Tag Archives: Environment

REVIEW | Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism

dead_end_Benjamin_RossREVIEW | Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism | Benjamin Ross
Review by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

The first half of Benjamin Ross’ Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism (2014, Oxford University Press) is a majestic masterpiece of objective, clear, and concise diagnosis about the political, economic, and social origins of suburban sprawl in the United States with particular emphasis on the legal and regulatory pillars (restrictive covenants and exclusionary zoning ) perpetuating  suburban sprawl to this day. It is required reading for anyone interested in the seemingly intractable problems of suburban sprawl we face today in building a more sustainable future for our cities. Chapters 1-10 (first 138 pages) of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism warrants a five-star plus rating alone.

However, Ross’ book becomes more problematic with the transition from diagnosis to prescription, beginning with an abrupt change in tone in Chapter 11. This chapter titled “Backlash from the Right” is, in particular, so politically strident that it reads as if the staff of Harry Reid’s Senate office wrote the text (the political left’s favorite boogeymen, the Koch Brothers, are even mentioned); or perhaps, the text of this chapter sprouted wholesale like Athena from the “vast right wing conspiracy” imaginings of Hillary Clinton’s head. This is unfortunate. In the second half of the book, Ross starts to squander most – if not all – of the trust he earned with readers during the exemplary first half of the book. It is doubly unfortunate because: first, it is done solely in the service of political dogma as Ross unconvincingly attempts to co-opt Smart Growth as a wedge issue for the political left in the United States; and second, it unnecessarily alienates ‘natural’ allies on the conservative and libertarian right sympathetic to Ross’ arguments for strong cities and good urbanism.

In the process, Ross tends to ignore or paper over blatant contradictions littering the philosophy of the political left in the United States when it comes to cities. Of course, this is a common Baby Boomer leftist tactic of absolving their generation for the collective disaster they’ve helped to create over the last half-century by confusing ideology for argument (and hoping no one will notice there’s a difference). For example, if you want to see what the policies of the political left look like after three-quarters of a century of dominance, then look no further than East St. Louis, Illinois. What has happened to that once vibrant city is absolutely criminal; literally so since several state and city Democratic officials and staffers have been sent to jail for corruption for decades.

EastStL
Downtown Today in East St. Louis, Illinois.

During the second half of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, Ross also promotes the classic Smart Growth fallacy that public rail transit is the ‘magic bullet’ for reviving our cities. Indeed, public rail transit is important but too often Ross – like many others – comes across as unconsciously applying Harris and Ullman’s multi-nuclei model of city growth, which conveniently holds almost any function (in this case, rail stations/lines) can be randomly inserted almost anywhere in the fabric of a city without repercussions as long as land uses are ‘compatible.’ Of course, this is the ex post facto theoretical underpinning for the very ideas of Euclidean zoning and the common umbrella providing regulatory cover for all sorts of disastrous decisions in the name of “economic development.”

This is a potentially dangerous self-delusion shared by many in the Smart Growth movement. For example, what Ross attributes as the cause for the failure of some rail stations (lack of walkable, urban development around these stations due to the over-provision of space for ‘park and ride’ lots in catering to the automobile) is often really a symptom. The real disease is these stations were put in the wrong location in the first place due to local opposition, regulatory convenience, and/or political cowardice (i.e. that’s where the land was available). There is an inherent danger in approaching pubic rail transit as a cure-all panacea for the city’s problems. If our leaders, planners, and engineers take shortcuts in the planning, design, and locating of rail lines/stations, then we leave the fate of our cities to happenstance. It is far too important of an issue to approach in such a cavalier manner, as some Smart Growth advocates appear so inclined.

In a general sense, this is not really different from the arguments made in Dead End but, specifically, it is an important distinction that is glossed over or not properly understood when drilling down into the crucial details of Ross’ prescriptions. That being said, there are some interesting tidbits and ideas in the ‘prescription phase’ of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism. However, the reader has to be extremely careful about filtering out Ross’ political agenda from the more important morsels. For example, Ross correctly points out Americans’ disdain for buses is rooted in social status. However, he fails to point out – or perhaps even realize – that this peculiar American attitude is indoctrinated from childhood due to the expansive busing of kids to school in the United States (e.g.. only the poor and unpopular kids take the bus). In order to change this attitude, you have to radically change public education policies, something contrary to the invested interests of the political left. In fact, Ross has very little to say about schools, which seems like an odd oversight.

