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.
Note from Steve: I’ve had a long-running neighborhood structure discussion with Chip Kaufman that stretches back for years, but it has been far too spotty to date due to time limitations. I posted a few months ago asking Where’s the Edge of the Neighborhood? Chip offered this essay in response. I have high hopes that we might actually resolve this question in what I hope becomes a running series of posts here on this issue. Also please note: the diagrams are Chip’s, whereas the photograph (from a commercial centre of Islington in London) is mine… and I have lightly edited his essay for its current setting in a blog versus its original setting in a book.
A difference of understanding among New Urbanist practitioners about town and neighbourhood structuring risks dysfunctional urban structures on the ground for some New Urbanist projects, and this problem urgently needs to be resolved. New Urbanism is structured around the walkable neighbourhood. It is imperative that we address the challenges of achieving viable neighbourhood centres. A resolution is needed.
In my view, the urban structuring problem is currently manifesting itself in certain designs for ‘neighbourhoods’ without feasible centres, and oversized and/or badly structured towns. Such structuring needlessly limits walkability, public transport, local jobs and social interaction. The following will explain urban structuring at the scales of towns and neighbourhoods.
Urban centres have always capitalised on custom by locating at intersecting trade routes. This applies to all urban centres, including smaller neighbourhood centres. However, mid to late twentieth-century sprawl road network planning concentrated vehicular traffic into oversized and too widely-spaced trunk roads instead of providing for more dispersed, smaller-scale and direct street networks.
This relatively coarse movement network planning has spawned oversized shopping centres at oversized intersections, capitalising on oversized and more car-dependent shopping catchments. Neighbourhood centres within these oversized catchments, deprived of custom by an overly coarse movement network that bypasses them, will wither and never be able to deliver the vibrant social and commercial interaction that the local community and economy deserves. In our experience, such urban structuring problems come from an insufficient understanding of the ‘Movement Economy’.
‘Movement Economy’ is a term coined to describe the relationship between an urban centre and the combination of its location within its catchment, and how well the street network ‘feeds’ that centre. A beneficial Movement Economy will optimise the position of its centre between being central to its walkable catchment, and locating the centre to maximise ‘capture’ of custom flowing through it daily, en route to and from a larger destination such as a city centre. Structure planning that isolates community or neighbourhood centres away from the Movement Economy will deny such centres of crucial commerce (as well as public transport), which should
also bring people to such centres.
Any informed observer of sprawl and/or post-war English new towns will recognise this systemic planning error, where neighbourhood centres were systematically isolated from the Movement Economy. Those centres continue to struggle because their community facilities alone cannot attract enough custom or activity. Community and Commerce are compatible and interdependent, as they always have been. Urban structuring can and should combine the two, to their mutual benefit.
We should not be perpetrating English new town or sprawl problems in Australian New Urbanism. As with English new towns, the town and neighbourhood structuring in certain plans separates the neighbourhood centres from the Movement Economy. On the other hand, urban structuring, whose Movement Economy feeds all centres including neighbourhood centres, will optimise their sustainability.
The following diagrams clarify the assertions of this essay. The circles indicate walkable neighbourhood catchments, with radii from their centres of about 400m, which is generally about a five-minute walk. The finer-grained street networks are not shown, but neighbourhood connectors and the arterial network are. Diagrams 1A and 1B show how a neighbourhood centre can be fed by or deprived of the Movement Economy.
Diagram 1A shows a neighbourhood centre fed by the Movement Economy and bus transport via ‘Neighbourhood Connectors’, which can usually be just two-lane streets when the regional movement network has a filigree of such connectors spaced at about 800m and passing through each neighbourhood centre. In this context, and with at least 800 dwellings, most neighbourhood centres should support the synergistic co-location of a corner store/café/deli, childcare centre, bus stop, and possibly other small businesses and home-based businesses.
Diagram 1B shows a neighbourhood centre deprived of the Movement Economy and with little hope of a bus passing through its centre, because bus routes generally follow the larger movement network that links major destinations most directly. All that these deprived “neighbourhood centres” can hope for is a small park and maybe a community centre of some sort, which is likely to struggle for users because most users are out on the main movement network heading to other important destinations. This is not, in our view, really a neighbourhood centre, within the principles and objectives of the New Urbanism.
