The first prerequisite of community-building is hope because people without hope will not build. This fundamental rule of building applies from the scale of building personal relationships to the scale of building a nation.
We face a challenge in the US, the likes of which nobody born since the Great Depression has ever seen. Nearly everything we have built since the end of World War II was built according to the pattern of sprawl, where you separate everything from everything else and connect them all with highways so that we drive everywhere to get anywhere. This cannot continue… the costs of sprawl will soon become too great to bear. Already, our auto-dependent lifestyles are making us poor.
The core problem with sprawl is that we have built so much of it. Most of us live there now, so we can't just all walk away as fuel prices rise. The building of sprawl created much of the wealth of our nation for the past 66 years… the abandonment of such a mammoth investment would surely ruin us all.
So what do we do? We must find a way to recover from this addiction to auto-dependent lifestyles, and transform the subdivisions, strip malls, office parks, and industrial parks we have built into places that can be sustained in a healthy way, long into an uncertain future.
This blog will soon launch a 12-Step Program for Sprawl Recovery, but before we get started with that, let's think about the prerequisite of hope. Because without hope, we will not change. Today, some really smart people (whom I respect very highly for other reasons, by the way) have put together guidelines and rules of thumb which poison the transition from sprawl to sustainable places because they make it appear that most places have no hope of succeeding with their transformation.
The classic example of a poison guideline is the "corner store requirement." The best experts say that you can't even support a corner store with less than 1,000 homes… and for pretty much every other type of retail establishment, you need even more "rooftops."
What percentage of New Urbanist neighborhoods have been planned with 1,000 people within walking distance of the corner store? A tiny fraction… definitely less than 10%. Seaside, Florida, the first New Urbanist town, has less than 2/3 that many homes. So had these places followed the best experts' advice, roughly 90% of them (those with less than 1,000 homes per neighborhood) would have never even built the corner store. Seaside and all those other places would have been little more than pretty subdivisions with alleys and sidewalks. Following the best advice would have completely gutted the New Urbanism movement.
But what happened instead? Robert and Daryl Davis, the Town Founders of Seaside, were not burdened with that expert advice because there was no advice in 1980 on how to build a town… only on how to build a subdivision. So they set out, with planners Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, to figure it out. From then until now, they have created a legend.
Today, Seaside is a regional center for the coolest shops, restaurants, night spots, bookstores, and yes, a corner grocery. Daryl, who took the reins of business development at Seaside, did not know that what she was setting out to do was supposedly impossible. As a result, she has nurtured literally hundreds of businesses to life. Some have failed, of course, but some have also spawned multiple establishments across the region. None of this would have happened had Daryl been poisoned with the idea that you can't even support a single corner store without 1,000 homes.
The problem with these guidelines is that they are all built on the assumption of the continuation of sprawl. In other words, what can you build when there's thriving sprawl all around you, sucking customers away to malls, strip centers, and office parks? That was a fair proposition until the Meltdown, because until then, true neighborhoods were a tiny anomaly in the enormous American development machine. And if you were trying to do business completely embedded in that paradigm, it probably was a good idea to follow the rules.
But there have always been other ways of doing business and building places. There's more than one dial to turn, in other words. If you don't have 1,000 homes in your neighborhood, there are many other ways to make businesses work. For example, are you actually embedded in sprawl, or do you out in the country with a captive audience of neighbors that are more likely to do business with your corner store because everything else is too far away? If you're remote, you can make it on far less than 1,000 homes.
Do you have unusually cool shops, like Daryl is expert at creating? Are you the only nearby place that sells the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal? Does your corner store have the best espresso for miles around? How about the ice cream shop… can you build your own sundae? Does your grocer actually know you, and will she order the peach salsa you request, trusting that if you like it, others might do so as well?
All these things and many more are factors that make businesses work, when all the normal business models say they have no hope. That's because the business models are based on averages. But if you want to build a great place, you should probably be anything but average.
The same rule of thumb applies to sprawl recovery as well. If your neighborhood wants to transform itself to avoid sprawl's inevitable continuing slide in real estate values for decades to come, then your neighborhood needs to transform itself into something remarkable. Shooting for average doesn't create hope… working to be remarkable usually does. So be remarkable.
Note: This is the first in what promises to be an extended Blogoff on the viability of neighborhood retail. As other blog posts respond to this one, I'll list their links below.
Remember when I was talking about BlogOffs last week? Well, this is my first volley in the BlogOff about neighborhood businesses. What do you think?
Very interesting post Steve, thank you for offering to host this topic in more detail. I look forward to your thoughts on solutions sprawl as this has not, and continues to, impact us economically but also culturally. The two may even be more deeply linked than we expect. By that I mean that while we see a reduction in sprawl through the attempt at building New Urbanist neighborhoods, I also think that these places require not only population density but also a cultural re-think in order to succeed.
My fear is always that because we have so much space we will never quite learn our lesson and as soon as things "get better ie in the eyes of many back, to the way they were" we'll be tempted to keep on sprawling when the real answer seems to be to carefully fill in the gaps between concentrated areas with intelligently designed communities.
Can't wait to join the conversation.
Great examples! I look forward to the 12 steps!
6 k people live in my township -Stanwood -surrounded by farm fields. We must drive an hour South on I-5 to reach Seattle. I live "uptown" in a 4 story -54 unit - Condo. It seems almost everything is across the street - medical, dental, grocery, cinema, ACE hardware etc. Problem is the battery on my used Prius kept dying until the dealership said I had to drive the Prius at least twice a week. Since the local farms deliver fresh produce every other Friday (which I order over the internet) I often only drive the Car to the food Co-op in the next town 20 miles away every other week.
There is a nice sidewalk on which we can walk the mile over the hill from uptown to downtown in which all sorts of funky businesses and restaurants are located. Most teens here are rather skinny because they walk everywhere from their centrally located high school. It is only 3 miles from one end to the other end of town. At age 67 I have walked the whole distance and back.
There is only one hurdle with such condensed living - noise. I enjoy the shouts from the school yard next door and the train whistle a quarter mile away. Some of those trains will take me to Seattle so I don't have to battle the trucks and traffic on I-5. The kids and train sounds are only sporadic. The other noises can be mitigated by good manners and spending on some technology and materials. The most annoying is the H-Vacs on the roofs of the grocery store and local factory. I read these can be dampened. As for good manners - don't blast your car stereo and honk your horn unless really warranted. My neighbor below said the base on my stereo was disturbing her. I invited her in and said "let us be scientific". I turned on my Stereo and set the column at "42" which was loud enough for me and asked her to go down to her condo unit and call me to let me know it that was too loud. She was happy with that volume setting. Truth is "You Tube" videos come on at different degrees of loudness and I was not near my control to turn it down. I was busy doing something else. Now I know to be on my guard so my neighbors can enjoy peace and quiet.
Steve, we are all for enabling walkability, which means enabling walkable business!
The bottom line is not about whether or not urban form denies business success (although of course it can inhibit or support it). It's a question of good management - which includes everything from selecting one's location to finances and accounting to growth expectations to customer service.
There are dozens of articles and classes taught at small business development centers, but this list incapsulates the major reasons almost half of all business startups fail within two years (which can be examined in the context of walkability and sustainability):
I think retrofit offers a great opportunity for small startups that I would call "upstarts" because if they're smart, they can (and do) make it against all odds. Small business has many advantages over larger, more cumbersome companies. Neighborhood serving commercial is highly underrated in America. Witness where it works, for instance, in New Orleans where we have a very high rate of locally owned, successful small business imbedded in almost every neighborhood.
I'm sure you'll address one impediment, which are zoning, building and other codes that make small business development difficult if not impossible. A SmartCode that allows small scale retail at corner nodes within neighborhoods is a great first start, as are loosened rules concerning home business.
Keep up the great work, friend!
FWIW, in addition to Sandy Sorlien's initial post above, Hazel Borys has done a BlogOff at http://bit.ly/xwDVq3, Sandy has done another BlogOff at http://bit.ly/yzVOxa and Patrick Kennedy has just posted one at http://bit.ly/xDWWgP. Please join the dialogue! FWIW, here's the way we're doing the BlogOff: http://bit.ly/uO52bn.
