The Original Green Blog
This blog discusses in plain-spoken terms various in-depth aspects of Steve Mouzon’s proposition of the Original Green, which is that originally, before the Thermostat Age, the places we made and the buildings we built had no choice but to be green. The Original Green is holistic sustainability, and broader than Gizmo Green. If this blog interests you, please subscribe to it by clicking the RSS button to the right.
"Lean Urbanism" is a new term that attempts to make sense of how we should be building sustainable places today, but the term "lean" runs the risk of getting described in very non-lean ways. So what does "lean" really mean? There's a #LeanMeans hashtag on Twitter where you can join the ongoing discussion. In the meantime, here's my take on what "lean" means:
Lean means communicating leanly, so your message travels far without you having to carry it to all those places yourself.
Lean means having lean diagrams that are quickly comprehensible.
Lean means aspiring to self-evident terms such as “buron” which to the public at large obviously means “bureaucratic moron” no matter what the inner circle says it means.
Lean means embedding wisdom in simple words that test complex systems with plain-spoken questions, such as…
Lean means living where you can walk to the grocery. Because we know that if there's a grocery there, it's highly likely that there are other daily necessities there as well. But we don't need to ask about each necessity; we merely need to know if there's a grocery there. And it doesn't have to be the big mega-stores, either. There are four groceries within two blocks of my office. All are tiny, and carry just commodities like cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, etc. plus one or two brands of things like hot sauce, rather than dozens. But we eat many meals bought entirely from these grocery stores.
Lean means making a living where you're living. If you do this, then you avoid commuting and many other related burdens, but we don't have to discuss those burdens if you make a living where you're living. Again, it's a simple test that probes many attached complexities without having to discuss the complexities… which is also very lean because it doesn't tax your bandwidth, either!
Lean means using things with double-duty, triple-duty or more, not redundant things. This general principle covers so many things in life.
Lean is what people do when they realize that help definitely is not on the way!
Lean means doing more things for yourself when you have more time than money.
Lean means less of clients hiring expensive experts to do things for them.
On the other hand, lean means more of coaches helping people do more for themselves. So if you were one of those expensive experts in the old days, you should be re-making yourself as more of a coach today.
Lean means not needing to lawyer up to get the job done.
Lean means not needing gifts from governments to get the job done.
Lean means decisions should be made by those affected by those decisions, not a larger group. The inner circle talks a lot about "subsidiarity." But that's for the 1% of America who know what subsidiarity means.
Lean means not needing to see the end from the beginning ...because this is a task humans are spectacularly bad at.
As this principle applies to the development of sustainable places, lean means not needing to build the climax condition at the beginning. Cities never sprang like today's Manhattan from green fields or forests. They began humbly, then matured over time. See the Sky Method for my best take on how to accomplish natural growth today. And I'll soon be illustrating how the Sky Method can be used to recover from the addiction of sprawl.
Lean means many things are possible at small scales that are impossible at large scales.
Lean means building single-crew workplaces at the beginning …because you can get many tiny businesses started when there are only a few customers, whereas if you wait until there are enough customers to build the super-center, you might be building it for your kids or grandkids. And the tiny shops make for far better Walk Appeal than the super-center. So get services today that create a better environment, rather than maybe waiting decades for places that aren't nearly so good.
Lean means measuring impacts across the scale of time. Something with a high initial impact that lasts for a thousand years is much better than something with less initial impact that gets torn down in a decade.
Lean means not growing regulatory "scar tissue" the first time something unpredicted goes wrong. It might be decades before it goes wrong again. Do we really need a law against it?
Lean means that a tiny house inhabitable by one person shouldn't be regulated like a building inhabited by thousands.
Lean means that a food truck that feeds a few dozen people a day shouldn’t be regulated like an egg factory that produces 80% of the eggs eaten in the USA.
Lean means setting up self-regulating systems instead of systems that require lots of energy perpetually.
Buildings & Land
Lean means conditioning the people first, so they can cut off the equipment most days of the year and “live in season.”
We can do this by building outdoor rooms, not lawns, to entice people outdoors so that conditioned space can be smaller. In most places, great outdoor rooms can be built for about 1/5 the cost of interior space. So if the outdoor rooms are good enough to serve well enough as living space that you need 20% less indoor space, then the savings on indoor space can pay for the entire cost of the outdoor rooms.
Lean means using every possible cubic inch of space, even the space within the walls. We do this by eliminating drywall and carving into interior walls so that almost all interior walls become shelving units. All of these ideals and more are bound up in Project:SmartDwelling.
New Virtues & Ethics
Lean means adopting new virtues and ethics, not holding onto the old ones that lead to obesity. For 250 years, the prime virtues of business have been "better, faster, cheaper," and the measuring-stick has been the Consuming Economy, which values things by how quickly they're used up. I believe we're entering an age where the three prime virtues of business will become patience, generosity, and connectedness, and where the barometer will be the Sustaining Economy that guided economic activity for almost all of human history, and which values things by how far they're handed down, not how quickly they're used up.
These new virtues may lead us back to some very old ethics: Waste Not. Want Not. Source Closely. Nurture Wellness. And maybe others as well: "a stitch in time saves nine," "a penny saved is a penny earned," "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and lots of other solid wisdom upon which this country and others were built that we've let slip in recent decades.
What are we missing here? What does Lean mean to you?