Diagrams 2A and 2B show neighbourhoods clustering to form towns, the first with a more viable structure, size and Movement Economy than the second. Diagram 2A shows a town centre that is its own walkable catchment with a 400m-long main street, which has eight neighbourhoods clustering around it to form a town. At 15 dwellings per gross hectare, this catchment can support about 18,000 people, which is generally enough population to support two competing supermarkets and a wide range of businesses and community facilities at its town centre. Of course, when applied to real sites, such a diagram needs to adjust to fit its context.
Diagram 2B shows a town and neighbourhood diagram promoted for two decades by Duany & Plater-Zyberk in Miami and its followers. Its four neighbourhoods are separated from the main Movement Economy, which passes between them to serve the town centre. But this town centre, with its stronger attractions, creates its own de facto walkable catchment, and thus starves the neighbourhood centres located about 500m from the town centre, of custom and purpose. At 15 dwellings per gross hectare, this may support a population of only 8,000 people, which may barely support a small supermarket centre, plus relatively limited businesses and community facilities because of its smaller catchment.
Such a small town centre has little chance of competing against the larger usually stand-alone single-use regional shopping centres, which have proliferated across much of Australia and the Western World. Diagram 2A has a much better chance of competing against stand-alone regional shopping centres, because with its larger population it can offer a wider shopping choice, co-located with other business and community destinations.
The plan for the Western Sydney Urban Land Release, the Public Transport Plan for the Leneva Valley (Wodonga), and the plan for West Dapto all show how these towns will occupy and serve their own catchments, complementary with and efficiently feeding public transport into the single regional centre or city centre. Located to optimise the regional Movement Economy, the regional centre or city centre is the same structure as Diagram 2A, but it has more population density and a higher concentration of higher level services, jobs, government and culture.
Diagram 2B has further structural shortcomings in my view. It is impossible for a bus route efficiently to serve both the neighbourhood centres and the town centre, without a very circuitous route. The urban structuring of Diagram 2B needlessly cripples both its neighbourhoods and its smaller town centre, in comparison to Diagram 2A.
On the other hand, the neighbourhood centres in Diagram 2A are at least 800m from its town centre, and they are fed by the Movement Economy and public transport, meaning they will be more viable economically, and thereby also better for community interaction.
Diagram 3 shows an overly large grouping of over 20 neighbourhoods, with one very large town centre with a population at 15 dwellings per hectare of 40,000 or more. Large supermarkets, discount department stores, bulky goods and other car-based retail will jump at the chance to locate in that town centre, exactly because it is has a very large and cardependent catchment. Of course, the downside of this model is that all the neighbourhoods outside the inner ring around the
town centre are doomed to travel a needlessly greater distance to reach daily needs and jobs. Plus most public transport will be travelling along the main movement network, which bypasses and deprives all these neighbourhood centres of custom and resultant viability.
It is important to tune the movement network to disperse traffic (custom) to feed neighbourhood centres, town centres, regional centres and city centres. To help ensure economic viability for neighbourhood centres, each neighbourhood connector should carry from 3-5,000vpd and the movement network should at least accommodate public bus transport from commencement of development. This volume of vehicular traffic can quite feasibly deliver high pedestrian/cyclist amenity and safety.
To deny this traffic volume from the neighbourhood centres is to deny their economic viability, and in turn will needlessly force too much traffic onto larger arterials, increasing vehicle kilometres travelled, car dependence and retail gigantism. Well-tuned slow-speed traffic dispersion through the neighbourhood centres will also reduce the prevalence of giant intersections in coarse movement networks, and the resultant need for such measures as dual couplets to accommodate the needlessly high traffic volumes.
The three diagrams above, provided courtesy of Peter Richards of Deicke Richards in Brisbane, document the existing urban structure of Inner Brisbane, which demonstrates the urban structuring advocated here. This part of Inner Brisbane has withstood the test of time and will continue to flourish because its urban structure feeds all centres with good Movement Economy.
Hopefully this will clarify what the ‘neighbourhood’ circles on plans in this book should mean, and the need for continued debate on this issue, which is so pivotal to urban sustainability. Australian New Urbanism needs to and can structure the complete hierarchy of vibrant and complementary urban centres, including neighbourhood, town, regional and city centres.
There's a thorny question that preservation and sustainability must answer if they hope to make it to the altar for the marriage of these two ideas that should be considered one. Here’s the question: When is a tear-down a more sustainable choice than preserving a building?
