The EPA and the Ultimate Betrayal

office building in Research Park in Huntsville, Alabama

   The greatest betrayal in human history happened almost 2,000 years ago last night. While nothing we can do would ever sink to the depths of Judas’ act of betrayal, he nonetheless set a standard that others have occasionally and ingloriously followed in the centuries since: betrayal of the very thing you supposedly loved, cherished, or were sworn to protect, such as parents that molest their own children, teachers who abuse their students, preachers who misuse those who have come to them for counsel and comfort, and police who commit crimes. Most recently, the Environmental Protection Agency has joined the infamous ranks of those who betray what they were sworn to protect. Ironically, this is all coming to light in the days leading up to Earth Day.

interstate interchange in Birmingham, Alabama

   What is the EPA’s nefarious act? Their very reason for existence is to protect the environment, as their name clearly professes. Yet their Kansas City office has done the unthinkable: they are shamelessly abandoning their offices in a compact, mixed-use, and walkable location downtown, and moving miles out into the suburbs to a place that is completely unwalkable and auto-dependent. Others have written capably about the particulars of this move, including Kaid Benfield so I won’t repeat their points... please read them to satisfy yourself... Kaid’s rant is a must-read.

University Drive arterial thoroughfare in Huntsville, Alabama

   Let’s instead consider the larger issue of why they did it. Are Kansas City’s EPA staffers so dark-hearted as to be equal to child molesters, corrupt clergy, and dirty cops? Of course not. Most of the staffers there probably view their jobs with a high degree of idealism. But if we give them the benefit of the doubt on their intentions, then how do we explain their actions? How is it that they don’t understand that suburban sprawl is America’s greatest environmental nightmare... by far?

convenience store/gas station in Huntsville, Alabama

   As we have discussed, sprawl is cancer of the city. Sprawl creates places that are completely inaccessible by anything other than cars. Matter of fact, it’s so bad that every time you change an activity you have to drive. At home, and going to work? Gotta drive. At school and going shopping? Gotta drive. At work and going to eat? Gotta drive. And over the past 40 years, our increases in driving have far outstripped industry’s ability (even with government insistence) to make more efficient cars. Hybrids only serve to salve our conscience if we keep driving more.

empty parking lot at Madison Square shopping mall in Huntsville, Alabama

   Sprawl creates places where you can’t possibly shop for your daily necessities within your own neighborhood, because zoning codes prohibit shops there. Sprawl also fosters the creation of gated subdivisions, which are the worst possible thing you can do if you want to build a securable place. So three of the four foundations of sustainable places (accessible places, serviceable places, and securable places) are essentially made impossible by sprawl.

stockade-fenced back yards backing up to arterial thoroughfare in Miami, Florida

   How could the EPA, of all people, possibly not get it? There are two closely-related reasons, in my opinion. Gizmo Green is the proposition that with better equipment and better materials, we can achieve sustainability. But it simply isn’t so because increases in our consumption consistently outstrip industry’s ability to increase efficiency. Simply put, if our behavior doesn’t change, our machines can’t save us. Sustainability isn’t something you get by going shopping. It’s something you get by thinking (and then acting) differently. So the second closely-related reason is that sustainability isn’t something “they” do... it’s something we do.

sprawling subdivision under construction near Montgomery, Alabama

   Unfortunately, the EPA has been so focused on Gizmo Green solutions for so many years that their Kansas City office appears to be completely oblivious to the fact that Gizmo Green is only a small part of the solution. They’ve done great work attacking the causes of pollution from industrial sources. They now regulate many types of activities with the intent of reducing environmental impact. But the lion’s share of what they do is based on cleaning up the gizmos on the supply side... it’s no wonder they’re wearing Gizmo Green Glasses!

strip center in Montgomery, Alabama

   The bottom line is that today, on Earth Day 2011, it’s high time to begin taking a more holistic view of sustainability that goes far beyond our tools, and focuses on everything else about us as well... including the sprawl we inhabit and the auto-dominated lifestyle it forces upon us.

   But this shouldn’t be a one-day confession of shortcomings... as a matter of fact, I wondered publicly last year whether Earth Day might be a symptom of our disease? We can’t beat our collective breasts and then go and do the same thing again. The only way to make the change last is to make it enticing. We seldom do the things we ought to do, but frequently do the things we want to do. Sustainability must be something we’re enticed to do, not something we’re compelled to do.

