Fathers Day for Architects - The Empty Seat

search the Original Green Blog

old empty seat

   I suspect most of my colleagues writing in this blogoff will have really happy, uplifting things to say about Fathers Day and architecture, but I have a different, darker view… but also a way to change it for the better, at the end. See the empty seat in this long-ago photo? That was mine. But I bailed out of our family vacation at the last minute because I had too many pressing deadlines, so Wanda took Sam and David anyway, leaving me to satisfy my clients’ demands. Simply put, this profession can eat you up, and leave you with many regrets.

   The architect I worked for after graduation lamented that he felt badly about the fact that he worked so hard in the early years of his career. “I feel like I never got to know my daughter,” he said repeatedly. But when the deadlines came, he pushed us all just as hard, and the fact that we had been conditioned to long hours in school with all the all-nighters meant that it was far too easy to fall into the trap of 80-hour weeks when the deadlines came. And when I opened my own firm in 1991, 80-hour weeks became my new normal, as that’s what I averaged over the course of each early year. Eventually, that grew to a 90-hour average about the time this photo was taken, and the last three years I kept timesheets I was averaging over a hundred hours per week. So in those years, I was pretty much an absentee father, and nothing will ever give me those years back with my kids.

   Why do we do this to ourselves? Answers could range from the culture of the profession to the pressure we feel due to under-valuing of the profession to many other things, but I believe there’s also a dark underlying motivation nobody talks about: the necessity of uniqueness. For most of history, the high standard in architecture was excellence. But beginning in the late 1920s to early 1930s, that standard was displaced by a new high standard of uniqueness. If you wanted to be significant, you must be unique. I believe this was driven in part by the ascendency of Modernism and its love of the new, but also by the rise of the modern architectural press, which was seeking novel things to publish, not just the same old stuff from last year.

   The necessity of uniqueness is welcomed by the rare geniuses who are able to crank out excellent unique things in a steady stream. But it’s a recipe for failure for everyone else. Unfortunately, almost all academies base their teaching on the premise that they will educate the next Frank Gehry. So what actually happens in school is a curious dance of deception. A normal student usually did their best work when they were ripping off something a master had done. And because of the necessity of uniqueness, there was a vast store of published work to choose from. I remember the game. Whenever someone did something particularly well-executed, we all set about on a frantic search to find the original in recent magazines from which it had been plagiarized, all while the student was asserting it was a unique creation.

   There was one guy who was different; he made no mistake that he was a huge fan of Richard Meier, and ripped him off regularly. One Sunday afternoon, I remember him coming into the studio and laughing at us all… “you bunch of fools! You’ve been slaving away all weekend, haven’t you? And you’ll probably pull an all-nighter tonight to get done for the jury tomorrow, won’t you? Watch what I do!” And he sat down and in about 4 hours had produces a competent Meier ripoff. And got an A the next day. Because speaking in a known language is immeasurably easier than trying to create your own new language. Every. Single. Time.

   I believe that if we want to take our family lives back, and actually be good parents as architects, we really must discard this ridiculous necessity of uniqueness the profession has been burdened with for nearly a century. Children of future generations of architects will thank us for making this break from the recent past.

   The wisest and most effective way to do this is to seek out the most sustainable architecture of your region and begin working in that language of architecture. Much of it was probably worked out by the old folks before the Thermostat Age, so this is not something you’ll have to completely invent yourself. But if you learn why they did what they did, then you’ll be able to follow those principles to update the architecture, because some of today’s needs didn’t exist several generations ago. So architecture can take on a life of its own and live again, evolving to be the most current architecture of the day, but based on principles instead of just raw novelty.

   Wanda and I have dedicated ourselves in recent years to building tools that help others do better work rather than pushing to do more design ourselves. When you work within known languages of architecture, it is easy to build tools many others can use because we use the same “words,” or patterns, of the language. For example, we’re about to publish a broad and deep collection of SketchUp components for southeastern US languages of architecture, and another for the architecture of the Bahamas. I’ll blog on that when it goes live.

   In a world where the sharing economy is so strong in so many other realms, why should architects not be allowed to share? Let’s give up this harmful necessity of uniqueness that has caused so much neglect of our families for so long, and speak in known architectural languages. The public realm will benefit greatly but the greatest beneficiaries will be our children.

   ~Steve Mouzon

This is a Blogoff by some of the same characters who bring you #ArchiTalks each month. My colleagues’ posts are here:

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
Happy Fathers Day #archidads

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
The Dad -- The Architect

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
#Archidad - A modern approach

Rusty Long - Rusty Long, Architect (@rustylong)
Life as an Archidad

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Being ArchiDad

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

Larry Lucas - Lucas Sustainable, PLLC (@LarryLucasArch)
A Daddy Architects Work Life Blur and My Escape

Jared W. Smith - Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)
ArchiDad on Father's Day

Walk Appeal book front cover

Subscribe to get Walk Appeal book updates

* indicates required

Starting Wrong - The Amazon Mistake

search the Original Green Blog


   The 20 cities that are finalists for Amazon's HQ2 are starting out with a classic error of 20th Century thinking, and it is a mistake with colossal implications which may reverberate in the winning losing city for decades. It’ll be the “winning losing” city because while it will win the competition, it will be at risk of losses bigger than the win because winning a single big prize like HQ2 dims focus on the many small but fundamental things cities need to do in order to prosper in the 21st Century. If cities don’t get the small things right, One Big Thing like HQ2 won’t save them. If they do get the small things right, they may eventually have some home-grown Big Things no matter where HQ2 goes.