Medians are a terrible idea on Main Street because they don't let you turn into a business across the street, right? Not so fast… It turns out that the best Main Streets are those with parking continuous along the street, wide sidewalks to accomodate vibrant street life, and no parking lot entrances. If there are parking lots, they should be in the middle of the block, accessible from the alley. As we discussed in the Walk Appeal series, the worst thing you could possibly do is to put a parking lot right behind the sidewalk. Even a driveway to a parking lot in the middle of the block is a tremendous disruption to walking because it's a place you could get run over by a car entering the street with limited sight distance if you're walking down the sidewalk.
We talked about the Alton Road battle on South Beach recently, and amazingly, the DOT ended up agreeing in the end to do what the Flamingo Park neighborhood asked for. But now there are special interests weighing in, many of whom never showed up at the years of meetings while the design was being hammered out, and they threaten to wreck the entire agreement. One is a small but loud bike lobby, but that's a story for another day. Let's talk instead about the anti-median guys.
The final DOT design was largely patterned from lessons learned on Washington Avenue, which is just a few blocks away and pictured above. It is a vibrant commercial street, with street life that most of Alton Road could only dream of. The tree-filled median does several good things, including slowing down the heavy traffic, shading and therefore cooling the street, creating street proportions that are more than twice as good, providing a place of refuge in the middle to people crossing the street, and inserting lush planting material in what would otherwise be a broad river of asphalt. Medians enhance Walk Appeal, which is the best predictor of survival and success of neighborhood businesses. And Walk Appeal is what creates scenes like this, with sidewalks filled with people out enjoying the day (and who are likely shopping in the stores along the way). All of this means that the new Alton Road design is much better than what currently exists.
Today, much of Alton Road is downright scary. The lanes are much too wide and fast, so you're taking your life in your own hands if you try to get across. The new design, while unfortunately leaving the design speed too high, will nonetheless markedly improve the likelihood that you can walk or bike on the new Alton Road and return home unscathed. And for a place like South Beach where almost half of the residents don't even own a car (because the rest of South Beach is so walkable) that's a really big deal.
This is also a tale of two Alton Roads. The North end was built mostly according to the old South Beach pattern with buildings pulled right up to the sidewalk like they do on good Main Streets. I call this "Good Alton." It is here that you can find people on the streets, out enjoying themselves much as they do on Washington, even if there are somewhat fewer of them. Most of the buildings along Good Alton don't need major surgery, but rather a nip or a tuck here or there. The streetscape is similar, with relatively wide sidewalks and palm trees along the street, sheltering the sidewalks to the point that you'll find street cafes scattered along the way. Because Good Alton is as healthy as it is, it's the part of Alton Road where it's most important to keep the details good and really get stuff right. There is a group of merchants on Good Alton who are opposing the median. They're in the building with the parking lot out front that you see here:
They have a curb cut on Alton, but as you can see, it lines up almost perfectly with 15th Terrace. And they're on a really long block that's over twice as long as Portland's great blocks, so there really should be a break in the median at 15th Terrace, treating this like the two blocks it is on the West side rather than the one block it is on the East side. Eventually, if the city enacts a SmartCode, the building owner(s) will have the incentive to do a more profitable building that pulls right up to the sidewalk rather than having the regrettable parking lot in front. But for now, break the median there and don't lose the Walk Appeal of the new streetscape.
Further South, the situation on much of Alton is bleak. Parking lots to the left and right, curb cuts all along the way, and a flyover that dumps out right down the middle make "Bad Alton" a place where you rarely see anyone walking. Landowners just north of 5th Street represent the bulk of the opposition to the median, I'm told. But without a SmartCode and a lot of major surgery, there's little hope that the last couple blocks of Alton north of 5th are going to be places anyone wants to be anyway, so eliminating the median there won't hurt anyone since nobody's there.
Just don't screw up all of Alton Road because of one stretch that doesn't matter today and another single instance where the median should be broken anyway. Let's get the bulk of Alton right… not only for the neighbors, but for all of South Beach!
People have been confused about neighborhood centers and edges for decades, and that confusion leads to bad decisions. "Neighborhood center" and especially "town center" are broadly used to mean commercial centers. At the beginning, when a hamlet composed of a single neighborhood in the landscape is built (like the one shown on the left), the commercial center that springs up at the crossroads around which the hamlet is constructed is the center of the neighborhood of which the hamlet is composed.
But when the hamlet grows into a village (like the one shown on the right), it reorganizes itself into multiple neighborhoods that are bounded by the main streets leading to the village center. From that point forward, as the village grows to a town and then to a city, each neighborhood has civic spaces and uses (like parks, religious buildings, and the like) at their centers and commercial uses at their corners. Confusing neighborhood centers with neighborhood corners sets a series of errors in motion:
The Single Circle Fallacy
The core error is our simplistic view of the 1/4 mile radius that most people choose to walk instead of drive. Actually, the 1/4 mile radius itself is a fallacy, as we discussed in Walk Appeal… but that's another story. Whether the walking radius is fixed at 1/4 mile or a variable, I propose two overlapping layers of circles, which combine to weave the city together. The first layer is the neighborhood, which is bounded by the busiest thoroughfares, not centered on them. If you doubt that, talk to any mother of a small child. The child is inevitably forbidden to cross the busy thoroughfares, but is given free rein over larger areas of the neighborhood within as they grow. To ignore this fact is to miss something that is fundamentally understood by hundreds of millions of non-planners.
So what's the other layer? The second layer of 1/4 mile radii offsets 1/2 neighborhood in each direction to center on the retail at the intersections of the busiest thoroughfares. In other words, each quarter of a neighborhood probably shops at different corners of the neighborhood. In doing so, they meet people from quarters of neighboring neighborhoods. Those people, in turn, know others from their neighborhood centers, who know others from their retail intersections... weaving a web of relationships clear across the city.