Too often, Ross’s prescription for building coalitions comes across as the same, old political activism of the counter-culture Baby Boomers that doesn’t really rise above the level of gathering everyone around the campfire and singing “Kumbaya, My Lord” (absent the “My Lord” part in the interests of political correctness). In the end, this suggests Ross has a well-grounded understanding about the historical, political and social impact of legal and regulatory instruments at work in our cities (exemplified by the first half of this book) but only a superficial idea about the design and function of cities and movement networks (including streets and rail) as witnessed by the lackluster second half, which is barely worth a two-star rating. Because of these strengths and weaknesses, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism is a four-star book in its entirety but you might be better served by reading the first half of the book, ignoring the second half, and having the courage to chart your own path in the fight for better cities.

four-stars-clear-background

dead_end_Benjamin_RossDead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism
by Benjamin Ross
Hardcover, English, 256 pages
New York: Oxford University Press (May 2, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0199360146
ISBN-13: 978-0199360147

Available for purchase from Amazon here.

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FROM THE VAULT | The Ideal Communist City

ideal-communist-city-v2“The physical planning of the new city reflects the harmony and integrated nature of its social structure. A unified planning approach assigns to each element a role in the formation of human environments.”
– The Ideal Communist City

FROM THE VAULT
The Ideal Communist City by Alexei Gutnov, A. Baburov, G. Djumenton, S. Kharitonova, I. Lezava, and S. Sadovskij (Moscow University), Translated by Renee Neu Watkins, Preface by Giancarlo de Carlo

First written during the 1950s and translated from Italian to English in 1968, The Ideal Communist City (1968) is very much a product of its time. This does not only mean the ideological struggles of the Cold War (Capitalism vs. Communism… SPOILER ALERT! Capitalism won). It also means the symbolic height of propagating and implementing the principles of Modernist architecture and planning around the world. The principles discussed in The Ideal Communist City are merely a reformulation, repackaging and, yes, redistribution of these same ideas found in the new towns model (referred to here as the “New Unit of Settlement or NUS”) of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of To-morrow, housing models of Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne (CIAM), and Harris and Ullman’s multi-nuclei theory in collusion with Euclidean zoning/modern transportation planning, which conveniently tells us almost any urban function can be randomly inserted almost anywhere in the city as long as ‘incompatible’ land uses are segregated.

New Unit of Settlement (NUS) diagram from The Ideal Communist City
New Unit of Settlement (NUS) diagram from The Ideal Communist City

Of course, the key difference is the authors’ explicitly state the failure of these ideas to “reach their full potential” in Western societies is due to the corrupting influence of capitalism as a political and economic system. This is a conceit that has been badly exposed with time. If anything, capitalism more ruthlessly exploited the economic potentials of Modern ideas by taking them to their logical and, ultimately, extreme conclusion; probably more so than even most devoted CIAM architect ever imagined. The real danger about The Ideal Communist City is that younger readers (Millennials and generations thereafter) without any first-hand experience of the Cold War might make the mistake of thinking they are reading something original and entirely different because it’s wearing Soviet-era clothing. However, it is the same, tired planning paradigm we have been hearing about and (unfortunately) living with over the last 80+ years. To be fair, another key difference in this book is the desire of Soviet-era planners to adopt a model that segregates land uses from one another while still actively promoting manufacturing, mass production, and industrialization. Younger readers might also think this represents a somewhat unique perspective from the point of view of architecture and planning. However, it is really only evidence of Soviet preoccupation – even obsession – with Western societies’ manufacturing prowess at the time. In this sense, Soviet failure to compete with the success of Western capitalistic societies contradicted the ‘means of production’ arguments underpinning Karl Marx and Frederick Engel’s The Communist Manifesto and Marx’s Das Capital; that is, direct evidence that communism was a flawed political and economic system based on totalitarianism masquerading as a false ideology

