookmarks recall modern expressions of traditional urban life. Together, they are a useful summary of evolving human experience in the city.