The Ghetto Mistake
The "commercial center as neighborhood center" mistake is actually the prescription for a ghetto. There, a neighborhood is self-contained with little reason to enter or leave. The history of ghettos is spotty at best, of course. I maintain that the two-layer model is actually much more similar to the way that most traditional American towns once worked, and should be the strongly preferred model for a legion of reasons.
The Transect of Risk
Does this mean that the arterial can be left uncivilized? Not at all. I agree that context-sensitive arterials are the preferred model. But even if thoroughly civilized, let's face the fact that the risk to a pedestrian on an arterial will always be somewhat more than their risk on an alley or lane. Is it not possible to see the city as an ocean of waves of risk, undulating between higher risk and lower risk? Must we force everything to the same level of risk? Isn't that exceptionally boring? What I'm really talking about here is a transect of risk, which ought to be a natural part of life. Let's just make sure that the waves peak at an acceptable level.
This started out as just another shameful story of a Department of Transportation ramming their over-engineered highway through a neighborhood, but the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association just might be turning the tables on them in South Beach. Alton Road, on the West side of Miami Beach, is the battleground.
The Florida DOT decided to "improve" Alton Road, already the least walking- and bike-friendly thoroughfare on South Beach so that it can carry even more cars, and that they could travel faster. The design speed will be 40 miles/hour, but two of the lanes are wider than Interstate lanes, so you know how people will drive. And at 40 miles per hour, your changes of surviving if you're walking and get hit by a car are about 10%. The design speed of 30 miles per hour that the neighborhood is asking for reduces your chance of getting killed to about 50%. Which would you prefer?
The DOT is removing about 40% of the on-street parking. Problem is, on-street parking is what makes sidewalk cafes possible because you'd be insane to sit right next to speeding traffic without parked cars to protect you. And every car parked on the street is worth roughly $250,000 in sales each year to the merchants on that street. Force parking off the street, and bad things happen. If it's behind the building, it's a big heat island and you have to provide not only the parking spaces, but also the aisles in between, so it takes nearly twice as much asphalt. Move it to the side of the building and things get worse because now you have gaps in the urbanism, which is ugly and boring. Move it to the front of the building for the worst possible condition because a sidewalk running between a speedy thoroughfare completely kills Walk Appeal, meaning that almost nobody will walk there.
This isn't just theory… we now know both the measurable things and the ones that can't be measured which encourage or discourage walking. And walkability is the biggest single predictor of the chance of success and risk of failure of neighborhood businesses.
Walk Appeal is an even bigger problem than normal on Alton Road because almost half of South Beach residents don't own a car. They don't need them because South Beach is so walkable. So if you make Alton Road unfriendly to walkers and cyclists, you're cutting out almost half of the customers to Alton Road's businesses. For most businesses, losing almost half of your customers is the equivalent of a death warrant.
The Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association, and the Alton Road Reconstruction Coalition it spawned have been fighting the DOT's auto-dominant design every step of the way, and not just as NIMBYs. Some really serious New Urbanist planners live on South Beach. Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, two of the founders of the New Urbanism, have a condo there as well. The New Urbanists have therefore put out many excellent design counter-proposals along the way. The designers include Matt Lambert, Jason King, and Pam Stacy, all partners or employees at two of the most famous planning firms in the world: DPZ and Dover-Kohl. My wife Wanda is one of the core group of neighbors leading the charge, which also includes the designers plus Aaron Sugarman, Ben Batchelder, Ken Bereski, Mark Needle, Ron Starkman, and Tammy Tibbles, under the leadership of longtime neighborhood activist Denis Russ. Others have weighed in as well, such as nationally-known cycling expert Mike Lydon and blogger Kaid Benfield on Atlantic Cities, saying "this is what a Complete Streets campaign should look like."
But even with all of the excellent counter-proposals, the DOT did what the DOT always does: they rammed their design down the throats of the neighborhood, and in a particularly nefarious way that was downright dishonest: The DOT showed several options, and after literally years of negotiation with Flamingo Park, both sides (plus the city of Miami Beach) agreed on what is known as the "locally-approved option." But when they signed the contract to begin construction a couple months ago, it was with a design that nobody had even seen. And that design was worse than any of the options that they had shown. That's downright fraudulent and disgraceful.
So it seemed that all was lost. But Tammy just wouldn't let it go. She did a lot of research, and then put together a very effective case that the Bait-And-Switch the DOT pulled simply isn't right, and finally got the City Commission's ear. The stakes weren't as big as all of East Village, but this story is bracingly similar to Jane Jacobs' legendary fight against Robert Moses in the 1960s.
Now, the design of Alton Road is back in play. Part of the job is reworking the storm drainage, so it will be 2015 before the street-level work is done. The Miami Beach City Commission is holding hearings, and appears firmly on the side of the Coalition, with one commissioner noting that "the Commission should prepare for litigation if necessary."
So join the fight! This campaign just might set the pattern for other victories over tyrannical DOT's elsewhere. America was founded to put down tyranny, but DOTs across America act with complete impunity. The time has come for this to end. They can build highways in the country if they like because that's where highways belong, but when a state route enters town, it needs to behave in civilized fashion. For far too long, we've paid a price now totaling over a trillion dollars by letting highways ruin our cities and towns by being too big and fast. When they come into town, they should act like boulevards, avenues, and main streets, not country highways.
We need your help… please join us! Please sign the petition. Facebook it. Tweet it. Here's the Facebook page… please like it. Please follow their new Twitter stream. Please blog about it. Please tweet the blog posts. Matter of fact, I've started an Alton Road BlogOff, so let me know when you blog and I'll put it there. Right now is the crucial time, so please act!