Having said all that, The Ideal Communist City is an important historical document that anyone interested in town planning should probably be exposed at some point, as long as the book is placed within its proper context for readers, especially post-Cold War ones. There are, in fact, relatively few flights of fancy in this book; the most amusing one being the common idea in science fiction that cities will eventually be covered by climate-controlled plastic domes (see Featured Image of this post at the top). The authors’ statistical projections of urban populations are way off, hilariously so. Early in the book, the authors project that 75% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by the year 2000 when it fact we only passed the 50% threshold in the last decade (due to the corrupting influence of capitalism, no doubt). The model of the NUS stretches believability despite the authors’ best – though somewhat halfhearted – efforts to address accommodating population growth during the transition period between one NUS being occupied and the next one being constructed. This is because these Soviet-era planners ultimately have a static view of the city. In hindsight, one might fairly argue the communist NUS model has already been better implemented and realized in cities such as Milton Keynes in England, the Pilot Plan of Brasilia in Brazil, or perhaps even some areas of America Suburbia, despite the problematic nature of such places as extensively discussed elsewhere in the literature. In the end, the Ideal Communist City is perhaps best at asking some interesting questions about cities but the answers provided are all too familiar and depressing to seriously contemplate. As Christopher Alexander famously said, “a city is not a tree.” It seems the same is as true for communist cities as it ever was for capitalistic ones. In the end, human nature is always more pervasive than any political ideology.

ideal-communist-cityThe Ideal Communist City by Alexei Gutnov, A. Baburov, G. Djumenton, S. Kharitonova, I. Lezava, and S. Sadovskij (Moscow University), Translated by Renee Neu Watkins, Preface by Giancarlo de Carlo
Hardback, 166 pages
1968, Boston: George Braziller, Inc.

You can download a PDF of the full book for free here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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Planning Naked | April 2016

Planning-2016-04-image33Planning Naked | April 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

1. What is this? An actual plan on the cover of Planning Magazine! Well, that is promising. However, it would be wise to not hold our breath. Some things in this issue should illicit anger.

2. The first 12 pages are advertisements. I guess it could be worse, see Cosmopolitan or GQ Magazine.

3. “Granny Flats Gaining Ground” by Brian Barth (pp. 16-17) is an important article. You can tell because the editors of Planning Magazine barely contain their disgust by using lukewarm, halting language, especially in comparison to the urgent, positive word choices in the “U.S. Broadband Lags Behind” article on pp. 17. The title of this article should probably be “Granny Flats Recover Stolen Ground.”

4. “‘CEQA in Reverse’ Curtailed” by Ron Bass in the Legal Lessons section (pp. 19) tries to downplay what could prove to be a truly monumental court ruling for future land development in California.

5. “Welcome to Black Rock City” by Dr. Thomas Sullivan (pp. 20-27) tries to conflate the annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada into something it is not by tying the festival layout to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of Tomorrow plan model (see images below). It doesn’t have anything to do with Howard’s Utopian ideals. The festival layout is based on an Ancient Greek amphitheater, which crystallizes what the Burning Man festival is really all about: theater. It doesn’t undercut what is interesting about people participating in the festival, how they conduct themselves or they are managed (they are, it’s buried in Sullivan’s text and reeks of the kind of authoritarianism associated with the political left, see political correctness, safe space, muting opposition, etc.). However, the reality of layout does ably illustrate the fallacy of Sullivan’s argument. Get real, man.

Planning-2016-04-image32

Planning-2016-04-image27

6. “Future Plans” by William Atkinson (pp. 28-31) is a disturbing. There is nothing wrong with the aspirations of the content, e.g. involving young people in the planning process. It is the utter condescension on display in the article. There is not one high school student quoted in the article. As far as I can tell, there is not one Millennial quoted in the article. This is Baby Boomers/GenXers talking about how they are involving youth in the planning process. How magnanimous of you! However, the article does not allow any young person to be heard. Any young person who happens to read the article should be angry. It made me angry. The message could not be clearer: young people are to be involved (check that off the list) but not actually listened to or allowed to be heard.

7. “Flipping the Strip” by Randall Arendt for the Planning Practice section (pp. 32-35) is, by far, the most important article in this month’s issue. Naturally, it is an editorial/layout nightmare as the editors of Planning Magazine almost seem to be going out of their way to undercut the content, which transforms a relatively straightforward, clear, and concise argument into a confusing presentation for the readers to follow. Mr. Arendt should be upset about how his content was butchered by the editors.