   What should EPA Kansas City do? They should lead the way by first changing their plans to abandon a more sustainable place in favor of sprawl. Then, they should broadcast the story of why they changed their minds and were enticed to stay in a place that is more sustainable. It won’t solve everything, but it will show some leadership in something we’re sorely missing today: the story of the things we want to do that make us more sustainable.

   ~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Saturday, April 23, 2011 - 12:29 PM

Mike Hadden

   Great point Steve...  It was a perfect post for Earth Day.  This is an unbelievably irresponsible move by the EPA and suggests that even the people working within the organizations that are supposed to 'get it' just don't 'get it.'
   Unfortunately, I think many people have tuned out of the 'green' 'sustainability' movement due to all of the hypocrisy on the part of the organizations and businesses that claim to be 'green.'  In all honesty, I think the new urbanist movement is one of the only movements that has been 'green' for the right reasons while not trying to exploit it's own 'greenness.'  I think there's an opportunity for the NU movement to bring in the environmentalists who feel disenfranchised by the 'green' movement.  I know it's happening already but I think it needs to be explored more.

Saturday, April 23, 2011 - 01:00 PM

Wanda Mouzon

I think you have clearly articulated this Ultimate Betrayal.  I personally FEEL betrayed by their action.

Sunday, April 24, 2011 - 07:52 AM

Steve Mouzon

Mike, I believe you're exactly right about the New Urbanism... the only question will be whether the NU reaches out to the people you've identified.

Sunday, April 24, 2011 - 06:42 PM

Chaden Halfhill

Thank you for the post. Very glad that I took time to read your thoughts today!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - 07:28 AM

Steve Mouzon

Thanks, Chaden! I appreciate that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - 10:34 AM

"How could the EPA, of all people, possibly not get it? There are two closely-related reasons, in my opinion. Gizmo Green is the proposition  ...."
What is the second reason?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 10:41 AM


I wouldn't go that far... it's just an office space, use email.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - 10:54 PM

Pierre Dowing

Speaking of the EPA, I actually came across an article today that I think you may or may not have seen already, but it sheds a pretty good light on the current situation with the EPA and the “Haze Plan” that some seem to be pushing. Either way, it just came out in the Albuquerque Journal and is ranked as one of the top current articles regarding the EPA, so I thought I’d share it with you nonetheless. If you’re up for a glance, here’s a link.
Have a good one!

Thursday, May 5, 2011 - 08:45 AM

Steve Mouzon

Alan, the second closely-related reason is that sustainability isn’t something “they” do... it’s something we do.

Thursday, May 5, 2011 - 08:50 AM

Steve Mouzon

I hadn't seen that, Pierre... thanks for posting the link! I would also take the position that the EPA should not be the only avenue for challenges, but for a different reason made obvious in this post: if they don't understand the implications of location, then they obviously have the Specialists' Disease of getting so focused on one aspect of what their work that the lose the big picture.

Andrés Duany Guest Post - the Uncut Metropolis Article

Honeymoon Cottages at Seaside, Florida with Pensacola Street beach pavilion in the background

   Metropolis published a heavily-edited version of this article in their April 2011 issue, omitting nearly all individual credits. The following is the full original article:

   The Avant Garde Establishment (AGE) has developed the habit of defining the New Urbanism through misinformation, intentional and otherwise. Debate has been reduced to tiresome corrections of fact by the New Urbanists. Now Metropolis provides an opportunity to establish the actual record. Because this record was achieved by many people, I will take care to list them. The first mistake is to view the New Urbanism as a rustic version of starchitecture.

   The New Urbanism is an informal movement of ideas, techniques, projects and people. The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is an institution chartered 18 years ago with budget, board and staff. During the decade of the 1980s the New Urbanism coalesced around certain independent initiatives: the Pedestrian Pocket studies of Doug Kelbaugh and Peter Calthorpe; the rationalism of Maurice Culot and the Krier brothers, the anti-modernist polemics of Colin Rowe and the Texas Rangers, the empirical observations of Jane Jacobs, Oscar Newman and William Whyte; the humane systematics of Chris Alexander, the typological studies of Stefanos Polyzoides; the socially astute public housing of Ray Gindroz and Dan Solomon; the uniquely American viewpoints of Vincent Scully; and the gradual emergence of Seaside as a presence resistant to being ignored. The unifying impetus was CIAM's degeneration into zoned suburban sprawl.