High architecture and the arts have each mutated from Modernism into something dark and disturbing. Metastasizing unchecked, it is Kryptonite to our hopes for a sustainable future. How did we get here?
When Modernism Was Actually Modern
Early Modernism was born with an underlying necessity of uniqueness. In other words, if you want to be significant, your work must be unique. Previously, architecture was judged first by the standard of "how good is it?" Modernism changed the prime standard to "how new is it?" Because of this new standard, traditional work, no matter how good, had no chance of being considered. Only after passing the standard of newness was architecture then evaluated by the old standard of "how good is it?"
The necessity of uniqueness clearly fueled a lot of creativity and inventiveness in the early years, but it was largely rational invention. Early Modernists were able to be both modern and sensible. Look at how Wright, Mies, Gropius, Corbu, Loos, and others carried weight down through a building to the ground, for example. Normally, it made perfect sense. Regardless of whether or not you liked the sleek, spare expression, you could understand how the architecture worked, and why. These were the heroic years of Modernism.
The Lost Generation
The Achilles Heel of the necessity of uniqueness became apparent only very slowly in the decades after World War II. The early Modernists had plumbed most of the depths of rational Modernism before the War. Afterward, it became increasingly difficult to develop an architectural expression that was both unique and sensible. Architects slowly and painfully woke up to the gnawing question of "what do we do now?" It must have been something akin to a long hangover, after the decades-long party that was the optimistic and heady early days of Modernism.
This period, sometimes known as the Dark Ages of Architecture, arguably produced some of the most soulless, sterile, and depressing buildings humanity has ever known. It signature style was Brutalism, which certainly lived up to its name. The larger cultural malaise of the 1970s was hauntingly parallel to the listlessness of Modernism, which had clearly lost its way.
1980 was a turning point. At the time, there was great boiling discontent with the Lost Generation; it was obvious that change was coming. For a short time in the late 1970s, the rebels had all inhabited the same camp. Stern, Graves, Mayne and Gehry were all mentioned in the same breath. But the divide wasn't long in coming. Half of the rebels went back to the original precept of Modernism (be unique) even though it meant that they had to be irrational. The Irrationalists went on to become most of today's Starchitects. The Rationalists, on the other hand, became either New Urbanists or New Traditionalists, or most likely both.
There are countless ways of being irrational, many of which are relatively harmless. The Irrationalists, however, chose a particularly poisonous way: To be transgressional is to intentionally transgress common wisdom or practice. This disturbs or appalls many people. So if you want to be really efficient with your transgressions, why not cut right to the chase and simply do work that most find disturbing and shocking?
Artists today are considered "mere illustrators" if they don't challenge our core beliefs. Planners who design places that feel like home to most are derided as "purveyors of kitsch." Architects that design buildings non-architects can love are scorned as "soppy sentimentalists."
While Modernism may have startled many a century ago, that was never the point in the early years. Quite the contrary: Read the early masters and it becomes clear that they expected the working class to welcome them with open arms. The fact that most people turned away is beside the point. Modernism never intended to shock, appall, or disgust people. Instead, it intended to save them from their squalid, oppressed settings. Today's work isn't Modernism at all. It's
Transgressionalism Transgressionism* is the complete antithesis to sustainability for several reasons: First, we can only achieve sustainability by engaging everyone because our consumption is increasing faster than the engineers' ability to mitigate with increased efficiency. You don't change most people's hearts about the way they're living by insulting or traumatizing them.
Next, if we're going to share the wisdom of green building broadly, the worst possible thing we could do is to require the architects to make those buildings unique because when uniqueness is the highest standard, we're not allowed to share wisdom. That would be considered plagiarism.
Interestingly, the early Modernists' uniqueness was only a shadow of things to come. Mies had his own personal language of architecture. Corbu had at least two. Wright developed three or four languages during his career, depending on how finely you want to parse his work. It might seem incredible, but the favorite starchitects of the recent past such as Gehry, Calatrava and Libeskind are now ridiculed for "self-plagiarism." In other words, their current buildings look a bit like their last buildings. Unbelievable! Today, the high standard of greatness is apparently held by Zaha Hadid, who is known for inventing a completely new architectural language for each building.
Another important thing: because
Transgressionalism's Transgressionism's* first move is to discard common wisdom, it naturally disposes of everything that has been proven over centuries of building in a region. All out the window. If it's known to work, we can't possibly use it. That would be sappy sentimental plagiarism. Transgressionalists Transgressionists* sometimes try to cloak themselves in science, but any true scientist would be completely appalled at this sorry state of affairs.
The Wall of Terminal Weirdness
Transgressionalism Transgressionism* is facing an impending cataclysm, but most are currently oblivious to the inevitable collapse. Today, if you want to be significant, you have to out-weird Zaha. But to be significant in 5 years, you've got to out-weird the architect that out-weirded Zaha. This death spiral of Transgressionalism will eventually reach the Wall of Terminal Weirdness, where things cannot get any stranger. Let's hope it happens soon, so we can get on with the business of remaking our world in a sustainable way.
*Ann Daigle pointed out in a listserv discussion that the simpler "Transgressionism" was a better term than "Transgressionalism." I agree, and have changed all of the instances except the title of the post, since that might upset the search engines.
Please have a look at this one... it proposes a provocative new way of looking at Modernism that sheds a lot of light on recent developments. I'd really appreciate hearing everyone's thoughts on this... please comment away!
Steve, thanks for the clarity.
It will stick: the new modernism is Transgressionalism. I would suggest that architecture lost its way when it began experimenting with the limits of engineering (rather than beauty) and architects stopped stamping their own buildings. Now that anything seems possible physically, what is possible emotionally? Like most of the media culture around it, architecture's goal (for some) is to transgress. Thank you for this brilliant definition, Steve!
I think the term "Narcisism" best describes the current trend in modern architecture. It's buildings that are all about themselves, and unable to coexist with other buildings in an urban context. Besides uniqueness, modernists were discouraged from designing anythin other than iconic structures.
Great post Steve! Your explanation of, and nomenclature for, mainstream contemporary architecture is spot on. It is obviously counterproductive to keep chasing both the next unprecedented design innovation while at the same time attempting to refine a sustainable system of architecture.
Vigorous agreement...because architecture lies so near to the Art world, architecture's gatekeepers view transgression as a virtue. Unfortunately, unlike Art, buildings have to stand up and keep the rain out, which isn't a good brief for transgression.
Very interesting ideas, Steve, many of which I agree with. Particularly on the context-sensitive green building and urbanism fronts -- clearly what we've been doing there in the last 50 years is untenable. However, I'm going to have to argue with some key points, including: "Artists today are considered 'mere illustrators' if they don't challenge our core beliefs." While many artists may challenge us to think more broadly, I'd say most are looking to resonate with our deepest beliefs. They're looking for the reverberation that comes with striking a chord. At the extreme end of that spectrum, if you look at perhaps the greatest illustrator of our age, Norman Rockwell, he's being re-embraced as someone who does precisely that: http://www.vanityfair.com/.../2009/11/norman-rockwell-200911 And his traveling shows this year and next are a testament to that. More next weekend in Oberlin! Thanks for writing!
Thanks Steve. Sadly this is not a mere style that will go away. It is an "ism", a belief system. Neophytes are taught what is true, rejecting the "old religion". Once they were going to save the world. Giving up on that, you challenge, you question, you provoke, you get weird.
Thank you for articulating this in such a clear, straight forward way Steve!
The comment: "That's different.", is considered by many designers to be the goal of design....a virtue. Differentness and originality have been the sine qua non of art and architecture. Romain Gary's "individual masterpiece" becomes the standard.
But think for a minute, how this meshes against, that other imperative of our age. This is the industrial imperative of mass production where everything is expressed in SAMENESS. Like Charlie Chaplin stuck in the machinery of modern culture, humanity loses his individuality, trapped in the require of the large industrial or even post industrial organization.
It strikes me that the more modern man has felt powerless in the sameness of modern life, the more he or she will demand his of her individuality. This has become the Sisyphean bargain.
To break this pattern, will take a new cultural idea. The miasma of modern life...the growth forever imperative of modern economics.....in my opinion needs to be transformed into a more beneficial paradigm.