8. 2016 National Planning Awards section (pp. 37-48)… Well, let’s see: an award for a comprehensive plan, which is not shown; the most interesting thing shown about Resilient New Orleans is on the cover; photo for Grand Rapids Downtown Market appears to be architecture, not planning; an urban design award for a Landscape Urbanism project in Chicago; and a JAPA award for a climate change article. This entire section only raises a lot of questions about what is the American Planning Association really hiding from us? Then, depression set in…

9. “Use Story Mapping for Better Reports” by Emily Pasi in The Commissioner section (pp. 49-50) was published 20 years too late. “Infrastructure Planning” in Carolyn Thomas in the same section (pp. 51-52) was published 60 years too late.

10. “The ‘Gayborhood’ Solution?” by Cade Hobbick in the Viewpoint section (pp.  60) is a perfect example about how identity politics almost inevitably leads to the wrong conclusion, especially in urban planning. Read the article once as is, then read the article again but generalize the identity politics terminology (so “LGBTQ community” becomes ‘community’, “gayborhood” becomes ‘neighborhood’, “homeless LGBTQ youth” becomes ‘homeless youth’, etc.). This is pretty easy to do for the entire article except for the 7th paragraph, which is specifically about the AIDS crisis during the 1980s/1990s. When you do this, you’ll see Hobbick’s proposed solution (we need to build more community centers, i.e. a public, architectural solution) is not only wrong but he discounts the actual solution. If you generalize the language, then it comes down to this: we do need to build better neighborhoods; identity politics is irrelevant because common problems demand common solutions for everyone (see “Universal Design” in last month’s issue of Planning Magazine).

Note: this month’s cover photo honors the title of this running series, i.e. Planning Naked.

Planning Naked is an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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Planning Naked | March 2016

Planning-2016-03-14Planning Naked | March 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

  1. “Partnering for Success”, this month’s From the Desk of the APA’s Executive Director article by James M. Drinan (pp. 3), is (unintentionally) a perfect illustration of what has gone wrong in this country: it’s not what you know but who you know that matters and accomplishment is measured in terms of knowing who to know in order to profit instead of knowing what to do in order to solve decades of problems in our towns and cities. In the grudge match of ‘Insiders vs. Outsiders’ in today’s America, APA thinks firmly planting their flag in the Insiders camp is a virtue. It’s not: it’s a symptom.
  1. “Coming Soon: Lake Erie Wind Power” by Daniel McGraw (pp. 10) in the News section is interesting but leaves some questions unanswered or unmentioned such as the impact on shipping through the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway. Are northern, industrial cities along the Great Lakes completely abandoning any hopes of recovering industry associated with shipping? If so, why? If the project is viable without a Federal DOE grant, then the grant is irrelevant (i.e. it is corporate welfare for a Norwegian company). It seems like there are larger strategic issues underlying this story than a nominal press release for LEEDCo and Fred.Olsen Renewables.
  1. “Sagebrush Rebellion Redux” by Allen Best (pp. 12) brings up an interesting topic: Federal ownership of lands in the West. I don’t know enough about the particular issues in the Western United States to comment with any authority but I do think there is a more general, legitimate question at the center of the controversy: do we have the right model for ownership, management, and regulation of vast areas of public land for the 21st century? I don’t know the answer to that question but it seems important to better understand an answer and why. This seems further warranted by the Legal Lessons article, “Don’t Mess with Due Process” by Ilima Loomis (pp. 13) since it is beyond ridiculous that it should take 7+ years and counting to decide about permitting and constructing a scientific telescope (surely the design is close to technologically obsolete by this point).
  1. The articles composing this month’s cover (Substance, Role, Form) about comprehensive plans (pp. 14-31) are an editorial disaster. It reads as if the Planning Magazine editors wedged together more than a dozen articles by different authors by synthesizing them together under an awkward thematic umbrella that, in the end, was credited to half-a-dozen principal authors. That’s not to say there aren’t good, interesting items in here (there are) but it’s a chore to sort through the mess and the constant “take (insert ‘community name/plan’ here)” asides are irritating in the extreme. It’s like someone composed a checklist, which can be re-constructed based on these paragraph ‘take this example’ asides. Let me try to help the readers: pp. 14-19 is ‘buzzword’ fluff that reads like a committee of marketing agencies wrote it (ignore it unless you find yourself in need of action verbs); pp. 20-24 (to the first 2 paragraphs) is outstanding because it demonstrates the re-emergence of design (e.g. form-based codes, etc.) as the real driver of new approaches to comprehensive plans and, in typical APA fashion, the awkward structure is designed to subvert the real story in order to re-assert (or, perhaps, soften the blow to) traditional planning approaches in the post-war period; the rest of the content (pp. 24-31) is mostly more planning fluff and buzzwords except for isolated excerpts here and there about PlanLafayette.
  1. This month’s Planning Practice article “Design for Everybody” by Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright (pp. 32-39) is an insidiously great article that promotes humanistic design principles (i.e. not for the automobile) while cloaking the argument in the language of the left (and, by implication, APA) about addressing urban issues for special interest groups and socially vulnerable populations (e.g. universal design and accessibility for everyone “using simple approaches and thinking holistic”). This article speaks volumes more in 4 pages than the 9 pages (excluding the 2-page title spreads of each) devoted to the cover story.
  1. “Density is Land” by John H. Tibbets (pp. 40-43) is neither about land or density (not really) but yet another article about NIMBYism (“Not in My Backyard”) run amok. The fact is we’re going to be paying for the sins of the last 80 years for a very LONG time, especially in the Southeast.
  1. “Planning for Cities of Awe” by Timothy Bentley ((p. 46-47) is proof-positive that phenomenology (for good or ill) is not dead.
  1. The Planning Library reviews of five books this month are depressing.
  1. This month’s Viewpoint article, “The Displacement Factor” by Daniel Kay Hertz (pp. 52) does the unthinkable to the more-devout disciples of David Harvey and social justice by applying a common sense perspective to the issue of gentrification in cities. Finally, a voice of reason in the wilderness.

