The Best Streets

Victor Dover, in an interview with Project for Public Spaces discusses what makes streets great:

The streets that gave off the best impressions often the ones that had a simple line of the same tree species down the side or center. The most comfortable streets were the narrower streets: small blocks, small streets, grids and webs. A richer network makes for better individual streets, because traffic is dispersed and no one street has to be designed to carry the whole load. That’s not to say that we can’t have wonderful big streets, but whenever possible a narrow street seems to be a positive solution.


The Camera You Have With You

Marco Arment, writing on his personal blog, has a post posing the universal dilemma in photography: convenience or quality.

Like many of the people likely to be reading this, I bought a digital SLR a few years ago and developed a photography hobby. Then, also like many of you, my iPhone’s camera slowly took over my casual photography needs, and I stopped bringing the big SLR with me most of the time. The iPhone camera was good enough for most uses.

But now, with his new retina MacBook Pro, the trade off is clear:

Almost nothing I’ve shot since 2010 is usable.

I, like Marco, value quality first and try to use my dSLR as much as possible (although I don’t have quite the caliber equipment Marco has).


The Exciting World of Building Science - Wood Framing Edition

Gregory La Verdara, writing for his blog, has a fascinating post about insulation:

If you are interested in green building, or call yourself a green building expert, then you should know about Mineral Wool insulation. If you have not seen Mineral Wool handled and installed, then you need to read this. If you think that Mineral Wool batts are similar enough to Fiberglass batts that you already know what you need to know about it, then you are a fool. And you still need to read this.

In a related post he explores alternative wall framing techniques based on Swedish construction practices that is equally interesting:

So the USA New Wall is really a series of wall designs, each incrementally better performing. A Good, Better, Best paradigm which can allow a builder to slowly test the waters of better performance. Granted, your navel gazing building scientist and LEED consultant may be able to come up with a better performing wall, but I can almost guarantee it will give your status quo builder fits. This is not about the ultimate wall, its about laying a path to better performance.

Sometimes building science seems to be left out in the profession so it’s great to see someone trying to push our standard construction practices towards better performing yet still practical solutions.


Cooking up some (Classical) Architecture

Francis Terry, speaking for a TEDx session at the London Business School has an interesting take on where architecture should fall in the spectrum of the arts:

I think that one of the problems with architecture is that it is very closely aligned to painting and sculpture where being cutting edge and new is how you make your name. But I think that architecture should more correctly be associated with cooking, which is a domestic art, and when you cook you follow a recipe and a recipe is just a form of copying. And no one would deny the amount of creativity you need when you cook because you have to interpret recipes…

I have also felt that architecture is too often considered an avant garde art with overwhelming emphasis placed on originality and individual creativity. Architecture, particularly in urban contexts, is a vital part of a civic infrastructure and is therefore very public in nature. In addition, architecture is very permanent in nature which doesn’t respond well to the fleeting whims of an avant garde art. Mr. Terry is correct, architecture is more appropriately a domestic art whereby domestic means public. The thousands of years of collective wisdom ought to be applied to architectural design as they are in the culinary arts. There is certainly room for interpretation, innovation, and creativity, but that should be progress in advancing the art rather than contrary to everything that has come before.

The talk also featured George Saumerez Smith and overall was a great discussion about the continued relevance of classical architecture today.

via arcilook and Christine Franck


Turning Parking Lots into Villages

Phil LaCombe, writing for Small Streets, had a great post awhile back about what a parking lot would look like of turned into a village:

If we built a small streets village next to transit station, then we’d have a whole village of people who could use transit for all of their trips longer than a walk or bicycle ride away.

I love these posts that overlay existing great urban places on the aerial image of sprawl. It really gives you a sense of the absurd scale we build at these days.


Homeownership and Prosperity

Richard Florida, writing for The Atlantic Cities, poses the question of homeownership correlated to economic health:

The economic growth and development of cities and regions is generally thought to be driven by three key factors: innovation, human capital, and productivity. Homeownership, it turns out, is not related to any of them.