   The CNU was organized in 1993 by Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stefanos Polyzoides, Elizabeth Moule, Peter Calthorpe, Daniel Solomon and Peter Katz. Among the original swarm were Dhiru Thadani, Robert Davis, Judy Corbett, Mark Weiss, Matt Bell, Bob Stern, Jaque Robertson, Jonathan Barnett, Mike Watkins, John Torti, Vince Graham, Robert Davis, Paul Murrain, Alex Krieger, Shelley Poticha, John Massengale, Robert Orr, Pat Pinnell, Jaime Correa, Victor Dover, Joe Kohl, and Neal Payton. The Prince of Wales, with Hank Dittmar, Robert Adam and Ben Bolgar, mounted the comprehensive British campaign; Maurice Culot and Joanna Alimanestianu with Harald Kegler and Audun Engh, nurtured a loose continental network; Peter Richards, Chip Kaufman and Wendy Morris staked out the robust Australian CNU. There are Canadian, Cuban, Scottish, Emirati, Israeli, Italian and Guatemalan outposts as well. Michael Mehaffy fell into the influential roving ambassadorship from ChrisAlexanderland. Most of these original New Urbanists belong to the rather serious generation of 1950--the one following the (Postmodernist) generation of 1935.

   The CNU is built on the chassis of CIAM, which was identified as the last design movement to have successfully changed the course of urbanism. This emulation of success, even of an opponent, was an early instance of the non-ideological pragmatism that underlies New Urbanist strategy. From CIAM came the concept of a movement rather than the individual position-taking of the generation of 1935. Also from CIAM came the congresses that develop principles for an open membership coalesced only by agreement with the resulting Charter. There are currently about 2,300 dues-paying members, with some 1,500 attending the annual congresses (CNU 19 will be held in Madison this June).

   The New Urbanism is projected by expert publications. These are not vetted; they are integrated only by the logic of the Charter. The skill of our authors has been a boon. In addition to the organizers’, there are important books by Jeff Speck, Jean Francois LeJeune, Philip Bess, Henry Cisneros, James Kunstler, David Brain, Doug Kelbaugh, Javier Cenicacelaya, Robert Alminana, Ellen Dunham-Jones, Witold Rybzcysnki, Eric jacobsen, John Dutton, Philip Langdon and Emily Talen. Diane Dorney, Gabriele Tagliaventi, and Robert Steuteville are the editors of the indispensible periodicals. Some books are very popular--for example, Suburban Nation (Y2000) has SOLD about 100,000 copies, more than all but A Pattern Language and The Death and Life of the Great American Cities. As a result of these publications, the ceaseless lectures, the codes and the charrettes, the New Urbanism dominates the professional planning discourse--albeit "only in flyover country" as Professor Charles Waldheim has taken care to explain.

   As the Charter shows, the New Urbanism projects at all scales; but its primary mission has been the reform of suburban sprawl, which has long been the most debilitating and the most neglected of America's crises. This is not to say that New Urbanists have avoided the inner city. DPZ, for example, has prepared effective urban plans for eight major urban cores, and Moule-Polyzoides has done at least as many, including downtown Los Angeles. After all, the best way to discourage sprawl is to foster cities that people are loath to leave. Indeed, the head of the CNU is John Norquist, ex-mayor of Milwaukee and author of the most seasoned of the municipal primers, The Wealth of Cities. According to New Urban News, about half of the projects have been infill, not counting the scores of codes adopted to guide municipalities.

   And yet few among the Establishment care to know that. The otherwise omniscient Ken Frampton was recently heard to say, "The New Urbanists ... are they still around?" This professor's disinterest is as expected at Colombia. "They make porches for white people in the South" is Rodolfo Machado's joshing version--which the highly programmed GSD students believe more easily than the fact that New Urbanists wrote HUD's HOPE VI standards and are thereby associated with 110,000 units of affordable housing--virtually the entire supply of the last 15 years, and with a good portion directly designed by CNU members. Then a mere scratch beyond those little porches would reveal that firms like Peter Calthorpe's and John Fregonese's are responsible for most of the regional planning west of the Alleghenies--which is to say most of the regional planning in this country … and it may take as much effort to avoid knowing who prepared the reconstruction plan for Port-au-Prince.