Schooner Bay is a new DPZ-designed town in the Bahamas where you can look out onto the fields and onto the waters from which much of your food comes. It is a real fishing village, with a boat that goes out in the morning to catch the evening meals at the Black Fly Lodge. As the town grows, there will be more fishing boats. You enter town skirting the edge of Lightbourn Farm, which produces organic fare that feeds more than the town's inhabitants. Delivering food from the surrounding land and waters assures that Schooner Bay will remain a nourishable place. And these are two of the many things that Schooner Bay is doing to become the most complete Original Green place built in our time.
I was at Schooner Bay recently with my friends and colleagues Eric Moser and Julie Sanford, and we ate at Black Fly on Friday night. If you choose to eat indoors, the kitchen and the dining room are completely open to each other, so it's like eating at the "chef's table" inside the kitchen of a fine restaurant. But this was the Bahamas in late spring, so we ate out on the verandah instead. Black Fly caters to fishermen looking for the blazing-fast bonefish that populate nearby waters. That night, there was one fisherman at the lodge with no other plans, so we invited him to have dinner with us, along with Clint Kemp, Black Fly's general manager. The meal was nothing short of exquisite; the best I've experienced in a very long time. The fish had been caught just a few hours before, and the rest of the meal (except the wine) came from the organic farm. And chef Devon Roker's culinary craftsmanship is of the highest order.
The farm is a fascinating place, with about half of it devoted to a type of vertical farming I hadn't seen before. Row after row of poles are strung like a string of beads with lightweight pots, and then topped with irrigation hoses. The space between the rows is covered with landscape fabric to eliminate weed growth. This biointensive trick allows Lightbourn to raise far more produce than would be possible if it all grew on the ground. It's a hybrid hydroponic system, with water and nutrients delivered through the hoses to drip down through each pot, but the pots contain soil, not just water. So it's the best of both worlds, in my opinion: preserving the complexity of interactions (many of which we don't yet fully understand) that occur with roots in soil while retaining the effectiveness of hydroponics.
Until recently, Lightbourn Farm grew only vegetables. They are now beginning to branch out, as you can see from the free-range chicken I found exploring one of the Lightbourn buildings.
There are many more great stories to tell about Schooner Bay, and I'll be posting some of them over the next days and weeks. But for starters, check out The Schooner Bay Miracle, which chronicles the shocking lack of damage after the eye of Hurricane Irene hit Schooner Bay at her strongest point, with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour. Also, have a look at The Ecological Dividend, which lays out the millions of dollars of benefits that are accruing by building this town in an Original Green way. Be sure to check out Mainsheet as well… it's Schooner Bay's excellent quarterly publication that's mainly cultural reporting and articles on ideals of community-building. And then, do yourself a favor and make a reservation for one of the cottages… you really need to see this place.
2013 Barranco Award
I presented the 2013 Barranco Award at the beginning of the Friday morning plenary. Andrew von Maur was this year's winner, but he was traveling in Europe with his students. So Mark Moreno, a fellow-professor at Andrews University, accepted the award for Andrew. Here are my remarks.
Not So Big Meets the New Urbanism
I had the pleasure of hearing Sarah Susanka speak for the first time in the Friday plenary. I've spoken with her by email for years, and have contributed some of my photographs to her presentations, so this was a treat. Here are my tweets from her presentation:
• I have felt for so long that we have these parallel movements attracting similar people - CNU and Not So Big.
• I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but how do we make these ideas simple enough that people see?
• We have to begin to bring the New Urbanism into everyday language so we can share what we know more broadly.
• I grew up in a little village in England; we walked everywhere. I walked to the grocery with my mother.
• The thought of children not having the ability to move around in their world seems so sad.
• I remember after moving to Los Angeles as a teen and walking two miles to the grocery at a local strip mall… in tears.
• "We must be the change we wish to see in the world" -Ghandi I don't believe we fully understand that phrase. More on this later.
• Architecture school tends to be fairly harsh, so people get hardened to fight to get their ideas across. At the University of Oregon, we didn't call them "juries," but rather "discussions." It was much more civilized.
• I and my partner started our careers by going to the local home and garden shows. America is desperate for design help, but they don't know where to go to find it.
• We all look for something big because we think it's going to make us feel better.
• The quality that people are looking for doesn't reside in bigness.
• Where's the edge of where we have enough? we'll never find it.
• More food, more shelter, more security… these things will never completely fill the void we feel.
• The feeling of home is a quality, not a quantity.
• The key is finding the sense of home in your own life.
• Community is a quality, just like home is a quality.
• It's an incredible gift to be able to connect with other humans in the creation of their communities and homes.
• Our thoughts are the architecture of our world.
• By continually telling people I was too busy, I was creating the world of "too busyness."
• I realized after years that if I didn't make a change to start writing, nobody was going to do it for me.
• I penciled my writing time into my own calendar. I felt very guilty at first, taking time from my architecture clients, but as I made time, support came.
• It is the simplicity of message that helps people enter what we do.
• You're not writing to impress your fellow colleagues with long words. Simplicity is what speaks.
• Beauty & Balance, Harmony, Home as Security, Sustainability, Well-Being.
• Not So Big can be any size, but it's about a third smaller than what you thought you needed.
• A Not So Big house has the quality of being lived in… not acres of space we seldom visit.
• When you're having people over for dinner, it's not the king and queen of England; it's Joe and Kathy.
• We all had some small spot we loved to hang out as a child… remember yours. This is what we long for but are missing.