I suggest that the idea stewardship is the most complete answer to the impasse. Yes, beauty many be a part of this, but beauty is a possible and hoped for result, not the underlying conceptual framework. I propose that stewardship will be the central driver of a sustainable urban and rural culture.
Steve, good pictures of the New Orleans "displacements". The architects should be jailed for civic abuse.
Steve, This is a really interesting observation. It seems to me it crosses over to many fields, including my own. Almost daily there's a new exercise or diet program touting ever more ridiculous equipment--things to pull, lift, toss, etc.; food to eat, or not, to excess. Why are we wasting resources on health clubs and fitness gizmos when we have all we need, for most of the time, right outside our doors?
Steve, I think this is one of your best posts, and provides the kind of clarity to this argument, which I think people like James Kunstler have been trying to articulate for some time. Well done!
A similar elaboration of Transgressivism, possibly helpful. What do you think?
steve, I like the sentence about Transgressionists cloaking themselves in science - and for those who are using a high tech pseudo scientific meta language - you're right - true science would gawk at this...since true science would point to the enduringness found in cities of stone
Guest post by Alvin Holm
The Buildings We Love are the Ones With Ornament
Ornament is an act of love – or at least a token of esteem. We embellish what we revere. We adorn that which we love. We do not decorate the hero, returning from the wars, to make him pretty – we decorate him to pay him honor. Ornament is deep stuff, greatly misunderstood in recent years.
The reason that we see so little ornament in buildings of our modern culture is that we do not love them. Or perhaps we do not love them because they are unlovely, unadorned. Nor do we think it’s nice to love them – that is, to have a visceral, sentimental, soulful relationship to them – because they are after all products of our intellect, rationally conceived, cost-effective, piously functional, sleek, sensible and cool.
But recently <note from Steve: this was written in 1996, about a conference in the fall of 1995> I participated in a heavily attended two-day conference in New York on ornament in classical architecture, and that can only mean that things are changing fast.
I can no more fully understand the return of the classical – with its standard elements of columns, capitals, pediments, entablatures, and an assortment of ornamental motifs like leaves, rosettes, and garlands – than I could comprehend the loss of it. But I believe that it accompanies what Deepak Chopra has called “the final cataclysmic overthrow of the myth of materialism.” I assure you this is happening, and a larger, older, richer paradigm is taking the stage. (And the new science is on our side this time. More on that later.)
Ornament does many things for the article it graces. It may lighten or give weight, it may reveal or disguise, it may suggest usage or mystify. Ornament gives value and imparts meaning. These are all worthy roles, but it is important to remember that primary relationship between the maker and the artifact and the ornament as a badge of honor and affection.
There is a large and growing school of psychology that deals now with issues of the soul. James Hillman and Robert Sardello, for instance, would agree that ornament in this sense is good for the soul of the maker as well as for the soul of the user or the viewer, to say nothing of the soul of the artifact itself. When the moderns stripped ornament away, much of the soul in architecture was lost. And with it went the soul of our cities.
James Gleick in his popular book on chaos theory writes that to Benoit Mandelbrot, a contemporary mathematician whose concepts are affecting many fields, “the epitome of the Euclidean sensibility outside mathematics was the architecture of the Bauhaus…spare, orderly linear, reductionist, geometrical.” To Mandelbrot and his followers, the failure of modernism is clear: Simple geometric shapes are inhuman. They fail to resonate with the way nature organizes itself or with the way human perception sees the world.
“A geometrical shape has a scale,” Gleick writes, “a characteristic size. To Mandelbrot, art that satisfies lacks scale…A Beaux Arts paragon like the Paris Opera has no scale because it has every scale. An observer seeing the building from any distance finds some detail that draws the eye. The composition changes as one approaches and new elements of the structure come into play.” So here we have New Science in praise of the old Beaux Arts.
Hildegard of Bingen was a 12th-centrury mystic, a nun, a writer, painter, and composer of beautiful music. In a poem about creativity she wrote:
As the creator loves his creation
So the creation loves the creator,
Creation, of course, was fashioned to be adorned,
To be showered, to be gifted with the love of the creator.
The entire world has been embraced by this kiss.
This affectionate reciprocity of which she writes is largely missing from our designed environment today. Ornament is that kiss of the maker that marks the artifact for its own sake and then for the sake of the user.
Architecture begins as a ritual of celebration and must continue again in that spirit if we are to enter the 21st century with honor and grace. This is a bone-deep truth that is today again rising to the surface. A surface we may now embellish to our hearts’ content.
Alvin Holm is a Philadelphia architect practicing in the classical tradition.
Note from Steve to Al:
I was in the audience on the South side of Manhattan's Washington Square that day, and your address changed my career. Previously it seemed that the only architects who cared for such things were just a few authors, but here was a practicing architect that could articulate things I could only feel at the time. Al, you laid out the ways that architecture could take on an ennobling role with clarity I had not heard theretofore, and with humility rare in our profession. You literally changed my direction, and I thank you for it now. You continue to be an inspiration unto this day.
Alvin Holm's New York lecture in 1995 changed the direction of my career. Read his Original Green guest post, where he summarizes the lecture. Really thought-provoking stuff, IMO.
I like the concept of a building offering different, but equally desirable levels of composition, detail, and ornament from varying distances. Many contemporary buildings lose any and all interest (if they have any) as you get closer to them.
I wonder sometimes if design methods and models contribute to the sterility of so many modern facades. When architecture students are creating their scale models and working on designs on a computer screen, it's pretty much impossible to design intricate ornamentation as a core of the project. Ornamentation then becomes merely an add-on -- and an expensive one at that.
I agree with all this.
I have to say, the beauty of ornament lies in the role that so many people have to play. In an unornamented building, the architect is the only player in the game... in an ornamented building, the bricklayers and the masons and the woodcarvers and the tin ceiling makers all have important dimensions to add to the final construction. That makes the final work more loved — because more people have loved it into being.
We sorely need a forward-looking town and its surrounding region to step up and remake themselves as a world-class model of true sustainability from the level of the region to the level of the building. I've just returned from Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island in Canada, and have high hopes that the citizens there just might transform themselves into just such a place.
A few other places are making promising noises, such as Oberlin, Ohio and Greensburg, Kansas. But while the people behind them are completely well-intentioned, most of those noises are predictably about Gizmo Green measures, which are based on the premise that we can achieve sustainability with nothing more than better equipment and better materials. The reason that's predictable is because Gizmo Green dominates sustainability discussions to such a degree that most people don't realize there's anything else.
But there is. And Gizmo Green will soon be exposed for what it really is: only a very small part of the formula for real sustainability. Here's why: We are seeing a massive population migration in many developing countries from low-impact agrarian settings into the city. We need approximately 1 car per citizen in the US. If the two most populous countries, China and India, do over twice as well as the US in their need for cars in the city, there will be over a billion cars on the road just in those two countries in a few years that don't even exist today! It doesn't matter what you think of of the reality of Peak Oil because this is Economics 101: supply and demand. Even if world oil supply keeps increasing at the same rate as it has over the past ten years, demand will quickly outstrip supply and prices will skyrocket. The recent flirtation with $5/gallon is only a prelude. Expect $20/gallon and beyond not so many years from now.
The speed with which this will happen is impossible to predict, but if it happens quickly enough, people will be unprepared. Many who live furthest from work will discover that they simply can't afford to live there anymore. This already happened in pockets of the US when gas first reached $5/gallon in 2008. But at $10, and then $20/gallon, many more of us will find our very livelihoods at stake. Sit down today and chart out your Web of Daily Life. Then ask youself how many parts of that web would be clipped at $10, then at $20/gallon. Could you afford to drive to work? To the grocery? Jane Jacobs and Jim Kunstler could be right… we could be in for dark days ahead.
When times are dark, people can fall off the edge into all sorts of Kunstlerian terror if they have no hope. But if there's something that gives them hope, then they can stay the course to a better future even if it's clear there is much work to be done. This is why it is so crucial to have at least one town and its surrounding region as a shining example of how to remake a place in highly sustainable fashion.
Seaside, Florida is a single little town built on just 60 acres of Florida Panhandle scrub oak and sand. Before Seaside, the only thing on the "Redneck Riviera" were condos on the beach, with T-shirt shops, gas stations, and liquor stores on the landward side of the highway. Land north of there was essentially worthless. Seaside began with a most audacious proposition expressed in the first marketing slogan: "Come Build a Town With Us." I remember seeing those billboards for the first time and being stirred nearly to my core. "Nobody builds towns today," I thought. But they did.
