Recently, I accepted a communications fellowship with Smart Growth America in Washington, D.C. and will begin the position in early January, 2013. I will be relocating to D.C over the course of the next few weeks.
Smart Growth America “is the only national organization dedicated to researching, advocating for and leading coalitions to bring smart growth practices to more communities nationwide. From providing more sidewalks so people can walk to their town center to ensuring that more homes are built near public transit or productive farms remain a part of our communities, smart growth helps make sure that people across the nation can live in great neighborhoods.”
Needless to say, I am incredibly excited to begin this new opportunity in our nation’s capital with such a respected and broad-reaching organization in Smart Growth America. However, the decision to leave Miami is not such an easy one to make.
Obviously I’ve been an ardent supporter and advocate for civic improvement in Miami since relocating here three years ago. Even within that brief time period, the forward momentum here is accelerating, the spirit of entrepreneurship thriving and general excitement for the cities’ future plainly evident.
Living in Miami provided me with the (unexpected) opportunity to work with and learn from a variety of incredibly knowledgeable people and groups, including CNU Miami, Emerge Miami, The Miami Bike Scene, the Biscayne Times, Broward B-cycle and Diageo, the beverage company I originally re-located to Miami to work with.
By surrounding myself with positive, intellectual and energized folks like the aforementioned, I developed a richer understanding of all things urbanism and enabled me to become a better writer, thinker and citizen. Without them, I would not have been able to send my career in such a direction. I also have to thank my brother, Steven Chester, who turned me on to this whole realm of study in the first place and whom I continue to be inspired from daily.
A special thank you to the Transit Miami team and readers that embraced my contributions from day one. I look forward to continuing to contribute and promise not to post too many pictures of D.C.’s bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian-oriented retail frontage.
On Twitter at @MiamiUrbanist (Still keeping it!)
James Dougherty, Pamela Stacy and Jason King created the Arrive in Style poster for CNU20’s AuthentiCity Contest. The Arrive in Style poster provides plans for the redevelopment of the Belvedere Road Station and Banyan Boulevard Station in West Palm Beach in a style consistent with Addison Mizner’s vision for West Palm Beach. The plan envisions walkable, mixed-use destinations in the grand tradition of placemaking established in the golden age of Florida rail travel.
A travel poster format was used to make a statement about transit planning in the future: train travel was once an entirely designed experience – from the city center one departed from, to the passenger car one travelled in, to the city center one arrived at – and for this reason train travel had tremendous appeal. There was an instant excitement upon arrival that automobile and plane travel can never fully provide. Immediately after getting off the train there was an experience of place.
For transit to become attractive to new generations it needs to recover its grandeur. This will require station buildings that are proud, memorable, and iconic (regardless of style). Leaving the station one must find themselves in more than just a walkable environment with connections to local transit, but at the heart of the city or town, at the center of activity. Also, one’s experience of beauty cannot be limited to temporary art exhibitions in the station but present in the buildings, streets, and neighborhoods around the stations.
Transit centers should be anchored by a signature open space. This space could serve as an identifiable landmark for all the surrounding neighborhoods. Corner stores and live-work offices around these open spaces and near the transit stops will provide an initial mixed-use component which would grow to full centers. The next increments of urbanism are shown in the plans: the corridors that connect the rail stations to the surrounding neighborhoods fronted by urban format buildings, and the neighborhoods themselves, infilled with housing types that can generate transit-supportive densities.
During the Congress for the New Urbanism’s annual conference, CNU 20: The New World, held last week in West Palm Beach, I had the opportunity to interview author James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler is the author of The Long Emergency, The Geography of Nowhere, the World Made by Hand novels and is a leading critic and social commentator on the American landscape of suburban sprawl.
Over lunch in downtown West Palm’s new urbanism-inspired development, CityPlace, I pried Jim about bus travel in Florida, nostalgia for transit, the state of our current rail system, his own oil paintings (featured in the slideshow) and more.
Special thanks to Duncan Crary for allowing me to use his audio equipment for the interview. Crary hosts a weekly podcast with Jim called the Kunstlercast, posted each Thursday at Kunstlercast.com.