On the one hand, how can we sustain things if we can't preserve them? Things we don't tear down are inherently more sustainable than what gets demolished because the carbon footprint of a building is meaningless once its parts have been carted off to the landfill.
We have, unfortunately, built some of the most unsustainable places and buildings in human history over the past century, which is not entirely surprising because it was during this time that we have experienced the greatest energy glut humanity has ever known. Le Corbusier famously encapsulated the ethos of this era: "I shall live 30 miles from my office in one direction, under a pine tree; my secretary will live 30 miles away from it too, in the other direction, under another pine tree. We shall both have our own car. We shall use up tires, wear out road surfaces and gears, consume oil and gasoline." Our buildings followed suit, because we expected electricity to eventually become too cheap to meter.
So now energy hogs are scattered all across the American landscape. We've tried to retrofit them over the years, but the best we can do in most cases is invest in better gizmos. Perhaps the rise of Gizmo Green should come as no suprise.
So what should we do? Anyone familiar with this blog knows that it's essential to build sustainable places before it's meaningful to talk about green buildings within them. And while sprawl is cancer of the city, it is possible to recover from sprawl, transforming even the most egregious subdivisions and strip malls into sustainable places over time. If a place is already sustainble or is committed to achieving sustainability through sprawl recovery, then the question of where to live boils down to these:
The most sustainable thing is to fall in love with an existing home in a thriving neighborhood with lots of workplaces and shops nearby so that your web of daily life is mostly or even entirely within walking distance. This is usually the simplest choice; sometimes you can find a home that's a good enough fit that you can move right in with little more than a coat of paint.
The next-best choice is to find a vacant lot in that same thriving neighborhood. Such lots usually have a street in front and maybe an alley in back, as well as water, sewer, electricity, and other utilities already installed… so your home won't require new infrastructure to be installed.
Those two were easy… now on to the tougher ones. What if you can’t find an existing home or a vacant lot that works for you? Thriving neighborhoods with lots of shops and workplaces and filled with lovable homes are usually quite expensive, so maybe you simply can’t afford to buy or build there. If not, three not-so-easy choices remain: buy a house in an unsustainable place or build a house either where nothing has been built before (a greenfield) or where something has been built before (a tear-down).
If you buy a house in an unsustainable place like a 20th-century subdivision, you need to be committed to being the neighborhood activist that assures that your subdivision enacts a vigorous Sprawl Recovery program. Building where nothing has been built before means new infrastructure is being installed for your building and you are likely building further from existing services. Many argue that this is the worst choice, and I agree… if the developer isn’t committed to building a place with high Walk Appeal that is compact and has a mix of uses to which you can walk to your daily needs. That leaves us with tear-downs, and the virtue of a tear-down depends largely on what is being torn down.
The best tear-down candidates were built during the "Dark Ages of Architecture," which is the half-century between 1930 and 1980 when the wisdom of designing sustainably and building well had been lost… and the years since have only seen a slow recovery, so we're not so far ahead of 1980 as I would like. Here are some indicators of houses that were never built to last:
• 8’ Ceilings: This is an idea imported from the cold Northeast where it made perfect sense to the deep South where its implementation has wretched consequences… and is almost impossible to fix. It also vertically compresses the proportions of most architecture, making it less lovable.
• 2x4 Exterior Walls: Unless you’re in the southernmost reaches of the US, 2x4 exterior walls don’t allow for enough insulation.
• Slab on Grade: A house built close to the ground can’t be far enough from the street that people feel comfortable sitting on the porch, which is a huge indicator of an unwalkable place. It’s also far more susceptible to flooding than a house that is properly raised. One more thing… slab-on-grade houses are typically some of the most unlovable houses you can find, because those building cheap and fast in the post-WWII decades didn’t care much about the lovability of their products.
• Brick Veneer: This is a construction technique that uses a thousand-year material in a 50-year configuration. Let the steel lintels go without painting for just a few years so that they rust, and you've got to rip it all off.
• Drywall: As we discussed last year, drywall only works so long as you keep it dry so you can’t afford to open your windows to catch a summer breeze because a summer shower may pop up, and a bit of rain through the window will turn your drywall into a mucky, moldy, mildewy mess.
The modern preservation movement began with the destruction of Penn Station, a lovable building designed to last centuries that was replaced by the wretchedly unlovable Madison Square Garden. It was easy for millions to get behind such a movement. But many in the preservation movement now support preserving buildings that are not lovable, durable, adaptable, or frugal… and are therefore unsustainable. I hope the movement has not lost its way.