Here's what else they did: Because Seaside was a vacation town rather than a first-home community, it was able to spread its revolutionary thinking broadly. People came and hung their car keys on the hook on the wall. After several days of not needing to drive anywhere, they said "I really want to live like this." So some of them went back home and worked to build neighborhoods in their hometowns that were compact, mixed-use, and walkable. Because of the single great model of Seaside, a movement was born. They call it the New Urbanism. Today, there are thousands of New Urbanist neighborhoods, hamlets, villages, and towns around the world. But it all began with the single great model town of Seaside.
How does a great model emerge? Several things must happen. First, it must be located somewhere that people want to travel on vacation. Boise might be the most sustainable place in the world, but only those who are living there are traveling there on business will ever see it because Boise isn't your normal vacation spot. Because sustainability is something we must spread broadly, we need as many eyes as possible on the great model place. So it really must pass the Tourist Test. Places like this are most effective when surrounded by great natural beauty, like high on a picturesque mountain or by the sea shore.
The next requirement is that the place must be small enough to be easily perceived. You really need to be able to drive around not only the town, but the entire surrounding region, in a day or less. New Urbanist Peter Calthorpe did an excellent plan for the Salt Lake City region several years ago. It won a number of awards. But the only way you can see the whole thing in a day is from a satellite, or from the moon. That doesn't work as a great model because the great majority of people can't comprehend it.
Seaside is a great model of a single town, and also a single neighborhood, but it's not the center of a sustainable region. And even if it were, the edges bleed out into southern Alabama and southwest Georgia in not so much as a whimper. You really need a place that is bounded decisively by natural features. Prince Edward Island in Canada meets all these requirements. As does Beaufort, South Carolina and its surrounding county, bounded by creeks, wetlands, and river.
The place also needs to have a great story to tell. Because the new story of their sustainability makeover needs to be built on a foundation of older stories that resonate broadly with those who visit. Why? Because if the model is to give us hope, we need to feel that these are townspeople who are like us in at least a few important ways. If they seem superhuman, it's easy to think "we could never do that." Plus, if the town has no interesting stories, would you really be interested in vacationing there in the first place?
This is really important, because most people must be enticed to the place without knowing the full sustainability story because while some people are eco-tourists, the majority of people don't vacation in a place solely because it's green.
Charlottetown and its surround region (Prince Edward Island,) unlike 95% of North American places, meets all of the requriements. It's small enough to be perceived without a ticket on the space shuttle. People from all over the region (and beyond) come there to vacation in summertime. It has an excellent town core. It has great stories to tell, starting with being the site of Canada's initial confederation. It has great sustainability stories to tell from our time as well, although those haven't been finished yet. It has a fascinating culture of creatives that form an arts community far stronger than the town's population might suggest.
I spoke in Beaufort last fall and threw down the sustainability gauntlet: "There will be a town and surrounding region someday which will choose to be a world-class model of true sustainability. That's not in question. The only question is this: will it be Beaufort?" I ask Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island the same question today: "Will it be you?" We need you. Few towns were founded in regions where they could even dream of doing this. But you were. You could hold to the status quo and miss it entirely. Or you could be the shining example by the sea. Will you answer the call? We need you!
Somebody's gotta step up. Somewhere, a city needs to team with their surrounding region to create a shining model of true sustainability that goes far beyond Gizmo Green. Here's my challenge to Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, which mirrored a similar gauntlet thrown down to Beaufort last fall. Who's going to step up?
A large event or a festival would help destinations, such as Boise, that are not normal vacation spots to draw more tourists.
As a kid, I passed through Charlottetown on a bike trip across eastern Canada. I thought it was amazing then, but I'd forgotten it. Thanks for reminding me, and thanks for reminding me why I love Middletown, CT.
Not sure how I missed this post. Thanks, Steve, for the critical points, and beautiful photos of Charlottetown, PEI.
Few realize that a neighborhood bed & breakfast can be an extraordinary money machine for its surrounding neighborhood. With the McMansion Era grinding to a sickening halt post-Meltdown, most people are looking for new ways to make every dollar count. Consider the heret0f0re-required guest room: if you build a guest suit complete with bedroom, bath, and closet, you'll be hard-pressed to design it to pre-Meltdown suburban standards in less than 250 square feet. Construction costs for well-built homes are approaching or have exceeded $200 per square foot in many parts of the country. That means the guest suite may add up to $50,000 or more to the cost of the home!
Think back for a moment - how many nights has someone slept in your guest room this year? Probably not so many, if you are like most of us. Today, how can we tolerate throwing away $50,000 on something that is rarely used? Most of us can't.
That's where the bed & breakfast comes in: if there were a bed & breakfast in your neighborhood center, you'd have no need for a guest room, would you? Guests staying a 2-3 block walk away would still feel close to you, but more independent, and they likely feel like they aren't burdening you… so they might even come visit you more often. And you would likely feel less intruded upon, so you would welcome those more frequent visits.
You might even offer to pay for their nights at the bed & breakfast. If so, you would almost certainly save a lot of money over building the guest room. Financing that $50,000, plus paying property taxes and insurance would definitely run $500 per month or more in most places. That means you would have to have a large number of visitors each year to pay more for the bed & breakfast than for the guest room… assuming you're paying to put them up in the first place. Most people who do would save thousands per year… quite a bonus!
Think for a moment of the cumulative bonus: A neighborhood of 1,000 homes, for example, would save $50 million in construction costs on those homes! There are few other things a neighborhood can do to save so much money.
But what about existing places? As we work to repair sprawl by gradually transforming sprawling subdivisions into sustainable neighborhoods that are compact, mixed-use, and walkable, there will be several opportunities:
1. We'll be adding businesses where today there are nothing but houses. Normally, we should look first for the fabric in the subdivision that most needs to be healed - maybe where there are a few vacant lots. It is here that a bed & breakfast would fit in most easily.
2. Making sprawl sustainable also means making the existing fabric more compact. We do this by allowing the existing homeowners to build accessory units on their lots and rent them, or actually subdivide their lots and sell the new units. In 60 years of home-owning, you're likely to have kids at home for only about 1/3 of that time… if you ever have kids in the first place. So roughly 2/3 of the homeowning public would be fine with only one bedroom if there were a B&B nearby. This means the existing homeowners might be able to build more than one accessory structure if their lot size allowed, making more money.
3. Once the B&B starts operating, homeowners in the existing larger homes are freed up to use their guest suites for something else if they like. A home office is one obvious use for that suite, and you likely can think of others as well.
We'll talk more about other businesses that should be added to help transform sprawling subdivisions into neighborhoods, and also how to go about sprawl repair in ways where everyone benefits. But for now, what's not to love about a neighborhood B&B?
A bed & breakfast in each neighborhood center can save tens of millions in construction costs of neighborhood homes by eliminating guest rooms... what do you think?
And it prevents that fishy smell...
Urbanites can support this, we like using" Airbnb" to rent space for guests.
I think hotels are great for eliminating the guest room. I like the idea of small Inns that don't have to be part of the Hilton/Hampton reservation system, but the economics are tough. I'd love to see homeowners have a lot of flexibility with what they can do in their own building. I don't care for B&B's myself. They are that awkward zone in between a nice anonymous hotel and staying as a house guest with people you actually know. and I don't care for egg bake after staying for 4 days in a B&B on Bainbridge Island a couple years back.
My downtown urban project did something of the sort... We have four guest suites that serve 167 residences. good idea.
There's much more to SmartDwelling I than the things I wrote about two years ago when it was published in the Wall Street Journal's Green House of the Future story. Really cool stuff is afoot with Project:SmartDwelling, so this will be the first of several new posts looking at SmartDwelling elements.