The 20th annual Congress of the New Urbanism is being held in West Palm Beach this year, and for lovers of human-scaled urbanism there is no other place to be. For those of you new to the game, the congress is a meeting of the brightest American urban minds. We commiserate, share the work of the past year, and create new connections with other like-minded professionals.
If you have never been to a Congress it can be overwhelming at first. This is not your typical corporate conference. You won’t find sessions on ‘Negotiating Skills for Planners’ or ‘Airport Land-Use Districts’ (both sessions from a recent planning conference). Instead, the congress is the incubator for the latest ideas shaping our cities — a dynamic event where folks bring ideas that they have been brewing during the previous year to discuss with thinkers from around the country.
It’s fitting that CNU 20 began with the NextGen Congress within a Congress, where young New Urbanists set the stage for the rest of the week. Presentations have ranged from Misunderstood Mobility, to Tactical Urbanism. Throughout all the disparate sessions runs a strong undercurrent of self-critique — a spirit of constructive criticism that is central to the practice of good urbanism.
Massachusetts urban planner Jennifer Krouse made this insightful critique about the Congress itself: “Meeting in a conference center is convenient, but it has a way of segregating us from the city we’re in, and when we leave, there’s no sign that we’ve ever been there. Which is pretty funny when you consider that the CNU is a meeting composed almost entirely of people whose mission is placecraft.”
This is the sort of discussion that takes place at CNU – brutally honest – and not just about our broken pattern of development, but how we as a professional organization hope to move forward.
For lovers of urbanism, the annual Congress for the New Urbanism is an event to be anticipated all year. The annual conference brings together urban planners, architects, and policy makers to discuss the practice of urbanism. For many of us the Congress can feel like a family reunion – a time to celebrate the work of the past year with colleagues, and to reaffirm our commonly held beliefs in the principles of traditional town design.
This year the Congress is being held in West Palm Beach, and Transit Miami will be there all week to cover the events in a live blogging partnership with Next American City.
The CNU-Miami tour des urbanistes
We are starting our weeklong urbanism love-in by staging an epic tour des urbanistes bike ride from South Miami to West Palm Beach. Members of the local Congress for the New Urbanism Miami Chapter, led by CNU chair and South Miami resident Victor Dover, will embark early Tuesday morning on the 90 mile journey to West Palm Beach. Stay tuned…we’ll have more for you along the way!
They (CNU NextGen: The Next Generation of New Urbanists) are living the religion of sustainability and will embody its built response … How they deal with the challenges of planning and urban design in the 21st century will probably end up defining the course … And, after watching them … last weekend, I sort of trust ‘em with that responsibility.
-Howard Blackson, from the Placemakers Blog, Placeshakers
Or so asserts this excellent new video-polemic from the Congress for the New Urbanism. One has to agree, that in the least, that we should worry less about the single punctuated events, like swine flu, and pay a hell of a lot more attention to the sum of all the small-scale decisions we make on a day-to-day, town-to-town, city-to-city basis. After all, they all add up to this thing we call Global Warming.
A good friend sent me this letter, written by INTBAU, an organization that advocates traditional building, and signed by CNU president John Norquist, among other advocates. It relates to the stimulus package and how the federal government can make a real difference in institutionalizing the shift toward compact, walkable communities.
Here is an excerpt, you can read the full text here.
Recent research has shown clearly that the way we build our cities and towns has a powerful effect on carbon emissions and climate change. Sprawling, fragmented suburbs generate much greater emissions per capita than compact, walkable, livable cities and towns. A combination of smart development, infill, retrofit, cogeneration and building-scale efficiencies could have an enormous impact on energy and emissions in a sector that contributes as much as 70% of energy consumption in United States.