The top-down part of saving a building by making it make financial sense to a developer is the hard work, but building a bottom-up cause that creates a market for that building can actually be a lot of fun. The first creates supply; the second builds demand. I've covered the know-why and the know-how of most of these techniques in great detail in New Media for Designers + Builders, which I believe you'll find helpful.
The most important point of building a cause aimed at saving a building today is to turn neighbors into advocates for the businesses that may soon occupy that building. People may like the idea of historic preservation in theory, but they love the idea of a coffee shop just down the block. They'll nod their heads in agreement if you talk about saving our architectural heritage, but they'll get out and ring doorbells to stir up conversations with their neighbors if you're talking about bringing in businesses that will make their lives easier and more interesting… especially if they can just walk around the corner to those businesses rather than having to get in their cars and drive somewhere. You don't just want people to agree with you; you want them to go out and change things. Here are the objectives of building a cause, and the tools for getting it done:
Nothing helps sway a potential shopkeeper's decision to open a store like a groundswell of future customers. You need to find ways for the neighbors to show what they want and how many of them want it. Look at the storefronts below the "Welcome to Shock" sign. OK, that's actually the "Welcome to Shockoe Bottom" sign, but in any case, the signs and the storefronts below are all painted on the flat side wall of a building facing the parking lot. One cool way to illustrate demand is to paint the storefronts on the building, then paint the glass of the storefronts with chalkboard paint. At the top of each "window" paint "Here's what I'd like to see here:" and then paint blank lines below, and leave a lot of chalk. People will tell you what they want. In the case of the Tennessee Brewery we just talked about, the architecture is there already and doesn't need to be painted. Just paint on the boarded-up windows and storefronts… that's all the people will need.
People are more likely to talk about the businesses they'd like to see in the building you're saving if you get them together in the same place. And when you do, they'll think of other ways of supporting the cause that we can't even conceive of right now. Some part of the building or its outdoor space should likely serve as a physical gathering place for the community you're creating… someday. But you need to create the community now, and the easiest and quickest ways to do that are online. Advocates for the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati are doing an excellent job of building community not just for one building, but for their entire historic district. You should study them. They use many of the tools that follow… and you should consider using several of them as well. People that are on Twitter don't necessarily spend a lot of time on Facebook and vice versa, for example. So cover your bases by using several (or all) of these tools:
Open your Twitter account today. Allow your most passionate advocates to post there. And encourage others to open similar Twitter streams as well, or to tweet about the building on their existing streams. Here's one of several that support Over-the-Rhine, for example.
Start a Facebook group next. It's a great way to get a group of neighbors talking and working together quickly. Be sure to post links to all the stuff below as you start generating content on your other nodes.
Instagram is the most social image site… by far. So open an account for the building and start posting beautiful images of the building, even if it's in a dilapidated state… that can be romantic. And whenever you're around places that have been restored and repurposed, shoot them and say "here's what we could have at the Tennessee Brewery" or whatever.
Start a YouTube channel for the building. If you're lucky, there may already be great stuff up on YouTube like this excellent segment on the Tennessee Brewery. You can easily link to existing videos, and then do some of your own as well. It doesn't have to be nearly as professional as this video, but it does need passion… which comes in many flavors.
Any serious effort to save something good really should have a blog, which is the keystone of most New Media ecosystems. Let several of your most passionate advocates blog there. You don't have to start with the blog, but consider adding it soon. The Alton Road blog is a great example.
Expand your blog with supporting pages. I'd strongly suggest pages for three groups: developers interested in buying the building, business owners interested in locating there, and customers or clients interested in doing business there. Consider these your "matchmaker pages"… or "online dating for historic buildings."
Once the idea picks up steam and someone offers to spend a little money to support it, consider printing Idea Cards that tell people in a few words why you're so passionate about the building and then direct them to other parts of your New Media ecosystem.
Life After the Building is Saved
If you save the building, you probably won't just close up most of these New Media assets. Instead, you'll likely find that they have become digital cornerstones of a community of people that are now neighbors, not just co-habitators of a certain part of town. Because of this, many of these things may live on for years, doing cool stuff for you and your neighbors that you can't even anticipate today.