There are two Breeze Chimneys on SmartDwelling I, which was designed for the US Gulf Coast region. Because it's a land by the sea, I decided to use seafaring materials for the Breeze Chimneys. As we'll see in a moment, Breeze Chimneys in other parts of the country could be made out of other materials like sheet metal. The framework is built of small spars, like those which frame sails on sailboats. The spars could either be made of wood or fiberglass. The shroud is sail cloth stretched over the spars. This assembly is attached to a ring at the top of the chimney that rotates freely. Here's how it works:
The Breeze Chimney is designed to turn into the wind, like a weathervane. The open end of the Breeze Chimney is always leeward as a result. There's a phenomenon in physics known as the Venturi Effect, and it works like this: air moving past an opening tends to pull gases or liquids out of the opening. If you're old enough to remember cars before fuel injection, then it was the Venturi Effect that made the carburetors work.
Breeze chimneys behave the same way. They have another thing working for them as well: the Thermal Chimney Effect. Because hot air rises when given the opportunity, hot air in a tube like a chimney flue will rise out of the tube, pulling other air in behind it from the room below. To start a breeze chimney, all you need to do is to open a window somewhere in the house.
Pulling in air almost as warm as the air exhausted by the Breeze Chimney wouldn't do much good, so you need to find a window around the house or shop where the air is coolest.
The best place would be under a grove of trees or big shrubs. Not only do the leaves shade the area around the window, but they also cool the air even further by giving off water vapor. It can easily be 10-15 degrees cooler under a shady grove or in a thicket.
A louvered verandah like the ones found throughout the Bahamas would be good because the louvers prevent the sun from getting into the porch and warming it up. A porch on the shady side of the house would work equally well.
A breeze chimney works best in late afternoon or early evening, when the air has cooled a bit from the heat of the day. Porches on the eastern side of the building would be coolest at this time of day. There's no reason you have to use the same window, however… you could experiment to see what works best for you. But in any case, it's the act of opening the window that starts the Breeze Chimney's operation because without replacement air pulling into the house, the Breeze Chimney can't pull air out. So think of it as an attic fan that doesn't require any electricity.
What about storms? Wouldn't the sail cloth tear in high winds, flooding the house? Clearly, there needs to be some way of shutting the Breeze Chimney in a storm, or when you're going to be away from home for awhile. See the heavy black line on the right side of this drawing? It's meant to represent a spring metal arc that holds the spars up. There would be two cords coming down the chimney. Pull one of the cords, and that pulls the spring metal arc over to the left, collapsing the shroud. Pull the other one, and it pops back up. I haven't yet built a Breeze Chimney, so I'm sure it would require a bit of tinkering, but that's the general idea of how it should work.
The house above was designed for a competition we never expected to win. It was intended as a critique of the Gizmo Green competition program and, just as I expected, the jurors didn't view it very kindly. I'll blog more about it later… my point of showing it here is to illustrate how differently Breeze Chimneys can be designed.
This house was designed for Dallas. A century ago, you could find pivoting sheet metal roof vents all over the Midwest and Southwest. So I designed this Breeze Chimney to be built of the same material. There are only two differences between this Breeze Chimney and the old pivoting roof vents. First, it's a good bit larger than the old ones so it can ventilate the whole house. Second, the old pivoting roof vents usually vented the attic. In this design, there's a chimney (concealed by the roof) that connects the cap to the living spaces below.
More on SmartDwelling I:
Breeze Chimneys are one of the cool parts of SmartDwelling I that are an old idea with a new implementation. Have a look; think they'll work? None have been built yet, but I'd love to have time to tinker with them.
Steve, I love this idea. Thanks for sharing. Have a current project that a few breeze chimneys would serve well. Will have to do more research.
Wonderful idea. I think you should mass produce these and place one in each room. The ventelation may be more important than the assumed fireplace. A fireplace and chmney is not cheep but the vortex creator and sheet metal flew could be repeated several time on a house.
Point of clarification: the Venturi effect is where fluids move faster when they move from a larger volume vessel to a smaller one - i.e. why water sprays out faster when you put your finger over the end, or why wind moves faster down at street level in a city. The phenomenon described above has more to do with lift, like on the wing of an airplane. The wind passing over the breeze chimney (similar to wind catchers in the Middle East) accelerates, creating an area of low pressure at the mouth of the device. It is this low pressure area - kind of like an eddy in a stream- that draws air up through the chimney.
There are other types of stack ventilators that use latent heat inside the building or even direct solar gain to create negative pressure inside the building. The chimney above requires air flow to work. Which type to use depends a great deal on climate factors as well as building volume, occupation, etc.
I seem to recall on our sail boat the opening faced toward the wind and attached to the mast/yard arm/boom and drew air below.
Seeing your Breeze Chimney, it occurs to me that many of the revived techniques of living homes, especially in warm climates, relates to vertical flow of energy from earth to sky. The Breeze Chimney, and the Tower of Wind and Water are conveyors of water or air from earth to heaven, and vice versa. The courtyard typology similarly is a vertical window between sky and earth.
And this bring to mind the experience of viewing upward. Another element you might add to the Smart Dwelling is a Camera Obscura. Have you seen the camera at Greenwich England? It is contained in a pavilion or ...See More
Score one for Schooner Bay! The eye of Hurricane Irene came right across DPZ's new town of Schooner Bay in the Bahamas late last week, and except for a few outdoor ceiling fans, the buildings sustained no damage at all. Sustained winds were 125 miles per hour, with gusts up to 130. This is all the more remarkable because of the way Schooner Bay is being built… it's following patterns of ancient wisdom that are illegal in every hurricane zone in the United States.
Years ago, when Seaside was hit by its first hurricane (Opal) and sustainaed almost no damage, hurricane experts called it the "Seaside Miracle," and studied it for several years thereafter. Opal's winds were probably 100 miles per hour at Seaside. It'll be obvious shortly why, beyond just Irene's higher wind speed, this should be considered the Schooner Bay Miracle and studied as well.
All of the photos in this blog post were taken by Schooner Bay staff less than 24 hours after the hurricane passed through. You can still see Irene's angry waves breaking against the ironshore in the image above.
For a bit of perspective, Irene brought great devastation to other parts of the Bahamas, including this image taken just a few miles away from Schooner Bay at Elbow Cay. As you can see, two of the houses have been completely destroyed and washed out to sea. The cause of destruction here was due to a very common error of oceanfront construction: building on the dunes. Schooner Bay took a completely different approach, heavily planting the first dune with native dune vegetation to strengthen it, then building a secondary dune with material dredged from the harbor. No houses have been built above this second dune yet, but it wouldn't have mattered, because the second dune was completely untouched by Irene. The seawall at the harbour handled the storm surge in textbook fashion with no damage whatsoever.
Schooner Bay's architecture is an important part of the story as well, as much for what they're not doing as for what they are doing.
What's the first thing you think of when people talk about hurricane construction? Probably the Miami-Dade hurricane code windows, right? Guess what? Schooner Bay isn't using them. Quite the opposite: because of high Bahamian import duties, they're making all their own windows onsite!
So how did these homemade windows manage to withstand Irene's fury with not one broken pane? The same way homemade Bahamian windows have withstood countless storms before her for centuries: the homeowners simply shut their shutters. Schooner Bay shutters are typically solid instead of louvered, so they can take a serious lick from wind-borne debris, protecting the windows behind them, which remain untouched by the storm.
The windows are only the beginning. All houses built to date at Schooner Bay have been built of poured concrete. You can see several under construction in this photo, most with the concrete structure still exposed because the stucco work hasn't been done yet. Reinforced concrete is quite simply the strongest way to build. And many buildings in the Bahamas have been built of concrete or masonry for a very long time, for this same reason. But there are wood cottages in the Bahamas as well that have survived countless storms, so Town Founder Orjan Lindroth is looking into the best ways of building strong wood cottages to complement the predominant concrete construction.
Take a look at the roofs in the image above. See how most of them are hipped, and how they're built at a simlar pitch? Hurricane experts now tell us that hips are the strongest roof forms because each roof plane supports its neighbors. And pitches between 8:12 and 9:12 strike a balance between shallower roofs that fail in uplift and steeper roofs that fail in overturning. Gables are permitted, but only where the house is built of concrete or the roof span is very short.
It's interesting to note that Bahamians knew all these things long before "hurricane experts" ever existed. Their system was very simple: when you crawl out of a house that's been destroyed and see your neighbor's house that's still standing, you say "I'm going to rebuild like that!" And so the best ways of building emerge naturally in a place from centuries of testing into something I call a "living tradition."
