Crawlable Urbanism: Cities Are for Kids, Too

By Tanya Snyder
Published: August 13, 2013
DC.StreetsBlog.org

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.

Read the rest of the article here


Urban shift has Americans bidding farewell to suburbs

Published August 1, 2013
The Today Show

The proverbial American dream of white picket fences in suburbia seems to have lost its luster as a radical new housing trend shows families staying put in the city. NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo reports.

Watch the video here


Everyday Urbanism: Why We are All Urbanists

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?

Read the rest of the article here


The Lost Downtown Demographic

By Aascot Holt
Published: February 5, 2013
Sustainable Cities Collective

Teens and young adults want to go out with their friends, and they like to stay out as late as possible. That’s a fact of life. But where do most of these teens and young people spend their time? Preferably somewhere they can park their hand-me-down, four-wheeled, newfound freedom machine: the automobile. But, their weekend nights usually doesn’t get far past the parking lot. Minors aged fifteen to twenty are the lost downtown demographic.

Most of the time the only places that allow minors under twenty-one on their premises after 10pm are movie theaters, gas stations, and the occasional fro-yo hut. If there aren’t any other options, most teens choose public places where nobody is admitted past dark, like sport courts, skateboard parks, and playgrounds. Downtown is where the majority of nightlife lies for those over twenty-one, and it needs to be a place where minors can enjoy themselves too.

Read the rest of the article here


Why Is ‘Authenticity’ So Central to Urban Culture?

By Richard Greenwald
Published: January 31, 2013
theatlanticcities.com

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.

Read the rest of the article here


Picturing 10 Urban Qualities Every City Should Have

By Charles R. Wolffe
Published: January 28, 2013
theatlanticcities.com

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.

Read the rest of the article here


The Case for Shared Green Spaces

By Kaid Benfield
Published: January 14, 2013
theatlanticcities.com

A group of civic and architectural partners in Little Rock has developed a great concept for improving a declining neighborhood, incrementally increasing density, and applying advanced measures for storm water control at the same time. All this in a single-family, affordable infill development with first-rate design. No wonder it has won a slew of awards, including a 2013 national honor award from the American Institute of Architects for regional and urban design.

The project employs the “pocket neighborhood” concept championed by architect Ross Chapin – reducing the footprint of a group of smaller, single-family homes by sharing gardens and amenities that would occupy more land if duplicated for each individual house.  Chapin, who has worked mainly in the Pacific Northwest, gives his projects high-quality building materials and beautiful design features that respect their neighborhood settings. I’ve been a fan since before I knew the concept had a name, when I ran across his pioneering and lovely Third Street Cottages in Langley, Washington. I love incremental approaches to increasing density, in part because they seldom require major lifestyle changes and in part because their relatively harmonious design improvements can be somewhat easier to sell to suspicious neighbors inclined to distrust change.

Read the rest of the article here