• A map of a city tells us nothing whatsoever about the character of the city.
• A map of a house is a floor plan. It tells us very little about the character of the house.
• The information of whether this is a good house does not exist on the floor plan.
• The third dimension is how you connect people to what they're missing. I don't know what the equivalent is for the New Urbanism.
• Light to Walk Towards isn't just a near-death experience… we're literally programmed to walk towards the light.
• The front porch needs to be part of the natural flow within the house if it is to be used.
• I put the kitchen and the dining nook at the front to help activate the front porch.
• It's not a big deal to move a few pieces of furniture to accommodate Thanksgiving dinner because it comes around only once a year.
• Ceiling height variety can help shape space without building walls.
• Get The End of the Suburbs by Leigh Gallagher. It's due out August 2013, and has lots of good press for the New Urbanism.
• Not So Big Living means following your own heart.
• We must use language that communicates what we're really talking about.
• Simple language connects the dots for regular people. I was insulted when my publisher first asked me to write The Not So Big House at an eighth grade level, but it has spread broadly.
• It is critical to foster intermingling of the generations so that they can each teach the other.
• In crises, we learn what really matters, which is our connection with our neighbors - we need to design places that foster that connection.
• Our lives are being run by our stuff, and we have too much stuff, but the void we're trying to fill can't be filled by buying more of it.
• Is there a period in your life when some things are turned off? I don't open email until after lunch, for example.
• We really need to take back the parts of life that nourish us.
• When you look with the eyes of a student, everything can teach you.
• We live in an awesome world, but we're going so fast that we might not even see it.
• We're so busy with our thinking that we miss the big point.
• What is it that really inspires you? place your focus there. our thoughts are the architects of our lives.
• "The only way to change the world is to change yourself" is what I think Ghandi really meant.
• Our words have no effect until our lives back them up.
• When you embody what you're asking, the world changes with you.
• Stay clear on what it is that you're really longing to do, and place your focus there.
The Great American Grid Debate
This debate was the most entertaining session I think I've ever attended at a CNU! Paul Knight, Kevin Klinkenberg, Bill Dennis, and Howard Blackson squared off roughly on Lincoln-Douglass debate format, but with tag teams instead of one-on-one. Paul and Kevin took the position that the gridiron layout of cities is a good thing; Bill and Howard took the counter position. Here are the tweets of the proceedings:
• Bill: Making lines straight, as 19th century urbanism has done, eliminates diversity of streetscape.
• Bill: Build an unrelenting grid, and say hasta la vista to interesting man-made vistas.
• Bill: Uniformity of street width and direction is gob-smackingly boring.
• Kevin Q: Mr. Dennis, why do you hate America so much?
• Bill: There is nothing particularly American about the gridiron pattern.
• Bill: A boring street is one where you can tell well in advance what a street is going to be up ahead.
• Bill: Geometric fascism is top-down planning that decides that all streets will be straight.
• Paul: Please leave the doors open; there's a lot of residual hot air from Mr. Dennis' presentation.
• Paul: The grid is inherently walkable and provides a good level of connectivity, depending on block size, of course.
• Paul: The grid is inherently navigable. Never ask for directions again if the streets are numbered.
• Paul: The grid behaves as a yardstick if you know the distance between streets… so you know how far you have to travel.
• Paul: The grid is economical to plat and survey, and it allows you to do the most with the least land.
• Paul: Orthogonal blocks are ideally suited to the orthogonality of our lives… look at how many things are built of rectangles.
• Paul: The grid is the best way to accommodate the greatest number of land uses in a given area.
• Paul: The grid is appendable. as long as you know the increments, you know exactly how to expand.
• Bill Q: What is the proper range of block sizes?
• Paul: Ideal blocks are 200' to 600' on a side, with a maximum perimeter of 1800'.
• Howard: The fact that I use the grid, but not nearly so successfully as Geoff Dyer illustrates the grid doesn't guarantee quality.
• Howard: The grid descends from the Law of the Indies that were used to subjugate the New World and the imperial expansion of the Romans before that.
• Paul Q: Howard, let's pretend that you are presidential material in 1785: how would you have divided the Louisiana Purchase?
Howard: I would have based American expansion on greatest common good rather than greatest initial $.
• Kevin: I'm here to set the record straight: urbanism is about sociability - life in public.
• Kevin: We should focus on techniques that enhance neighborly places. The grid is proven to encourage people to stroll.
• Kevin: The grid is inherently a democratic device. it was promoted in the spirit of Jefferson's desire for citizen farmers.
• Kevin: Bill and Howard are promoting plans that are aristocratic.
• Kevin: Grids are inherently affordable, less expensive on all fronts, and they don't require great architecture to succeed.
• Kevin: The most important element is block size, not street right-of-way.
• Bill Q: Kevin, how committed are you to mediocre and bad architecture?
• Kevin: I have great faith in the mediocrity in most of my architect colleagues!
• Paul: The grid isn't just used by greedy developers. William Penn used it to express the virtue of equality.
• Kevin: Most things that frustrate us about the built environment is not the grid, but the implementation of what's built.
• Kevin: The grid that Jefferson created is a uniquely American phenomenon, and the most walkable places are usually gridded.
• Howard: The grid wasn't about urbanism; it was about efficient land subdivision.
• Howard: I don't think the high point of America was 1787; I hope we're still moving toward it.
• Howard: Even in San Francisco, you get into the city because of the interruptions in the several grids.