Well before construction began at Schooner Bay, Orjan commissioned a new kind of pattern book to guide the architecture. Until then, pattern books had focused on random collections of historical styles. In short, they were necessarily more about fashion than function. But A Living Tradition [Architecture of the Bahamas] begins each pattern by telling homeowners and builders not only what to do, but also "We do this because…" In doing so, it opens up the rationale behind each pattern, allowing everyone to think again… and allowing architecture to live again. And crafting an entire language of architecture around what works best for this people, and in this place, creates an architecture with far more meaning than mere style and fashion, and one imprinted indelibly with the region of the world it inhabits.
The benefits of living traditions are legion. For example, many of the construction workers at Schooner Bay were fishermen just one year ago. But because they weren't just told what to do but also why to do it ("We do this because…") they caught on quickly and now perform better than many long-time construction workers that would have to have been untrained and then retrained in this new living tradition.
All of this sounded like really cool (possibly even Utopian) theory: building a highly sustainable place with fishermen based on ancient wisdom; using homemade windows in a hurricane zone. But now, the theory has passed the test of a strong Category 3 storm. What can be more sustainable than keeping things going in a healthy way, long into an uncertain future? This is real sustainability.
Great info and changes need to be made to codes accordingly!
Check out this post on the Schooner Bay Miracle, about the new town of Schooner Bay in the Bahamas that took the worst Hurricane Irene had to offer with essentially no damage. And they did it using construction methods that would have been completely illegal in US hurricane zones: no houses on stilts, no hurricane windows, etc. We really need to reconsider how we build.
Another great article, Steve. Keep 'em coming!
Oh my gosh. I knew Fred when I was a kid. A wonderful man! Small world.
Fantastic as always Steve! Designing to the climate & context of the place should be the top priority. Glad to hear new urbanism is proving its architecture durability at Schooner Bay.
Learning from wisdom that works -- old and new -- is sustainability. The green wash will wash away.
Here's Schooner Bay's account of Hurricane Irene:
By failing to damage any of the buildings even as the eye passed over Schooner Bay at its strongest, Irene vindicated the Original Green principles at the backbone of this new town.
The idea of retirement is undergoing its biggest change since the modern-day version was invented by Germany's Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck in 1883, and today's revision has profound implications for the shape of towns, villages, and neighborhoods. Retirement, for more than a century, has been advertised as a time to play… catch up on your golf game, or give tennis a try. Go for long walks in the countryside with your sweetie. We all know the drill, and it was very enticing. But there was a dark side nobody wanted to talk about. But first, let's look at how we got there…
The Era of the Company
Work was radically redefined at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Previously, most who had escaped servitude or slavery engaged in crafts or trades plied most often from their home or workshop. If they were successful, they might employ a few others who worked for them for wages, but the modern-day model of most of the workforce being employed by business or government is only about two hundred years old. During this Era of the Company, the corporation was the centerpiece of the economic lives of most of us. The virtues of this era were quality, speed, and economy… or "better, faster, cheaper," if you prefer. And two-thirds of that formula (faster and cheaper) was most often accomplished directly on the backs of the workers.
The result was a workplace that wasn't expected to be enjoyable, and it certainly wasn't anything approaching fun. If you're a farmer scraping out an existence on your own piece of land, then you do what you have to do in order to survive. But if you're working for The Man, then it's much easier to externalize the grind of working, and to get very unhappy about it. Roughly a century of labor wars ensued, until The Man finally wised up and realized that workers were much more docile when they received regular doses of play to go along with all that work. Today, the weekend is conceived as a time of play that compensates us for the workweek.
The Long Play at the End of the Day
It's easy to see how business and government came to conceive of retirement as a really long weekend: If we endure the workweek to get to the weekend, then maybe we'll endure a tiresome career for the promise of playing for the rest of their lives. It worked quite well… until now. But the sad reality is that the Long Play isn't usually so long for most of us, giving way to the dark days when, in those ancient words, "… I have no pleasure in them…" The unspoken dark side we all eventually discover is that the Long Play is just a sugar-coated prelude to death.
The End of an Era
The Era of the Company is jerking unsteadily to a halt today. The company as a vehicle for doing business won't end, of course, but companies are not going to be nearly so central to our lives as they have been. If you doubt that, try striking up a conversation with someone about your company (whether you're employee or management.) Chances are, they'll listen for all of three seconds. This is because we've all been vaccinated by spam, and have learned to hit the Delete key with lightning speed and to tune out anything that sounds remotely like a commercial. As a result, advertising simply doesn't work anymore.
The Age of the Idea
The sunset of the Era of the Company is occurring just as the Age of the Idea is dawning. While nobody wants to hear about your company anymore, they'll listen for hours if you've got a great idea. This may well be the biggest change in how we work that we've seen in the two hundred years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Even the virtues of business are changing, from quality, speed, and economy to patience, generosity, and connectedness.
It should come as no surprise that this massive change will likely have a huge impact on the idea of retirement. While the full transformation isn't clear yet, it appears that we just might be dispensing with the illusion of playing "happily ever after" and replacing it with something more substantial.
The Search for Significance
Baby Boomers have just begun reaching 65, and will continue to do so for the next couple decades. This largest-ever generation that brought us Woodstock, the Summer of Love, and "agonizing reappraisal" was never content with just following the rules and punching the clock. And as they navigate further down the middle passage of life they, more than others that came before them, are looking for meaning in the time that remains. And that remaining time is likely to be significantly longer and spent in generally better health than either their parents or grandparents experienced. Second and even third careers will be a reality for millions of Boomers. Many realize that their first career might have been long on income but short on meaning, and vow to not make that mistake again. The pursuit of significance is likely to be top priority for them in the new work that they choose, even if their nest eggs have been badly battered by the Meltdown. Rather than retirement's prelude to death, these second and third careers are a continuation of life. Actually, they're more than that; they represent opportunities to be more alive than many Boomers ever were in their first careers. This time, they're determined to leave a legacy as they find deeper meaning in their new work.
Setting the Stage for Significance
Corporate office parks in the suburbs may have been the backdrops for countless first careers, but they will be abandoned to cries of "never again!" by almost all Boomers who once worked there because settings for unfulfilling experiences are seldom tolerated when seeking for the opposite. Instead, they will be looking for places that foster their search for significance rather than impede it.
Meaningful work depends on a number of things to which the setting can contribute. While some people are fortunate enough to know exactly what sort of work they may find meaningful, others must begin with a period of learning, and anyone pursuing significance overlays learning and work to some degree. Sometimes learning is structured, like going back to school. Other times, we simply learn things from the places we inhabit or the where we travel. In almost every case, however, meaningful work is likely to be more creative than the daily grind of the first career. Why choose something more mind-numbing than your first career instead of retirement? Most don't. They join the Creative Class instead. We'll take a look at various types of meaning these Boomers might be pursuing in greater detail in a subsequent post. But for now, let's consider the general characteristics of places that might best foster those second and third careers:
Vibrant walkable places where you can walk to many things are far better at stimulating creativity than the blandness of an office park. Because almost all second careers are more creative than the first, places like this with a large "cool factor" have a huge leg up on those that don't. Meaning found in unplanned ways is most fertile in places where people can get out and walk around on a whim, running into people, sights, or situations they didn't expect. Trips by car aren't usually quite so spontaneous. Leaving a legacy by purveying meaning to others can occur in many settings, but that meaning is more likely to spread broadly and unpredictably when the purveyor of meaning works in an accessible place like a storefront rather than being tucked away in an institution lost somewhere in sprawl. Connections between people responsible for so much of the transfer of meaning simply are more likely and vibrant in places that foster the connection of people. Sprawl, in contrast, wraps us in a couple thousand pounds of steel and glass known as the car, making the most common interactions on the highway the shouting that accompanies road rage. Which type of place would you prefer to work on that day when you finally have a choice?
Check out my latest Original Green blog posts. It raises a number of questions about what you want to do once your first career is over.
Love the article Steve. Good insight and very fitting for Carlton Landing. I reposted onto my Facebook.
Recently I've been thinking about how unquestioningly HR folks use the term "work-life balance". The term seems to imply that you don't have "life" when you are are at "work". I like your suggestion that we should be alive while at work!