Here's the link to the book I mentioned earlier. It describes how to do all of these things in detail, assuming that you're starting as a complete beginner. And it does some other cool stuff as well, like putting ⅔ of the content on the web so that the only stuff in the book is what everyone needs and you don't have to slog through a lot of stuff you don't need. But this post isn't primarily about selling books… it's about saving buildings. So get out there and get started today!
What do you think? What have I missed? What other great strategies and techniques have you heard of that I haven't included here?
So many great and well-loved buildings are lost in our cities and towns each day… is there anything citizens can do to help preserve them? Yes, and the toolbox is growing. But there are some ground rules that are different than they were a decade ago. Here's what you should be doing if you hope to save buildings like the Tennessee Brewery in Memphis (picture above; gorgeous shots in this short YouTube video) which could be slated for demolition within 30-60 days. So I probably don't need to tell you that you should get started today.
Don't waste your time on a 1960s-era cause… you know, petitions, standing in front of the bulldozers, and stuff like that. Those tactics might have once worked (and in a very few places) but if you want to make stuff work today, you need to realize that you don't own the property… and someone else does. And they'll likely prevail if you try to fight them. You might prevent them from building a particular project where the historic building now stands, but you won't keep them from tearing it down. So do something strange… go make friends with them. Today. Let them know that you're assembling a cause, the end result of which is to help them sell the building, not demolish it… and for a price they're good with… maybe even their asking price. If you make friends, you might just buy a little more time to do the steps that follow.
If someone other than an angel investor (and there are relatively few of them) is going to buy the building, it's got to make economic sense for them, and in the early years, not a decade or more down the road. So show them how they can do it. Do something audacious, like Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and their old Arquitectonica partners did to jump-start their careers in the 1970s. In their case, they picked properties on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, did schematic designs and pro formas (the financial designs that make the buildings feasible), then sat in the offices of people like Donald Trump (if I have my story right) until they would listen… and when they saw the designs and the pro formas, they hired them to do the final designs.
You can do a similar thing: figure out what to do with the building, then assemble photos of similar places that are thriving to paint the picture… you don't even need drawings. And do the pro forma. Then get it out there to select developers who have demonstrated an ability to do similar stuff, and who are committed to preservation and re-use.
Walking the Talk
I'm demonstrating really quick-and-dirty how to do this with this post. All images after the first one were shot in Shockoe Bottom, a gritty neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks in Richmond that has been boot-strapping its way up on mostly tiny budgets... like the Tennessee Brewery could do. The buildings aren't the same style or type, but the ideas work the same ways. Obviously, with enough money almost anything is possible, but not everybody has enough money… and you need to assume your developers might not.
So here's my seat-of-my-pants outline for a pro forma… not the actual numbers, but the direction I'd take it. This old sales page from 5 months ago indicates they were asking $1.2 million for the 65,000 square foot building that sits on just less than one acre. That's $18.46/square foot. If someone gave you the land for free and you built a pre-engineered metal building for warehouse space, you couldn't build it cheaper than that in most places. And yes, I know that the tax assessor has the value listed a lot lower… but do you think your chances would be better with the owner bringing them a deal at the assessor's value or at their asking price?
If you look at Google Maps street view images of the area, you'll see that there are lots of new homes around, and also residential lofts and co-working space. In short, a lot of customers. What I can't find in close walking distance are any merchants. Most people today would love to have a coffee shop they could walk to, or a neighborhood grocery, or another third place of some sort. So I'd do a pro forma that allotted the front 30' or so (the first structural bay, whatever that is) for shops.
And for right now, I'd figure the rest of the building as mini-storage. Yes, mini-storage. Everyone can use storage, and it's a low-cost, low-impact use (no electricity or plumbing) that can be put in quickly and taken out incrementally over time as people begin to want work spaces in the building… which likely will happen as the co-working space across the street begins to fill up. As a matter of fact, this would be a good place for the new businesses to decant to once they've outgrown co-working.
Eventually, the first floor will likely all be eateries, drinking establishment, and shops and the upper levels all studios and other creative work spaces… and the path to doing that is so direct, in this case… if the building can be saved from imminent demolition. To do that, do what works today. And if mini-storage works in pre-engineered metal buildings, it would certainly work in a building that's cheaper than that… like the Tennessee Brewery. So forget the film studios, the high-priced condos, and the like, some of which require millions in up-front improvements that simply aren't there today. Do the no-brainer that works today to save the building, then let it unfold and blossom into the great neighborhood center building it will someday be.