It’s fascinating how despite the conventional wisdom, homeownership really isn’t linked to more prosperity regionally. Also, I was interested in the statistic that from 1890–1990 the rate of return after inflation for real estate was 0.


Humanity: Captured

Oded Wagenstein, for Digital Photography School:

Know that moment when you meet a person, either in your country or while travelling, a person with an extremely interesting face, who you want to capture in an image? But then, a moment before you click the shutter, questions emerges:

How should I take pictures of a stranger, especially in foreign country?

I know that question well and he continues with some great tips for capturing the humanity of people in photographs.


Smart Growth for Conservatives

James Bacon, writing for Bacon’s Rebellion, has a great post making the conservative case for smart growth.

There is nothing intrinsically liberal or conservative about the idea of creating more efficient human settlement patterns that expand the range of housing and transportation options while reducing the cost of government. Rather than getting stuck defending an indefensible status quo, conservatives need to articulate their own vision in a manner consistent with conservative principles.

Good urban design makes sense regardless of your perspective. We need to get past the partisan hang ups and address the issues sprawl creates. There may be different methods and strategies employed, but I think we can get to solutions from both sides of the problem. Good urban design is for everyone!

Further down, he summarizes the conservative analysis of the state of real estate:

In summary, real estate and the transportation sector that serves it is one of the most heavily regulated and subsidized sectors of the American economy. Only health care, education and defense can compete in the degree to which government intrudes. Not surprisingly, like those sectors, real estate is among the most dysfunctional sectors of the American economy.

I recommend the entire article for its insightful analysis of the problems with the current system and strategies for addressing those issues - all from the conservative point of view.


Break our Addiction to Parking Lots

Steven Snell, writing for the Calgary Herald, looks at our addiction to parking lots. He starts out well by enumerating the negative consequences of our addiction to parking lots:

There are three non-residential parking stalls for every car in America. This has a major impact on the health of cities, though all parking lots are not equal, of course. A few stalls tucked behind a store away from a street have little impact on the quality of the city. Large swaths of asphalt, typically associated with “big box” stores and “power centres,” have numerous detriments. Their impermeable surfaces require major infrastructure to control storm water, which has a corollary impact on watershed health. Their surface absorbs ultraviolet heat creating pockets of hot microclimates which affect human and ecological health. Through inefficient land use they discourage walking and cycling and are a component in urban sprawl. They are enabling infrastructure for a single mode of transportation, which has consequences for the overall design and operation of a city.

I think he goes on a tangent here though:

What’s the next step in orienting our cities around people instead of the automobile and how might we mitigate the negative aspects of surface parking lots? A first step could be to move away from the provision of single use infrastructure – surfaces for parking – and opening them up to other intents. They could be roofed with solar panels or vegetation. During off peak hours they could be turned into a bazaar, plazas or spaces for community organizations. They could slowly be removed and replaced by additional commercial and residential units when alternate modes of transportation – and city planning – are put in place. These, however, are largely discouraged, if not made illegal by many land-use bylaws that often have parking minimums based on travel demand assumptions that are designed to theoretically alleviate parking on public streets.

These strategies sound nice but they remind me of the saying “putting lipstick on a pig”. We need a fundamental shift in how we treat cars. The first sentence above was going in the right direction with its emphasis on making cities for people rather than for cars. This is a comprehensive issue - putting solar panels over a parking lot won’t make our cities any more human. In fact, doing so might make them seem less hospitable and more alien.

I’m not saying those aren’t good ideas. I am saying that we need to do more than just dress up or give another use to our flawed infrastructure. We live in a system that was created for the good of the automobile and we need to fundamentally realign the system to be for the good of the person. Only then can we truly solve our parking lot problem.


The Killer Commute

College@Home has a great infographic about the perils of commuting.

via UrbanCincy

Killer Commute
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