Well said, Steve!
Very interesting take. I'll be forwarding this to my parents.
Very insightful Steve! You really have this "nailed" I believe. Being a Baby Boomer myself, I can so relate to this! Going back to school after the age of 50; seeking something more creative to do; appreciating more and more the dynamic community that we live in, South Beach. And what is cool is that I feel very invigorated by the thought of honing skills in creative areas to like painting, drawing and design. This is a great time in life really!
Great post, Steve.
Very sage insights, Steve.
I am into my 16th year of the 'second career.' Very satisfying. The point isn't whether we look to the weekend or 'retirement' for our reward, but that the work itself integrates the satisfaction and meaning as we go along. When we are older, there is no time for 'delayed gratification.'
Success in one's second career depends in part on starting it as a hobby before the first career ends.
Chris Bradshaw, Ottawa.
former leader, Green Party of Canada (part of second career).
I just put up The Schooner Bay Miracle, about the new town of Schooner Bay in the Bahamas that took the worst Hurricane Irene had to offer with essentially no damage. And they did it using construction methods that would have been completely illegal in US hurricane zones: no houses on stilts, no hurricane windows, etc. We really need to reconsider how we build. Here's the link:
Here's the Schooner Bay Abaco Bahamas page as well.
A post from Nancy Bruning for whom this comments module wasn't working recently:
Such a timely post, Steve! As a boomer, I feel I have come up with a particularly elegant solution, if I do say so myself. About 10 years ago, as a writer of 25 books on health and wellness, the irony of spending most of my time sitting at a computer did not escape me. I became a certified personal trainer, which fixed the sedentary, isolation problem. This eventually morphed into designing and conducting outdoor fitness classes in urban parks. We walk, or jog, and use nothing but our bodyweight, gravity, and the park furniture and features to perform stretching and strengthening exercises. I call it "Nancercize" and it's very Original Green in thinking, eh? Now, I'm training others to lead Nancercize groups, which anyone can do, with the proper training! I love helping others get just the right kind and amount of exercise while getting exercise myself--and getting paid to do it! For some ideas, check out my video, "101 Things to Do on a Park Bench" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNBUWXQuCfI.
You are so right. I re-invented myself as a writer when I retired and now have 4 books on Amazon and other sites and another to be published this Spring on, of all subjects, retirement. My other passion is travel. I am having the time of my life in retirement, but it is something that needs planning (not just financial, but emotional too) and a slowing of the mind to adjust to not having a full time job to support yourself and family.
Boyd Lemon-Author of “Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany,” and "Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages," the author’s journey to understand his role in the destruction of his three marriages. Information and excerpts: http://www.BoydLemon-Writer.com.
Excellent Steve. Lovely writing and a very pleasant site space too. How about these thoughts: http://pngtimetraveller.blogspot.com/.../what-does...
On-street parking is important to good urbanism on many counts. Let's have a look at some of the most important reasons why it's essential:
Commercial Parking Lots
If people can't park on-street, then off-street parking lots are essential in all but the most highly walkable places where cars are unnecessary (think Manhattan.) Surface parking lots do lots of damage. First, if they are built in front of a building, then they pretty much guarantee that nobody will ever walk on the sidewalk that runs between the parking lot and the street. Pedestrians aren't stupid… you'd be taking your life in your own hands by walking in a place like this because you have no protection from cars zipping by just a few feet away from you.
The second-worst place for a parking lot is beside the building because this creates a big gap in the urbanism. This condition is known as a "snaggletooth streetscape." One of its worst features is that it interrupts the continuity of the street face, making the place seem incomplete, or decaying. Another really bad feature is the fact that it bores the pedestrians, because when they're walking beside it, they get a steady view of cars that doesn't change very quickly. Unlike a parking lot in front, which completely kills pedestrianism in only one block, parking lots beside buildings only injure it, and the extent of the injury to walkability depends on how big the gaps between buildings are.
The third place for a parking lot is behind the building. This isn't as bad as the other two places, but it has problems as well. If everyone parks in back, then it seems logical to the building owner to put the front door in the back. This not only creates a weird and confused floor plan, but it also means the building is less likely to pay the proper attention to the street, usually resulting in boring the pedestrians. And all parking lots have the unfortunate distinctions of being really bad heat sinks, and of creating lots of stormwater with all that impervious asphalt or concrete.
Subdivisions that ban on-street parking force the paving of much of the lot because you've gotta have enough parking places for all of your family plus all of your guests… at your biggest party or other gathering of the year. Many builders will build a double-wide driveway all the way to the front facing garage of their "snout houses" so visitors can park on all that extra paving. This has all of the environmental problems that parking lots do: double-wide driveways are big heat sinks with lots of stormwater runoff. Big heat sinks aren't just environmental problems; they hurt walking as well. By heating up the micro-environment around them, they make it more uncomfortable to walk in their vicinity. And if driveway crossings take up a big percentage of the length of the sidewalk, then much of a walk along that sidewalk is spent subconsciously aware that cars might back out of the driveways and hit you. When fear arrives, pedestrians depart.
A parking deck next to a sidewalk creates a terrible pedestrian environment, as you can clearly see here. First, it's the most boring thing possible to walk beside, and most of the time, it's terminally ugly because people don't generally lavish a lot of money on a parking deck.
Bore the pedestrians, and they won't walk there. Build ugly buildings, and they'll abandon your sidewalk as well.
But that's not the worst of it. Parking decks are broadly perceived as being scary places. How many movies have you seen where the ax murderer waits in a dark corner of the parking deck for his next victim? The only thing worse for pedestrians than boredom and ugliness are danger and fear. So put a parking deck right beside those sidewalks where you never, ever, ever want pedestrians to walk.
It is possible to fix parking decks by building what is known as a "liner building" between them and every adjacent sidewalk. A liner building is a thin building that "lines" the parking deck's outer edges. You see the storefronts of the liner building's shops at the first level and you see the windows of the offices or apartments above. It looks like any perfectly normal downtown building… it just happens to not be very thick, and to have a parking deck behind it. Liner buildings are hardly ever more than 30 feet thick. 18 feet is a good thickness because that's often the depth of a parking space. But they can be even thinner, like the one shown above.
The Pedestrian Shield
Clearly, forcing cars off the street has lots of negative consequences. But on-street parking isn't just a car storage device. There are other benefits as well. Remember what we said earlier about "when fear arrives, pedestrians depart"? One major source of fear is the possibility that a car might run off the street and hit you. On-street parking alleviates this fear, because each of those park cars acts as a shield of several thousand pounds of metal between you and the moving traffic. People don't consciously realize this all the time, but you've never seen a sidewalk cafe next to the expressway, have you?
Retail expert Bob Gibbs says that every on-street parking space in a thriving retail district is worth $250,000 in sales to the nearby merchants on that street. People will walk much further along an interesting Main Street to get from their parking space to the store they're going to than they will walk from a parking lot. I blogged about Pedestrian Propulsion a couple years ago; that post explains why this is so. Simply put, if you want to kill the businesses along a thriving commercial street, just remove the on-street parking. Works every time.
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Rather than a liner buildings to mask parking decks, all that is necessary is a speed ramp to get cars to an upper level. That allows for the entire ground floor to be commercial space. The building's facade has to be presentable above the first floor, which may mean treating the upper openings as closed louvered shutters. There are a number of parking decks in the French Quarter that are done this way.
This is a wonderful post. Many urbanist allies of mine do not seem to understand these points -- they see any accommodation for cars and drivers as a threat to urbanism rather than an integral part of it.
I approached a few of these issues on my blog a few weeks ago, with lots of pictures of Savannah's streets: http://www.billdawers.com/.../guide-downtown-savannah.../.
Great post! We live in Carmel, CA where on-street parking is limited to 2 hours (but free) in the commercial district. What are your thoughts on free vs paid parking and the impact on Retail and restaurants?
One thing just occurred to me that I should have put in the original post - on-street parking is also a great traffic calming device. All but the idiots slow down when there's parking on the street. Maybe I'll do another post about the best natural traffic calming devices (NOT additive ones like speed humps, but rather the integral parts of street design that slow traffic.) what do you think?