The Other Side
That's the first half… the top-down part. But there's an entire bottom-up part I'll talk about in the next post. Just wanted to get this one out there now, to get the conversation started. Here's the second post.
"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?
The Lean Council of the CNU took place over the weekend of October 12-13, 2013 in Detroit. These are the first day's proceedings. Text <like this> is my commentary.
• Rip Rapson leads off the morning telling a fascinating story of private-sector-funded transit system being built in Detroit.
• <I still say that the broad understanding of "buron" will be "bureaucratic moron.">
• Rip: There has always been great vibrancy in the Detroit cultural scene.
• Rip: The Kresge foundation can't run all the things we're starting in the long run; our role is to get them going.
• Rip: Philanthropy serves well as a table-setter. Philanthropy can also serve as the seller of a great project.
• Rip: 30 people don't change the world.
• <They may not finish the job, but they can certainly start it!>
• Rip: Arts & culture are crying out for Lean! Opportunities are endless.
• Rip: Maker spaces thrive in a Lean environment. We need more of them!
• Rip: 1. Nestle Lean with intensely local community. 2. Integrate the arts. 3. Adapt our physical heritage. 4. Leverage creative potential that's already there. 5. Recover natural resources. 6. Adapt to climate change. 8. Acknowledge interdependence of urban systems. <I missed Rip's #7. Did anyone else get it? If so, please leave a comment below.>
• Anonymous: The Health Department is Killing Me!!
• <Scale is the best determinant of Lean. Where mega-projects are impossible, single-crew workplaces can still thrive.>
• <Lean is what people do when they realize that help definitely is not on the way!>
• Hank Dittmar: Millennials, immigrants, and small businesses are the biggest Lean market segments.
• Hank: We will act as coaches more than experts to foster a Lean future.
• Andrés Duany: I have been trying to unpack Lean so that we can all work on it in parallel.
• Andrés: I think it is very early in Lean. We are still piling things into the soup.
• Andrés: Phil Bess has a great quote which I believe characterizes what we are doing: "Twirling… twirling… twirling toward freedom."
• Andrés: It is very important that Lean not overlap either CNU or Tactical Urbanism. Lean should be the seam between.
• Andrés: If you don't want it repeated, don't say it because it will enter the collective conversation quickly.
• Andrés: One of the things that must be broken to achieve Lean is old thinking.
• Andrés: The 21st Century actually started in 2008. 2000-2007 were the last years of the 20th.
• Andrés: The 3 Great Crises of 2008 were the broad recognition of Climate Change and Peak Oil, and the real estate bubble. These things did not have to happen all at once. But they did.
• Andrés: It is a common misconception that our society is based on energy. Our society isn't based on energy, but on cheap energy.
• Andrés: The real estate bubble revealed problems that began years earlier.
• Andrés: The Continental Disadvantage: America's sprawl pattern is more difficult to fix than Europe's because they've built compactly for almost all of their history whereas much of the US is sprawl.
• Andrés: 3 Overlaid Crises of 2008 are all caused by suburban sprawl.
• Andrés: The Great Pall is in danger of occurring when it finally sinks in with the public at large that the things we've enjoyed since WWII aren't coming back the way they were. But the Great Pall is something we cannot allow, because people will give up. So we must be able to show them better things to go on to, rather than waiting for what will never come back again.
• Andrés: Worldwide mitigation becomes regional adaptation in Lean.
• Andrés: Regional adaptation. Local self-sufficiency. Many small projects. All three of these are components of Lean.
• Andrés: The focus on the present has been a distortion field, and so has the focus on the too-distant future. We need to be solving things for the middle distance, before the silver bullets of some far-distant future emerge. It may be easy then, but we can't just wait for the easy.
• Andrés: Global economy gives way to local self-sufficiency in Lean.
• Andrés: In a Lean future, there will be few large projects, but many small projects.
• Andrés: The real estate bubble revealed a permanent impoverishment that is likely to be with us for a few generations. Governments can no longer do what they once could.
• Andrés: We absolutely will find new oil & new energy sources, but they aren't cheap anymore.
• Andrés: If you only pay attention to the present, you cannot have many ideas that are compelling.
• Andrés: Anywhere built on low land is a future slum because insurance will get withdrawn years before anything gets wet. The insurance companies are already pulling out of the lowest-lying areas because of flooding that hadn't even happened yet. The revocation of insurance is years, or maybe even decades, closer than the actual floods.