I made the following comment in the subsequent Q&A: "New Urbanists love to design "cranky streets," but they're not getting it right. Most New Urbanist cranky streets crank by 6° to 15°, but those cranks look more like a right-angle turn when you're approaching from the distance. The cranky streets in the old towns that we appreciate most usually crank 0.5° to 1.5°… beautiful on the ground, but almost imperceptible on a plan. The problem is that we feel pressure to design sexy plans. We need to detach ourselves from the romance of the plan, and care about the romance of the place."
The Western Grid, Applications for the Future
Howard and Kevin next joined joined Christopher Duerksen and Matt Lambert (moderated by Lee Sobel) for a more scholarly discussion of the grid. Mr. Duerksen, an attorney, was expert on issues of solar access, while the other three panelists fell firmly on the side of great streetscapes first.
I'm worried that this might grow into a bigger issue, and while I'm sympathetic to solar power, it should not be the trump card. Gizmos alone are not the solution, as any reader of this blog has read many times. There are two problems with oppressive solar access:
• The images Mr. Duerksen showed of places built to rigorous solar access standards look dreadful. All the buildings lined up like soldiers with photovoltaic roof acne. This is unacceptable. When there are solar panels or photovoltaics, they must be designed with the rest of the building to be lovable.
• Cutting down street trees for solar access in a warm climate means people simply won't walk. And when people don't get out, they don't get conditioned to the local environment and start living in season. Nothing we can do has a bigger impact than creating great outdoor public and private realms that entice people outdoors because when they get conditioned, they can leave the equipment off for much of the year when they return indoors. There is no piece of equipment so efficient as that which is off.
2013 Charter Awards
Kudos to Doug Farr and the members of the jury who revitalized the Charter Awards this year. Everything from the way the jury dressed at the awards ceremony (black & top hats) to the multimedia presentation of the projects to the re-branding of the awards (Global Award for Excellence in Urban Design) this definitely didn't feel like last year. And because they're serious about the "global" part, look for future awards that expand horizons of what New Urbanism is as far-flung projects with radically different regional conditions, climate, and culture find different ways of building sustainably.
Emily Talen was honored at the end of the Charter Awards ceremony for her herculean effort in putting together the totally-revamped Charter, which was the work of 62 authors. I'm honored to be one of them. Yes, the Original Green is now in the Charter!
The Peery Hotel
Andrés Duany reserved the entire Peery Hotel, not just as a place for colleagues to stay, but as a place to discuss and debate the latest issues. The problem with the official Congress is that it has to be set up almost a year beforehand to get all the speakers and continuing education credit lined up. So it's impossible that the latest ideas can be discussed at the Congress. The public spaces of the Peery (the bar, the restaurant, and the meeting room) are being used each evening after official Congress events are wrapped up to solve this problem by providing a marketplace of idea-swapping between anyone who stops by.
I presented the latest version of Walk Appeal at the Peery hotel. I followed a presentation by Rick Hall on transportation issues which in turn followed a raucous presentation by Dan Slone. Andrés Duany turned Dan's presentation into a debate across half a room, with lots of good-natured shouting and gesticulation.
Chuck Marohn set up a series of debates on behalf of NextGen that was completely hilarious. But the levity did a curious thing: because the scene was indiscernible from a comedy club show, it allowed exploration of subject matter not so often discussed amongst New Urbanists… because they just might be kidding. This is of great value, and the format should definitely be used long into the future.
Andrés Duany led off Thursday morning at CNU21 by laying out a far-ranging view of what the near future needs to look like, and what we can do to get there. Here's a selection of my tweets from that session:
• CNU has now held 10 more congresses than CIAM.
• CNU's great conflicts have always been conflicts of ideas, not conflicts of territory.
• LEED, while powerful, has become a dinosaur. It can barely move.
• I was for establishing standards; Dan Solomon was always against it, and he won. 3 years ago, I told Dan "we could have been LEED"
• Now, looking at how ossified LEED is, I say "thank you Dan Solomon for paralyzing my argument!!"
• Duany, to Edward Erfurt early this morning: "I don't think this talk is coming together." Edward: "Good. We need talks like that."
• Landscape Urbanism and Harvard have set themselves up as "not the New Urbanism."
• You're not a New Urbanist if you haven't read the Charter.
• Emily Talen said: "the New Urbanism is intrinsically top-down and bottom-up."
• The New Urbanism is the Charter and the charrette. Principles and practice. It has never been combined like this before.
• Urban Land has become a New Urbanist publication. Why do we need one when they do such a good job?
• The New Urbanism forges ideas, and others take them up. And that's the way it should be.
• We don't worry about taking credit; we want to see the work get done.
• We knew the greatest beast we had to enter as a virus was environmentalism. We didn't know how technocratic it would be.
• The virus is now inside the beast, but unfortunately, the beast is infecting the virus.
• New Urbanism could become just like 1000 other environmental organizations, and we don't need 1001.
• Becoming just another environmental organization would make the New Urbanism completely irrelevant.
• Nature was about beauty until about 1900, when it became scientific.
• The American environmental movement is the only environmental system in the world that doesn't include humans.
• American environmentalism began with the national parks. Every human that enters degrades the ideal.
• Defining humans as being outside nature leads to draconian environmental laws.
• No European environmentalism could ever say "you can't build on the hills," or in the woods, or near the river.
• American environmentalists say Times Square is horrible, but it hosts millions of visitors who aren't in Yellowstone bothering the bears.
• New Urbanism works to build places so enticing that people will willingly choose to live compactly and efficiently in the city rather than ruining the countryside.
• Nature doesn't care so much whether rainwater enters the aquifer here or a mile down; it doesn't hurt the little water molecules.