Your insight about outdoor cafes avoiding expressways is great. Chain restaurants have noticed the popularity of outdoor eating. So they put tables out on a deck or under a canopy--overlooking the parking lot and dumpster, because there is no sidewalk and no one wants to dine by the highway. It'd be funny if it weren't pathetic. Score one for good urbanism!
Parking and traffic calming. If you allow parking only on one side of the street, alternate the parking side every few car lengths. I actually saw this work once when a truck parked illegally on the no parking side of my street, opposite some empty spaces. It slowed traffic more than the numerous speed bumps do.
More advantages of on-street parking. 1. the spots function as "teaser" parking, meaning drivers will attempt to find a free spot close to their destination, before going into a garage. Without that possibiity, that tease, they might avoid the area entirely (short term parking times keep this tease real and prevent employees from hogging all the closest spots) and 2. slow moving traffic, cruising for parking, makes mid block crossing safer and adds eyes on the street, from the street. It's funny how the sport of hunting for a close spot, the gamble and luck of it, is part of the fun of visiting a popular place. Easy parking, say at a shopping mall is dull by comparison. It's notable however, that the the sport of parking works much better in entertainment districts than in places where we do daily errands.
While I agree with most of this post, do you think the statement "Simply put, if you want to kill the businesses along a thriving commercial street, just remove the on-street parking" will be used by anti-transit folks? Because it's the exact argument being used to fight proposed or existing bus stops along the prime downtown commercial corridor in Columbus, Ohio -- the kind of corridor that needs transit.
I just think that as advocates for good urbanism, discussing on-street parking in absolute terms without considering on-street transit seems dangerous. Particularly that $250,000 number -- I can just imagine a business owner demanding compensation for lost parking spaces to a bus stop!
Still enjoying this post, Steve, about the Importance of Parking.
check out the latest Original Green post that just went up last night:
Dealing with Parking Fatigue in downtown Regina where some streets are noted for their abundance of parking lots.... and not much else.
"This condition is known as a "snaggletooth streetscape." One of its worst features is that it interrupts the continuity of the street face, making the place seem incomplete, or decaying. Another really bad feature is the fact that it bores the pedestrians, because when they're walking beside it, they get a steady view of cars that doesn't change very quickly."
I know this is an old post, so hopefully you'll see this - When you don't have enough space for bike lanes, and car traffic volume is too high/fast for bikers to feel comfortable riding on shared lanes - what do you do?
here's an example of a particularly treacherous stretch of road:
cars will often tailgate and honk at bikers through here - and/or will pass dangerously close. while there is actually a segregated bike path about 1/4 to the east (sw corridor path), this is the most direct route between points south and the emerald necklace path or the main business district in Jamaica Plain. You can't just throw up speed limit signs.
btw - cars regularly run off the road/speed through here.
The Select Board of beautiful coastal community of Wiscasset, Maine is in the process of eliminating street parking along the entire thriving Main St shopping district. It will kill businesses!
The Chael-Dover Cottage shows how interesting things get when theory turns into practice... and when “how they once built green” turns into “how I can build green today.” You can find so many Original Green ideas applied here that I quit counting after awhile.
Maricé Chael is an architect and a principal of Chael Cooper. She’s also a member of the New Urban Guild. Her husband, Victor Dover, is a principal of the New Urbanist planning firm Dover-Kohl, and a longtime sustainability leader on many fronts, including being at the forefront of the effort to create LEED-ND. It’s unlikely that anything on this blog or in the Original Green book had any influence over the design of their cottage because Maricé and Victor have known these things long before the book or the blog were published, but that’s immaterial. What matters is how well their cottage illustrates Original Green ideas.
And it isn’t just one idea at a time, either... everywhere you turn, this cottage is doing several things at once. Every room has at least two uses, for example. The image at the top of this post is a classic example we sorely need today: lovability and nourishability in the same plot of ground. Here’s the test this garden passes: is your edible garden lovable enough that you furnish it with benches and chairs, so that you can sit and look at it? Most vegetable gardens are treated as utility plots, meant to be productive but not attractive. But Maricé is planting a primarily edible landscape in her front yard that’s long on romance... even the compost station tucked away in a corner has a rustic charm about it (see above.)
The cottage itself isn’t new. The historic marker by the front window shows it was built in the 1920s. Because reuse is far better than recycling, Maricé and Victor kept the original cottage, modifying it only as needed, and added a 17’ addition to the rear. Far too many “green” buildings today are completely new buildings, sitting on the demolition of an earlier building.
The roof was in serious need of replacement, so Maricé opted for synthetic slate made of recycled materials (including diaper liners... thrown away after one use in their first life, but used for many years in their second life.)
What’s missing on the roof? Right... where are the solar panels? It turns out that they aren’t missing... they’re just really well hidden. Pretty much the only place you can see them is from the master bath window on the second level. It’s a great example of making things invisible if they can’t be made lovable, as SmartDwelling I illustrated.
Going inside, it’s hard to miss all the reused things, from furniture (including this piece) to doors to windows like the one in the gable to flooring to fixtures. And it’s really cool to hear the stories Maricé and Victor tell about where each piece came from. “Building materials with stories to tell”... that’s so much more interesting than “I got it at Lowe’s” (or wherever.)
This transom is one of those reused components. It’s also a really great idea we’ve forgotten about in recent years. It’s a ventilating transom (see the chains on each side, and also the latch at the top?) It has two purposes: it passes light from one room to the next while preserving visual privacy, and it also allows for ventilation with visual privacy as well. For buildings more than one room deep, they’re the best way yet developed of getting both.
I mentioned earlier that every room has at least two uses. The living room is also the office, for example. McMansions have redundancy... four or five places to eat, for example. Original Green houses, on the other hand, have rooms and elements that have many uses. Even the top landing of the stairwell shown here doubles as a study. Pretty cool, if you ask me.
Here’s another way of getting more uses out of things: Maricé has carved into walls all over the cottage, using the space for storage. Why waste hollow places in the wall? She didn’t. You can’t do that on exterior walls because of the necessity of insulation, but every other wall in a house should be considered fair game. It’s amazing how much stuff you can store if you think this way.
Here’s another one, just for fun... this one is in the kitchen, set into the wall joining the original cottage to the new addition. And speaking of fun, it’s clear that while these sorts of details are frugal with space, storing more in less, they also contribute mightily to the delight of visiting or living here. In other words, they start out being frugal and end up being lovable.
One more thing about the interior before we step back outside... if you’re seriously interested in being frugal with space, then you need to discard a lot of space planning conventions. See this chair in a reading nook in the library/dining room? There’s nowhere near 80” of ceiling height there. Matter of fact, I can’t even walk into the nook without hitting my head on the storage above. But why do I need to walk into the nook? I don’t. Anyone sitting on the chair naturally bends to sit in such a way that you don’t come anywhere near hitting your head. But if you followed normal space planning rules, you would have entirely missed out on the extra storage.
Let’s have a quick look around the rest of the outdoor rooms before leaving. A lap pool is tucked snugly into the rear garden room, which is surrounded by a wall of green... some of it edible... and all of it made up of native or well-adapted species that don’t need artificial irrigation.
When you plant this way, it’s possible to collect all the irrigation water you need, as Maricé has done, and to distribute it more efficiently than just spraying all over. Rain chains carry the water from gutters down to a rain barrel at each corner of the cottage. Kentucky Bourbon, by law, must be aged in new white oak barrels. After one use, they are discarded. But they make great rain barrels, as you can clearly see.
The pool has a great story as well: a lot of rock had to be excavated to make room for the pool. Normal practice would have been to burn gas to haul it off to the landfill. Instead, Victor took a local fellow who was “pretty unsteady on his bicycle because of substance issues” and worked with him to build a stone frontage wall with the rock from the pool. The guy learned the skill well, and now builds frontage walls for others in the neighborhood, earning enough money to bring a bit of stability to his life. Like so many other things about this cottage, that’s such a great story of healing and reusing the things we have... don’t you think?
PS: GreenBuildingAdvisor.com did a great story on the Chael-Dover Cottage with lots of technical details... please check it out It’s excellent information.
PPS: Click on any of the images above for high-res versions on my zenfolio site.
Thursday, May 26, 2011 - 05:52 AM
Sure nice to see people living the space.
Thanks as always Steve.