• Andrés: Let CNU be in charge of the long vision and the large scale, Tactical Urbanism can handle the smallest-scale issues, and Lean Urbanism can handle the seam in between.
• Robert Orr: "Climate Change & Risk", was the scariest conference I ever attended.
• Douglas Duany: Adaptation is the only answer.
• Doug Kelbaugh: If you don't attend to the long-range stuff, you won't be able to adapt to the near-term stuff.
• Karja Hansen: Projections have to do with averages, and with politics.
• Sandy Sorlien: We should focus on adaptation that also mitigates.
• Andrés: What happens with the depression that occurs when people say "whoa… it's hopeless!"
• Hank: I'm no Al Gore, but I know Al Gore, and a big mistake he made was not allowing any discussion of adaptation.
• Doug: Adaptation and mitigation are both essential to climate change.
• Andrés: Our diminished circumstances call for a return to common sense.
• Andrés: At the beginning, there is ignorance, then avoidance, then alleviation, then reform.
• Andrés: Lean operates at the scale of the household, block, and neighborhood, but not city, region, state, or nation.
• Andrés: These are the important Lean dates: 1874, 1924, 1984, and 2014.
• Andrés: The last quarter of the 19th century should be very interesting to Lean, and the Mormons were America's stars. Do you have any idea how many towns they founded during this time? During the last quarter of the 19th century, people with no computers or electricity got amazing things done.
• Robert: What you're proposing is much like a garage-cleaning: taking everything out and throwing away what you don't need.
• Andrés: The codes were very light in 1874 in the US because the risks imposed by any single building were small.
• Andrés: The New Urbanism was largely based on things built in the 1920s. Lean should be based more on 1874.
• Andrés: In the absence of regulation, the Town Founder and planners of Seaside found no impediments to building. What we owe the 30-year-olds is a permitting environment like the one we found at the founding of Seaside. 30-year-olds with the same skill sets that designed Seaside are doing little more than chair-bombing today. We owe them the ability to do what we did.
• Andrés: You can't fix 2014 Detroit with 2008 tools.
• Andrés: We've forgotten the original ways of doing things; even the New Urbanists conceive New Urbanism as the only way of doing things.
• Andrés: We're drawing high rises today, in a time when millions of people are barely avoiding shacks.
• Andrés: You can't think anything like 1990 if you want to fix Detroit.
• Andrés: Mizner Park should now look very archaic, like something out of prehistory. We should look at Mizner Park and say "isn't that quaint?" It was a good time, but it's over… you have to be more wily now.
• Andrés: The Original Green is actually the normative human condition. Recent times are the anomalies.
• Andrés: There is nothing dishonorable about 1874, 1924, or 1984... it's just not now.
• Andrés: The $100 million project is still viable. it's the middle that's falling out.
• Andrés: The first phase of Lean is created by the Risk Oblivious, who are the Bohemians. The Bohemians didn't get loans or permits, but have created value for 150 years.
• Andrés: The second phase of Lean is built by risk-aware developers like Tony Goldman.
• Andrés: The third phase is when the risk-averse (like dentists from New Jersey) move in and spoil the Cool Factor. When the risk-averse move in, the risk-oblivious leave.
• Andrés: It is absolutely crucial for Lean to allow the Bohemians to act.
• Andrés: When the Cool Factor fades, the value eventually fades as well, resulting in collapse and re-emergence of Bohemians.
• Andrés: The Cutting Tools of Lean are Subsidiarity, the Transect, Succession, and the Charter.
• Andrés: The ethics of Lean are the ethics of the Charter of the New Urbanism.
• Andrés: "Lean Alignment" may be a better term than "Lean Team"… we're aligned, but often work independently.
• Andrés: The glacier of regulation is receding from Detroit, and opening things up to happen.
• Sara Hines: Buildings in 19th century camp communities like Chautauqua were essentially "tents made solid."
• Sara: Neshoba County Fairgrounds is unique in that it's built around the county fair, not church-sponsored.
• Sara: Almost all camp buildings were handmade, and self-built. The scale of camp cottages were often tiny.
• Sara: The Park Model of manufactured house is up to 500 SF and avoids most regulations imposed on HUD Code trailers.
• Sara: Dan Camp has done a great job building Lean housing in the Cotton District.
• Sara: Boats can be great Lean housing.
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.