Planning Naked is a new series of observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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Planning Naked | February 2016

febplanningPlanning Naked | February 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

February must be the ‘clear the backlog’ month for the editors of Planning Magazine because this month’s issue is a strange mixture of useless fluff and wrong-headedness where the eternal bogeyman of the planning profession, e.g. ‘lower property values and higher crime,’ keeps making a spectral appearance in the articles, one way or another. This makes it extremely difficult to pull much of value out of this issue but we’ll try anyway.

  1. James M. Drinan’s “From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director” (pp. 3) editorial does not really say much of anything except “we’re re-launching the APA Foundation charity but we don’t know why.” Here’s an idea: provide some leadership. Student loan debt in the United States has reached record levels ($1.2 trillion dollars in 2015, according to USA Today) that threaten another financial cataclysm. Why doesn’t the neo-APA Foundation concentrate on meaningful and substantive scholarships for the college education of young planners? There, done, leadership. Sometimes, APA’s insistence on ‘navel gazing’ reaches ridiculous levels.
  1. “A Transportation Bill, At Last” by Jon Davis (pp. 8-9) is combines two things that a lot of planners love the most in this world: acronyms and money. Here’s the long and short of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act… oh, a cool acronym… that must mean it’s important because it’s fast!): for every $1 spent on the automobile (e.g. roads), the US Government is spending 0.24¢ on buses and 0.04¢ on passenger rail. It must be great to be a Washington lobbyist for the ‘automobile cartels’. To quote a song from the 1977 Disney film, Pete’s Dragon, it’s “money, money, money by the pound!” “He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.” – Benjamin Franklin
  1. The short bit (pp. 9) about Chicago investing $32 million in bus rapid transit for the Loop is a comedy of errors. Doesn’t Chicago already have one of the best passenger rail systems in the United States in ‘the L’, for which the Loop has already been well served for decades? What is the point of this investment other than to waste money? “Critics say so far it is falling short of the mark (BRT average speed is 3 miles per hour).” Well, of course. That money would have been better invested in ‘the L’..
  1. “Dog Parks on the Rise” (pp. 10) is an interesting piece. I have a dog and she’s part of my family, too. However, it also potentially plays into the planning profession’s ‘regular out’ to provide real solutions for urban problems by instead proposing a park instead because ‘who can object to a park?’ I can. Too often, Landscape Urbanism is code for political cowardice. Let the buyer beware.
  1. “Slight Change of Plans” by Rebecca Leonard and Joe Porter (pp. 12-19) is a dishonest piece. You know that any article that begins with “Here are a few names that will be familiar to planners: Jim Rouse, Bob Simon, George Mitchell, and Ben Carpenter” is setting up the reader for a fall. I am extremely well read in architecture, planning and urban design and I have never heard of any of them. It doesn’t anything say about me as a planner or reader. It says a great deal about Rouse, Simon, Mitchell and Carpenter and, by implication, this article. Here’s what you need to know. Unknown Person 1: Let’s not call it suburban sprawl. Let’s call it community development (code for Planned Unit Development, e.g. PUD). Unknown Person 2: Then we can’t call it sprawl repair. Let’s call it things such as “work in progress”, “change”, and “shift.” I find it hard to believe Leonard and Porter actually wrote the article this way (as I recall, previous articles from Design Workshop were more intellectually honest). I suspect the editors of Planning Magazine have interjected themselves into this article. See the aerial and street view of Columbia, Maryland below. Behold the sprawl and beautiful parking lots!