   While the New Urbanism's mission is focused, its array of techniques is open-ended. Some superb know-how has been rescued from the dustier shelves of libraries, but the real achievement has been the creativity applied to encountered situations. Innovation is not what comes first to mind from the visuals, and some New Urbanists will agree when the "nostalgic" architectural manifestation is criticized. But to dismiss all of New Urbanism because of the look of the buildings is a stupid mistake that has left the field of urban design uncontested. There is no Avant Garde alternative to the ultra-precise market research of Todd Zimmerman and Laurie Vogt; or to the surrogate governing protocols developed by attorneys Doris Goldstein and Dan Slone; there are no cunning retail hybrids like those devised by Bob Gibbs and Seth Harry. (Consider Professor Margaret Crawford's shock--SHOCK!--when discovering that mall designers manipulate their customers. How did Berkeley ever find such a shopping virgin in California?) The Establishment has nothing like the new manual of the Institute of Traffic Engineers, rammed into existence by Rick Chellman, Rick Hall, Paul Crabtree, Norm Garrick and Peter Swift; nor have they developers like Robert Davis, Vince Graham Greg Whittaker, Bob Graham, Robert Chapman, Steve Maun, Buff Chace, Joe Alfandre, Peter Rummell and Bill Gietema, who blew off the scary proscriptions of the United Lemmings Institute (aka the ULI). Where are the code wizards like Daniel Parolek, Carol Wyant, Jeff Bounds, Geoff Ferrell, Jennifer Hurley, Laura Hall, Susan Henderson, Ann Daigle, Chad Emerson, Nathan Norris, and especially Sandy Sorlien? One version, the SmartCode, is modular freeware, designed to infiltrate the 31,000 American municipalities. But then, the avant-garde considers codes a bothersome impediment, not the most powerful tool of urban design. That only the Establishment’s court jester (Michael Sorkin—who else?) has shown any interest in codes reveals the fundamental lack of seriousness.

   How did the New Urbanists manage to nail down so much? Perhaps because we tend to deploy CIAM-vintage effective protocols rather than the expressive protocols of "critical theory." But also because we are not relativists--suburban sprawl is bad news. Professor Robert Beauregard ruefully credits this certainty for our power. Granted, the notion of suburbia is occasionally noted by the Avant Garde (perhaps from the window of the train to New Haven), but it is seldom engaged beyond a sketch and a jot. Other than the historic excursions by Robert Venturi and Scott Brown to the exotica of Las Vegas and Levittown, and the brave berm theories of the Landscape Urbanists--the field is now controlled by New Urbanists.

   Reforming suburbia is not a matter of styling "unprecedented typologies." Suburban sprawl is nothing less than the principal cause of climate change. The car-dependent lifestyle of the American middle class (and now its export version) is the major cause of atmospheric and hydrological degradation--and of social and economic problems that are even more immediately debilitating. As the car keys are taken from the clutches of the aging boomers, as the national pauperization relinquishes the care of the centenary infrastructure, before the disappearance of cheap energy--the drifting wreck of suburbia will require salvage work. That is the great design challenge of the 21st Century. It is more important than massaging Asian and Muslim self-esteem, more ethical than the bestowal of surplus design on shantytowns, and more cost effective than glass-skinned greenwashing. The important work is close to home, humble and urgent. The books on suburban repair by Galina Tachieva, Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson are fixing to become the Towards A New Architecture of the new century--minus the charming testosterone.

   But now--impossible to avoid—we must engage what matters most to the Establishment: STYLE! As the Charter states on this matter: "Individual architectural projects should be seamlessly linked to their surroundings. This issue transcends style." That agnostic statement should be the end of it, except that the Establishment just cannot forgive our reluctance to carry the burden of modernist architecture to the middle class, which is finally listening to someone. Why are we uncommitted to imposing style preferences? Because a familiar architecture is the camouflage that eases the passage of what are actually some very progressive agendas of ours (read the Charter). As eventually happened with CIAM, architecture becomes a tool toward an urban end, not the end in itself. Besides, over time New Urbanist building has become quite good. If critical eyes had not been so coarsened by the gesticulations of avant-garde architecture they might discern the subtle achievement represented by those buildings with pitched roofs. From the thousands of New Urbanist architectural commissions have arisen superb practices. Some are as good as architects have ever been--and the exposure to such comparison requires courage, not like the chickenshit stance of Eisenman-buildings-are-always-best-in-class-because-Eisenman-writes-his-rules (insert the name of your favorite vanguardista). Quantity is important, too, and these architects are now organized around traditional pattern books and guilds (Ray Gindroz, Marianne Cusato, Steve Mouzon and Geoffrey Mouen are catalysts) that deliver quality with the economy and efficiency commensurate with modernity's true challenge, Guideon's "problem of large numbers." Plain Old Good Architecture (the basis of the University of Miami curriculum, incidentally) has taken territory from talents so tuned to the exceptional that they are flummoxed by background cultural signals. Between connecting to a normative Middle America or connecting to an avant-garde that is defined by its distance from the normal--what strategic choice could New Urbanism have made?