• We do not polemicize the visual green. If we did, you can't build Charleston again.
• If an ideology won't let Charleston be built again, I cannot condone it.
• You cannot achieve the extraordinary reward of street life by Landscape Urbanism, except by using PhotoShop.
• It's not our fault that New Urbanism becomes too expensive; that simply means there's not enough of it yet.
• "Locally widespread but nationally rare": environmental parlor trick for protecting species that are plentiful.
• American environmentalism is perpetually the overlord and the underdog.
• New Urbanists study success wherever it occurs.
• We know Portland's small blocks are good and Salt Lake City's big blocks are bad, right? look deeper, and we need both.
• The problem with Salt Lake City is that it's not today what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had in mind.
• The problem with Salt Lake City today is that the original grid was infected with the DNA of sprawl.
• Nature doesn't begin as primal forest; New York didn't begin with 100-story buildings.
• The problem with the New Urbanism over the past 10 years was that we were bitten by the bug of financial protocols.
• Make many small successional deals, not one big deal.
• We absolutely need to deliver town centers at the beginning - the inaugural condition is a single-story town center.
• Everything of the New Urbanism in its first decade was incubated. we must restore that.
• Seaside has a comprehensive set of green measures, but they were all done because they were cheaper.
• "Environmentalism costs more, but it pays for itself in 8 years" is utterly biased to high-tech.
• High-tech environmentalism is absolutely going to crash. The Original Green will replace it.
• Code-writing was the least cool of the uncool, but those incredibly lean early New Urbanist codes were glamorous.
• Fat codes are bad because you can't amortize small projects.
• why has NextGen become tactical? Because they can't get things done through today's code burden. So they bypass them.
• The last act of the first generation of New Urbanists should be to deliver a world where the young can operate.
• Centuries do not begin when 00 clicks. The 20th century lasted until the real estate bubble of 2008.
• The real estate bubble. Peak oil. Climate change. All of this happened at the same time. It didn't have to… nothing tied them together… but it did anyway.
• The real estate bubble revealed the economic limits of the US permanently. Essentially, we're broke.
• It's not about oil running out. It's that energy is going to hereafter be more expensive.
• The problem with climate change is that it's so slow-motion, but there's a pall that we have lost the war.
• When people are depressed, they lose their idealism, but we can turn all of these problems into virtues.
• We can turn these into virtues, pleasures, joys, and meaningful things IF we avoid getting infected by the pall.
• We have to say that sustainability is adapting to the circumstances.
• The Now Urbanism
• Architects have no hope of achieving the Vernacular Mind; it's been engineered out of them.
• A new century. Protean CNU. Viruses & Membranes. The Vernacular Mind. Subsidiarity Process. Successional Growth.
• Interim Buildings. Light Green Tech. Pink Codes. Flexbuildings. Pod Practices.
• The SmartCode has flaws because it plugs into the existing system.
• CNU is based on the genetics of CIAM: separate firms pulling together to create a movement.
• If you get along, you're not noticed. The New Urbanism was noticed by ITE and ULI because we caused them problems.
• Adaptation has no friends and is in bad odor because it's considered to be giving up, but it's what will work, and what will give us hope.
• "Copyright - Use Without Permission" that's what we do to prevent our materials from being copyrighted against us.
• Lean Engineering = the Original Green.
• Let us rediscover real engineering that allowed the cities of the West to be built with little money.
• Lean Engineering = Light Imprint.
• Lean = the Subsidiarity Process.
• Subsidiarity: person-family-street face-block-neighborhood-municipality-state-nation-UN.
Decision should be made at smallest scale at which it makes sense.
• Today's true avant-garde isn't doing frivolous buildings, but rather lean ones.
• The model that's crashing next are the architecture schools.
• I hire people because of the firms they've worked in, not the schools they've gone to.
• We should self-certify the graduates of our firms.
PS: Here are my upcoming sessions… please come!
Original Green Hope for Architecture (with Clay Chapman): Tonight at 8:30 PM at the Peery Hotel
Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Block: Saturday at 10:45 AM, Grand Ballroom BC
Art Room: Design Techniques for Charrettes: Saturday at 2 PM, Murano room
I'm doing a CNU21 session Saturday on Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Grid, and I'm also participating in the Salt Lake City Interrotta, which examines the things you can do with the Mormon Grid, which is an enormous 660' on each side. Unfortunately, I hadn't even begun the drawing below, which is central to both events, before arriving. So I spent the first eight hours of the Congress camped out next to NextGen's Engaging the Plat of Zion jam session that explored the Mormon Grid as well. Please stop by Saturday at 10:45 AM in Grand Ballroom BC for the Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Block session!
I got the drawing printed and taped it onto the Interrotta boards as the sole late entry just in time for the opening plenary, which was excellent. Keynote speaker Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods. The following are selected tweets from my tweet-cast of Richard's presentation:
• We give community associations power we would never consider giving to government. Even the color of your curtains is regulated.
• A community association in Florida actually banned children playing outdoors.
• Access to nature is exceptionally important to child development.
• I'm much more interested in nearby nature than the wilderness.
• People who once knew nature never lose what nature taught them, even in the densest of cities.
• Kids' time in nature has decreased 50% since the 1990s.
• For all of human history until now, kids have spent most of their waking hours in nature.
• Child abductions have been decreasing for 30 years, but you'd never know it by watching the news media.
• Preschoolers are the fastest-growing segment of the population in antidepressant use.
• Studies have shown that health metrics of people who sit for long periods of time are very close to those of smokers. Sitting is the new smoking. Especially for our kids.
