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 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.
By Emily Badger
Published: December 17, 2012
Some of the best privately owned public open spaces in downtown San Francisco are, by nature, a little hard to find. They’re on upper-floor terraces with fantastic views of the city, or in interior plazas of office towers that look from the sidewalk like places where you don’t belong. Part of their charm comes from their hybrid nature: These “POPOS” can be more intimate sanctuaries than traditional open spaces, with office-caliber amenities – leather chairs and potted olive trees – you’ll won’t find in Golden Gate Park.
San Francisco’s 1985 downtown plan required large new office and hotel developments built since then to incorporate such public spaces, in proportion to the size of the properties. But it’s the kind of ordinance that’s been easily thwarted in spirit. As the San Francisco Chronicle’s urban critic John King wrote several years ago, some buildings have embraced their POPOS, “others are more Scrooge-like than welcoming.”
By Brendan Crain
Published: November 23, 2012
Project for Public Spaces
Walking and wandering are two very different things. Walking is functional; it is merely the act of getting from A to B on our own two legs. But when we wander, it is the journey–not the destination–that matters. Somewhere between these two, there has to be a happy medium. In many of today’s sprawling cities, traveling on foot can be difficult, if not impossible. Even when sidewalks and crosswalks are available, many suburban and urban landscapes are so debased that they provide little inspiration for wandering. To get lost on foot in Paris is a pastime; in Phoenix, it’s a headache.
By Hazel Borys
Published: November 1, 2012
Better! Cities & Towns
In most physical and policy planning, triple bottom line benchmarks focus on environment and economy, and tend to skim over the subject of society. That’s probably because urban design impacts are much easier to measure with respect to profit and planet than they are with respect to people.
Any good MBA professor preaches, “What gets measured gets done.” For several generations, we’ve been proving that point with our relentless focus on measuring our collective success via a host of global economic indicators. Since An Inconvenient Truth, environmental factors have joined the economic mainstream as well, sparking a whole new breed of Eco Warriors.