   In fact the American middle class is just one of the "power grids" that propels the New Urbanism. Christopher Alexander at the outset advised "We all know what the appliance is … what we must now do is design the plugs that connect it to the existing power grids." Note the plural. New Urbanism has identified power grids as the middle class and the developers who provide for them, the planning professionals with their manuals and codes, the elected officials with their policies and procedures, and the popular media with its maw for controversy and colorful images.

   In four phases, the New Urbanists have connected to power grids that are now simultaneously available to propel implementation. The first came out of the market-driven success of Seaside. It turned out that many people wanted walkable lifestyles and that it was possible to market such communities profitably. This brought the developers on board. The second plug emerged as NIMBYism arose from the failed promise of suburbia. Instead of lives surrounded by nature and enjoying freedom of movement, the opposite was delivered. The New Urbanist charrettes evolved as protocol to convince the frustrated and the infuriated that our plans were part of the solution rather than part of the problem. The result was a hybrid of bottom-up and top-down planning, as the Charter and the charrette conjoin principle and process. Emily Talen has argued that this consummation may finally stabilize the historic pendulum of American planning. The ability to gain support for transit, as well as to mitigate spatially induced economic, environmental, and social problems, has plugged the charrette into the highest policy levels. Federal infrastructure grants will likely be filtered through the metastatic public processes being developed by Peter Calthorpe for California, with other states no doubt to follow. Bill Lennertz effectively played the St. Paul role in spreading the charrette as a gospel of local democracy.

   The third phase was the research on sedentary lifestyles: obesity and the attendant pathologies. This compelling plug was expertly connected to the urban pattern by Joanna Lombard and the University of Miami Medical School. The health connection intensified the ethical imperative of New Urbanism, but not more so than the fourth plug. This one, to the environmental movement, is based on Professor William Cronon's insight that conceiving of humans as "within nature" enables environmentalists to project the urban as well as protect the rural. The recent LEED-ND initiative has hardwired the New Urbanism to this environmental agenda. Led by Kaid Benfield, among those who concocted this rigorous standard were Susan Mudd, Victor Dover, Bruce Donnelly, and Doug Farr. Marred only by certain primeval superstitions about stormwater management that will require ongoing reference to Tom Low's Light Imprint Manual, LEED-ND is already infiltrating municipalities as a shadow planning code.

   What plugs have failed? Despite the technical success of LEED-ND, New Urbanism has not connected properly to environmental populism--which is not yet assimilated by “our” middle class. This is probably due to a failure to deploy visual biophilia. It is not enough that the urban pattern mitigate climate change by being compact, connected, complex, and convivial; apparently it is necessary that it look green explicitly. This stylistic void has been exploited--predictably--by the Avant Garde’s NEW darling, Landscape Urbanism. This is a very interesting movement led by the generation of 1965. Evidently they have studied closely the New Urbanism. In a classic reprise of the CNU swerve around CIAM, and closely following Professor Harold Bloom's thesis, LU is now explicitly challenging our dominance with a swerve based on Team Ten. Landscape Urbanism is currently being analyzed by our NextGen (of 1980) and a new New Urbanism is to be expected.

   The other failure has been connecting with the academic power grid. Of the 154 American architecture programs, all but four inculcate negative vibes toward the New Urbanism; it is probably the only agenda they share. The architecture schools--ornery, confused, distracted and relatively powerless--were easy enough to leave unplugged. And the disinterest was reciprocated. Academia’s penchant for speculation is not fulfilled by our stolidly verifiable world; the New Urbanists could never mimic the hand wringing and dithering that Professor Sert bequeathed to Urban Design. Now, this has finally become a serious distraction, as the culling away of class after class of energetic and idealistic youngsters hobbles our ability to deal with the “problem of large numbers.”