• Studies have shown that the ability to learn goes up with contact with nature.
• Run on a treadmill and get healthier. Run outdoors (green exercise) doing the exact same mileage and get even healthier.
• Nature Deficit Disorder is a malady our kids have been increasingly suffering from for several decades now.
• There are many child maladies for which pediatricians should be prescribing nature.
• You don't get a bigger constituency by talking in acronyms, or just to each other.
• Environmentalism is in trouble. We need a new nature movement. Today's average environmentalist is 67 years old.
• A young hipster told me "All my life I've been told it's too late for the environment." New Urbanism says it's not too late.
• As of 2008 more people on earth live in cities than the countryside. This is a huge moment, and largely unremarked in the news media.
• William McDonough: "Environmentalism says: your carbon footprint is too big. The unspoken implication is that: "We'd be better off without you." That's no way to sell an idea!"
• William McDonough: "Sustainability isn't good enough, because it just means keeping things going like they are. Do you just want a sustainable marriage? Don't you want something better? Not just carbon neutral."
• The new nature movement is one that brings life.
I walked back toward the Peery Hotel with Tim Halbur for the evening debates, but neither of us had eaten, so we stopped in to the Market Street Cafe for a quick (we thought) dinner. Several of our New Urbanist colleagues were just arriving, so we got a big table. Just after ordering, someone on the other side of the street said "wow, look at that!" We all turned around, gaping at the scene above. The Grand America Hotel three blocks away where the Congress was being held, was bathed in sunset light, set off by a stunning rainbow laid against a dark sky thick with clouds. A good omen for a great Congress!
PS: Here are my upcoming sessions… please come!
Walk Appeal: Tonight at 8 PM at the Peery Hotel
Barranco Award presentation: Tomorrow at 9 AM at the start of the morning plenary
Original Green Hope for Architecture (with Clay Chapman): Tomorrow at 8:30 PM at the Peery Hotel
Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Block: Saturday at 10:45 AM, Grand Ballroom BC
Art Room: Design Techniques for Charrettes: Saturday at 2 PM, Murano room
Skeuomorphism - How Steve Jobs Hit What Walter Gropius Missed - But Now, Is Apple Throwing Its Soul Away?
How has Apple seduced millions while Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus left those same millions cold? Steve Jobs' passion for simplicity was legendary, and his esteem of minimalist Bauhaus design was immense, but Apple products are loved by masses around the world, while the Bauhaus is loved only by design geeks. What's the difference?
Simply put, Steve knew the difference between body and spirit, and Gropius didn't. Hardware is the body of a computer, while software (and more precisely, the user interface) is the spirit. There's no dispute that a body (whether human or machine) should be as lean as possible… but no leaner. In other words, low body fat but no anorexia. I remember the first time I held an iPod… its design seemed impossibly lean, but after less than a minute of turning the wheel and pushing the button, the question was "what else do you need?" So minimalist design is an indisputable virtue of hardware design.
Minimalism was a religion to Gropius; a creed to be applied to everything from buildings to typography. To Steve, it was a powerful tool to be used everywhere it makes sense. What Steve implicitly knew that Gropius and most minimalists since him have completely missed is the fact that a minimal spirit is rarely a lovable spirit.
And so Steve imbued the spirit (user interface) of all his Apple creations with lovable characteristics on many levels. That lovable interface began by setting people at ease with their machines by using ideas with which they were familiar and comfortable.
Apple designed things like a calendar icon that looks like a paper calendar, print icons that look like printers, and a note pad application that looks like a yellow note pad. Even the "desktop" itself that is the core of the Mac user interface was originally designed to look like a physical desktop. I call this "allegorical design" because the pixels on the screen are telling a story (an allegory) of something else that people are familiar with. Apple has used allegorical design to great effect for years to make its computers "friendly," as Steve often said.
It's not just that allegorical design is "friendly;" it's also highly efficient. Unless you're an experienced computer user, you might not know what a "directory" is, but everyone knows exactly what a "folder" is and how to use it. And while everyone using a computer is assumed to be able to read, it's still quicker to look for an icon that looks like a printer than to look for the word "print."
Minimalist design geeks make the mistake of lumping allegorical design into a larger term with a dark side: "skeuomorphism." Skeuomorphic design is the design of one thing to look like something else. It can be powerful, like Apple's desktop, folders, and note pad, but skeuomorphism can also be cheesy, like fake wood-grain panels on 1970's station wagons. Today, the charge of skeuomorphism is a high insult in most design circles. Even the word itself sounds nasty, like some terrible intestinal disease you might get in the tropics.
Today, skeuomorphism is under full attack at Apple. Jony Ive, Apple's awesome hardware design wizard, was handed the keys to the user interface kingdom at Apple last fall. Unfortunately, it appears that Jony, like so many minimalists before him, doesn't understand the difference between body and spirit, either. And so he's reportedly delaying the release of iOS 7 so that he can stamp out all vestiges of skeuomorphism. Amputating allegorical design in the skeuomorphism witch hunt just may rip the soul out of Apple stuff because what are you left with after you remove the allegories that have made Apple stuff so lovable for so long?
Apple stuff seduced us (until now) with bodies that were lean but spirits that were warm. Lean bodies and warm spirits are seductive, even sexy. A minimal spirit can't seduce. It can't even be understood unless you go to school to learn how to appreciate it. Saying "go to school" is no way to seduce someone. The inability to seduce leads to sterility… a frequent charge by non-design-geeks against Bauhaus architecture. Jony and Apple should urgently re-learn why Steve hit what Gropius missed… or run the risk of sterility themselves.