ColumbiaMDColumbia

  1. “Planning and the Presidency” by Elizabeth Wood (pp. 24-28) is a ridiculous piece of nonsensical fluff with a pro-Hillary Clinton message deeply buried within the article. Planning Magazine actually printed Wood’s notes about the menu at different events! Are you kidding me? There is actually an interesting anecdote in Wood’s article about how Donald Trump deftly handled an angry voter at one of his events, which is informative. Otherwise, this article has very little to say about the presidential candidates because Wood is asking the wrong questions (‘Are you willing to put a planner in a cabinet seat?’) based on the wrong premise (top-down solutions).
  1. “Could You BnB My Neighbor?” by Jeffrey Goodman (pp. 29-33) is worth the read as long as the reader does not swallow wholesale Goodman’s argument about the sharing economy. Here are the key words and phrases of Goodman’s article. “Home owners have taken in lodgers since the first settlement of cities.” This is the absolute, most important point about AirBnb and others in the sharing economy. It is normal. “Where does AirBnB pay its share?” Now we get to the real crux about what is really going on: namely, a money grab by local governments to secure more tax revenues and steal more money out of people’s pockets. Personally, I know several people whose homes were saved from foreclosure by the banks because of AirBnb and the sharing economy. And, as we all know, it is the government (through FreddieMac and FannieMae) who is really standing behind these banks because they are in (and lining) their pockets. The raising of the eternal bogeyman of NIMBYism in lower property values and higher crime only makes more transparent the self-serving arguments of those opposed to the sharing economy. Let’s fight for the normal, not the abnormal created in 1926 by the U.S Supreme Court.
  1. “Tiny House: Niche or Noteworthy?” by Anne Wyatt (pp. 39-42) is probably the best article in this month’s issue though the attempt to take a ‘neutral’ stance about tiny houses is strange (again, I suspect the editors for adding the question mark in the article title). The tiny house movement is one of the most important things happening in the United States today and, ultimately, this fact shines through in Wyatt’s article. As Wyatt says, “The tiny house movement offers opportunity for planners to look at some the planning assumptions.” Lots of planners don’t like to re-examine their assumptions because they know they’ll end up making an ass out of you and me (‘assume’), so to speak. Yeah, so let’s keep putting 650 square foot homes on a minimum 1/4 acre lot. OMG! Density lowers property values and increases crime!

Homepg village final

  1. “Zoning with Stipulations” in The Commissioner by Margaret Wilson and Tom Awai (pp. 48-49) overlooks the main point about zoning stipulations. It is the concept of zoning itself that is fundamentally flawed so you have to have stipulations for legal and practical reasons to compensate for that flaw. Teaching commissioners about zoning stipulations is like placing a Band-Aid over an open wound. Perhaps planners should think about healing the wounds that zoning has open up all over our urban landscapes in the post-war period? Just a thought…
  1. “Contribution of Urban Design Qualities to Pedestrian Activity” by Reid Ewing (pp. 50-51) is both interesting and disappointing, especially given the quality of Ewing’s previous articles in Planning Magazine. While I have no doubt there is a beneficial effect of transparency (e.g. windows) at street level for urban design and pedestrian activity (see Jacobs’ “eyes on the street” or why traditional street-based retail land uses have windows), it is seriously doubtful that the relationship is direct and causal, as Ewing’s article indicates. By his own admission, Ewing’s study did not account for the most important component, i.e. linkages. In fact, I suspect there is either: 1) a lot more to Ewing’s study than he is telling us; and/or, 2) his findings are a statistical artifact of this more important component, i.e. the urban street network itself.

Planning Naked is an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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