   But there is now perhaps a way to plug in. The Academy’s recent absorption of Landscape Urbanism has created a completely new ethos of clarity and positivism--one that can be engaged by New Urbanism. We can assume that whatever is effective will be embraced (a mortal embrace for Landscape Urbanism, perhaps). We have no ideological prerequisites; only the test of American pragmatism: "Whatever works well in the long run." This characteristic of New Urbanism seems to exasperate our best-informed critic, Professor Alex Krieger--who accuses us of being "impossible to debate as they instantly assimilate all good ideas."

   And, why not?

   ~Andrés Duany

Legacy Comments:

Saturday, April 16, 2011 - 01:04 PM

Yuri Artibise

Great article, and nice to see the 'full version.'  Too often popular media glosses over the seriousness and depth of new urbanism by neglecting its rich and robust intellectual history and continuing resonance in academics and practitioners alike. Including these individual credits is an important step in illustrating that new urbanism goes well beyond a single firm or a handful of practitioners, and is indeed a robust discipline based on a wealth or research and observation.

Sunday, April 17, 2011 - 08:15 PM

Steve Mouzon

Thanks, Yuri! Too often, media focus on a single individual because it makes a better story, but the reality is that a movement requires many people, as this story illustrates. Andrés' greatest impact, even considering all the great things he has done personally, will likely be the countless times he has promoted the careers of others. I am one of a legion of recipients of this goodwill.

Telling the Truth - In Advance

study area for Prince's Foundation charrette in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods of New Orleans

   Who would’ve thought that story-telling might become an important planning tool for cities looking to revitalize themselves after the Meltdown? It might happen in New Orleans... here’s how:

Names in the Story

storefront on Frenchman Street in the Marigny Faubourg

   Southerners, especially those from the Crescent City, are often master story-tellers. Many of them will tell you that they can weave a  more compelling tale when places and buildings in that tale have nifty names... “Dead Man’s Curve” rather than “highway 431, a couple miles out of town. “High Rustler” instead of “the efficiency unit in Robert Orr’s house.” “Printer’s Alley” rather than “the alley between 3rd and 4th Avenues.” Tara was by no means the first southern house to be named, nor the last.

A Time for Healing

corner entry gate to Washington Square, in New Orleans' Marigny Faubourg, with one light burning and one out

Washington Square, in the Marigny

   I was just on a design charrette in New Orleans run by thePrince’s Foundation for the Built Environment (Prince Charles’ organization) and sponsored by the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans.

   Ben Bolgar of the Prince’s Foundation set the course for this latest charrette when he said “We’ve been building for many years. But maybe now is a time for healing the city rather than building the city.” So this charrette began with a desire to find seeds that we could plant small... especially important now as there isn’t yet funding for constructing anything we designed.

   The seedbeds were the Faubourg Marigny, New Marigny (or St. Roch, if you prefer) to the north, Bywater to the east, and the St. Claude neighborhood to its north. Moving away from the river, the disrepair deepened in concert with Katrina’s flood levels.

Less Than a Shoestring

bike rack outside Flora's coffee shop on Royal Street at Nine Points in New Orleans' Marigny Faubourg

   I struggled with Ben’s directive... how exactly do you “heal the city” without funding? I’m a designer, so design and construction are the tools I know best. Without them, how could I help? But on the afternoon of the last day, it hit me:

   Our study area contained place after nameless place with the beginnings of coolness. Sometimes, it was because of the people moving there, like the rag-tag band of artists opening a few galleries on a certain stretch of St. Claude. Other times, it was because of the physical configuration of the place, like the funky little double triangle where you can find Flora’s, Mimi’s, and Schiro’s.

Gallery Row

diagram of Gallery Row on St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans

   So why not name each of these places? The galleries on St. Claude could be Gallery Row. What aspiring new artists wouldn’t want to be located on Gallery Row? Every town has its Five Points, but the funky little double triangle actually has nine streets coming out of it, so it should be Nine Points.

   Most of the names qualify as “telling the truth in advance” (a Zig Ziglar term,) because the places aren’t nearly so cool... yet. But with a name that conveys a clear intent for the future of the place, it’s far more likely that people will buy into that future.

Places Worth Naming

Schiro's, at the heart of Nine Points in New Orleans' Marigny Faubourg

Schiro's, at the heart of Nine Points

   There’s another aspect as well: the more important something is in your life, the more likely you are to name it. Children invariably get named within the first couple days of life; pets get named quickly as well. So naming a place doesn’t just predict the future condition of the place, it seals that prediction with the importance of all things named.