Thus it appears there is an important connection to be developed between the stimulus spending for infrastructure, the challenge of climate change, and the development of sustainable prosperity through a wiser kind of low-carbon economy. Your administration has already identified this link and we are deeply appreciative of that recognition. Yet issues related to urban planning and architecture are seen as disconnected from other pressing issues. It is not easy to understand the importance of these factors, because they are systemic and slow to change; but for that very reason they are also persistent, and have a powerful cumulative effect. They shape our future prosperity and well-being in profound ways. Therefore we believe we must all do a better job understanding and managing the growth of our built environment - what Jane Jacobs memorably called “the kind of problem a city is.” Change on such a large scale is difficult, but that is why it needs to come from the top – from the President - and at the same time it has to grow bottomup from the grassroots level.
We therefore suggest the following priorities for national action on this topic:
1) Continue to develop measurement criteria and incentives to guide stimulus spending, with extra incentives for lower carbon scores, and penalties for higher scores, using broad metrics (not just transportation). Target stimulus spending for pilot projects that create awareness of the benefits of walkable neighborhood planning and sustainable neighborhood lifestyles.
2) Prioritize additional projects that improve and build upon existing low-carbon areas and assets, particularly historic and transit-served areas.
3) Prioritize the retrofit and conservation of the best existing buildings and neighborhoods.
4) Continue funding for large-scale public transportation projects, but tied closely to smarter regional development patterns.
5) Develop collaborative support for innovative new state programs, such as the implementation of California’s landmark AB32 and SB375 laws.
6) Establish a watchdog office that polices stimulus spending and other Federal policy, and eliminates hidden incentives for sprawl.
1) Fund more aggressive research into the comparative study of urban forms and their benefits, particularly with regard to climate change, human health and economic sustainability.
2) Fund research and development of new tools and strategies to modify and retrofit cities and towns with low-carbon systems, with the aim of carbon reduction and economic development.
3) Fund the study and research of the value of humane and sustainable place making which respects local culture, heritage, ecology and economy.
4) Fund research to identify the hidden costs of sprawl, and strategies to price these real costs.
5) Implement new tools to finance and incentivize low-carbon neighborhood development, such as pricing signals, credits, urban codes, certifications, and related resources.
6) Encourage more demonstration projects that show that a lower-carbon lifestyle can actually be more enjoyable. Develop policies that acknowledge that beautiful places are more likely to be lived in, loved, cared for, and sustained over time.
What makes it work? The buildings engage the pedestrian realm instead of hiding from it. The arcades not only add architectural flair, but they offer shaded walkways for pedestrians. The buildings are built right up to the sidewalk, which helps define urban space and enhance pedestrian accessibility. The sidewalk trees don’t appear to be much more than aesthetic at this point, but just as the neighborhood matures overtime, the trees should grow enough to add some shade in the future.
My favorite part of this development, however, is the creation of a public plaza. Public plazas, when designed right, can serve as great public gathering spaces and are the next best thing to parks. If you’ve ever been to Manhattan, you’ll notice that plazas are everywhere, and thousands and thousands of people use them each day, be it as a meeting place, for people-watching, or just as a nice spot to sit on a ledge and rest for a few minutes. William Whyte, a world-class urban observer and mentor for so many urban planners, does an excellent job showcasing public plazas in his book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (the red book in our “recommended reading list”).
Thus, plazas present a great opportunity to provide Miami with more public meeting spaces, which it desperately needs. It’s very difficult to be a thriving urban destination without them. Oak Plaza’s architects even designed this particular plaza around 150 year old oak trees. Again, this shows that with good urban design we can have increased density without bulldozing over all of our trees. Khoury & Vogt, Cure & Penabad should be applauded for this design.
Note: The two main buildings at Oak Plaza will be called Y-3 and Ligne Roset.
Fortunately, we should see many more developments like this once Miami 21 passes. Oak Plaza embodies the type of design elements that Miami 21 will mandate. Hopefully those concerned with an increase in density in their neighborhood due to Miami 21 can see that Oak Plaza represents a great example to follow when critiquing future developments.
Erik Vogt, one of the project designers said it well when referring to Oak Plaza, “a critique of what Miami could have been and what it still could be”.
Beth Dunlop, Herald architectural critic says it even better:
“If every work of architecture had the intelligence, the artistry, the engagement and yes, the sense of enchantment of Oak Plaza, we’d be living in a really remarkable place”.
Photos courtesy of Congress for the New Urbanism
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