   Convinced it was a good idea but frantic because the final presentation was now only hours away, I scrounged around and found an extra base map and a couple markers, and hastily put the scheme on paper. The more I looked for latent coolness in fresh memories of miles of walks through the neighborhoods, the more a network of cool places began to emerge out of the page. Now the trick was connecting them.

Pointing the Way

black pole with directional signs pointing to many cities and points of interest, located in Portland, Oregon

   There were enough cool places that they could all be connected with straight paths... no need to go three blocks, take a left, then the second right...” Instead, if you’re at Nine Points, it’s five blocks straight down Royal to Washington Square (the only one of the places that already had a name.) So it should be simple enough to have European “pointing signs” like this one (except with fewer signs, of course) that point the way to the next cool spots when you’re at the edge of one. Maybe there’s also something cast occasionally into the sidewalk, like the mythical breadcrumbs along the path... but I’m not sure it’s necessary since no turns are required.

A Bigger Story

Marigny Faubourg musicians

   Each of the cool places will, I believe, eventually be well-known on its own merits, and with its own lore and embedded memories. But there’s a bigger story as well: someone clever in the visitor’s bureau will certainly pick up on the network: a “necklace of cool places,” if you will, and will tell that story as well.

   “Don’t just come down to Coffee Corner, or to the Restoration Blocks, or Art on the Tracks, or Craftsman’s Corner,” they might say. “Instead, make a couple days (and nights) of it while you’re in New Orleans and discover all of these little treasures for yourself!” Makes sense, doesn’t it?

   ~Steve Mouzon

   PS: I have no idea precisely why, but design charrettes conducted by the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment tend to be great breeding grounds for new ideas. This post describes two charrettes in Rose Town, a neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica. The first saw the development of the Wet Appliance, which takes slum-dwellers from sleeping on the ground all the way to a masonry house over time. Six little children transformed the second charrette into a story I’ll tell for the rest of my life. I’ve worked with the Foundation in New Orleans as well, dating back to 2009.

Legacy Comments:

Thursday, April 7, 2011 - 05:16 AM

Steve Mouzon

See design team member Gate Pratt's blog post on the charrette here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011 - 08:03 AM

Todd W. Bonnett

I couldn't agree more.  I always insist that we name every open space within a community whether it is a tiny little pocket park or a vast community green.  By naming them each space begins to have an identity and people begin to relate to that space i.e. I live just past Longmeadow Park or turn right at North Lawn Park.  It makes a big difference.

Thursday, April 7, 2011 - 10:12 AM

Steve Mouzon

Exactly, Todd! Thanks for the comment!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - 07:34 AM

Andrew Watt

   I like the idea of naming places and spaces around what you want to have appear there.  It occurs to me that this would be a great way to redefine zoning.  Rather than label an entire district with "commercial" or "residential", districts could be labeled based on the kinds of businesses you want in an area —and these micro-districts can be really quite tiny, a block or less.
   It's also a return to a medieval sensibility, though, where bakers and chandlers and smiths and apothecaries all clustered together in the same place in certain towns.  My own new hometown of Middletown, CT, sometimes refers to Broad Street as "Pill Row" because it's where all the Doctors' Offices used to be.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - 10:08 AM

Steve Mouzon

Thanks, Andrew! You bring up an interesting point about the uses. On the one hand, I'm a vigorous advocate for a mix of uses. But this organic form of place-making only encourages clustering; it doesn't rule things out. So Schiro's in Seven Points can have a guest house above, and a residence next door. And because the clusters of uses are tiny, it's not like a typical zoning district today, anyway. But New Urbanism really needs to acknowledge the value of some things (restaurants, etc.) clustering in places... without ruling things out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - 08:00 PM

Andrew Watt

   Well, multi-use residential/commercial is the way things ought to be in a high-density neighborhood... restaurants and shops at ground level, offices on the second floor, apartments on the third floor and above.  Buildings — as per ancient Roman law — shouldn't be taller than twice the width of the street, to make sure that light and air reach the people on the sidewalks.  Canopies and balconies should overhang the street, as well, to provide shade for pedestrians, if that's part of the vernacular.
   In Roman cities, the apartment blocks had central courtyards to provide light and air to the interior apartments. Green Roofs and Green Walls, perhaps a little too gadget-y for this blog, could make a real difference in such spaces.  But it would also lead to doctors and nurses living in the buildings where they worked, sometimes... maybe not enough of a distance.  Not sure.  Having restaurants and cafés in the neighborhood would be an attraction, though.

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