   238 cities originally pursued HQ2, and there will be one winner among the 20 cities on the shortlist. Several cities on the list are already coughing up multi-billion dollar incentive package proposals for Amazon, which is racing Apple and Google to be the first trillion-dollar company. So chances are good that no matter how much inducement money (or corporate welfare, if you prefer) the winning losing city forks over to Amazon, the relative cost to the city of those billions will be greater than the relative benefit to Amazon. There’s a cause founded last week by Richard Florida that asks competing cities to support a non-aggression pact. Nearly a hundred high-profile urbanists are signatories to the cause, and I’ve signed the petition on change.org because this is a right first step.


   But the real questions (especially for the other 237 cities) are these: how have we become such suckers for pursuing the One Big Thing we’re very unlikely to get, and what should we be doing instead? We’ve been sold on the efficiency of bigness since at least the 1920s, captivated by the marketing slogan “we’re growing bigger to serve you better.” But somewhere along the way, we haven’t just made it easier for big things; we’ve actually exterminated most small things. In agriculture, that came in 1971 when Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz began bellowing “get big or get out!”

Starting Small

   What is the starting point of building a stronger city or town that we’re more likely to sustain long into an uncertain future? Anyone familiar with the Original Green knows there are four foundations of sustainable places: they must be nourishableaccessibleserviceable, and securable. These are physical characteristics. But the societies that inhabit them must also embody certain foundation characteristics if they hope to be able to keep inhabiting those places long into that uncertain future. Two of those characteristics are a good education system and a strong middle class. Improving the education system and a growing middle class are two really big things, but the starting points are small things, most of which cost only tiny fractions of the sacrifice of luring One Big Thing.

Spending Small But Leading Large


   Amazon’s 237 losers shouldn’t just slink off and lick their wounds and then forget about it. Instead, they should use the experience as an opportunity to ask this question: “Are there things we can do that cost a lot less than landing Amazon, but that will have better long-term benefits?” As unthinkable as that sounds with the Titanic focus on the One Big Thing, the answer is probably “yes” for most of them. But here's a crucial caveat: All measures described here, while inexpensive enough to risk occasionally sounding silly, can only work if they have a serious champion in your town. Otherwise, the inertia of the status quo will ensure that none of them happen. So find that group or that person who’s willing to stand up to business as usual, and is strong enough to stand up to one or more of your city department heads, otherwise you’re wasting your time. There are two types of people in the world: those who can tell you why something can’t be done, and those who get stuff done. The latter type is harder to find, but you must have at least one of them. Here’s what they need to work on:


   Good schools are essential to towns that can be sustained long into an uncertain future. Unfortunately, quality of education is not a problem solved by simply by throwing more money at it. Studies have repeatedly shown that there is not a strong correlation between education spending and high achievement. Outliers abound. Techniques suggested here focus on what has been the hardest nut to crack with education: fostering a culture where education is valued more highly, and which gives kids hope.



   Few characteristics of a society are stronger indicators of long-term stability than a robust middle class. But unlike the recent past when many families remained in the middle class for generations, it is now a more tranient status in the US and abroad. There are faster paths to wealth today than ever before, and disruptive events such as the Great Recession move millions quickly down and out of the middle class. Rebuilding the middle class is now, more than ever, a continuous challenge. The middle class is built from the bottom up, not the top down, as those who were once wealthy tend to find their own way back to wealth more easily the second time. At its core, middle-class-building starts with the small, the young, and the disadvantaged. Help those among them who want to start their own businesses, and they will in time hire others who would rather collect paychecks than write them. And those local businesses will help both owners and employees get into the ranks of the middle class.

The Settings

   Cities do not need to build a lot of new things to help fuel the middle class. Chances are, they already have many assets sitting unused all over town. Adopt a policy of No Fallow Land that states that every unused piece of city property is a potential setting for initiatives to help citizens join the middle class by starting new stuff. A vacant lot can be a community garden. An under-used parking lot can become a food cart pod. Empty buildings can be used like this:

Open Maker Spaces


   Identify neighborhoods most in need of recovery and open a maker space in each of them because time and again, they have become morning’s first light of recovery in a struggling neighborhood, and the first hint that place can be cool again. After that, continue with more stable neighborhoods. A maker space needs little more than wide-open space, a (mostly) leak-free roof, electricity, and running water. It is here that people come to re-learn the lost arts and crafts of making stuff. They also teach other makers what they’ve learned, so it’s half-laboratory and half-school.

   What they learn varies as much as their locations; a maker space in the Bahamas probably shelters those relearning something about living in a nautical nation, while one in Boston might focus more on technology. Or not. It all depends on the interests of those using them.

   Be sure to put maker spaces on the field trip schedule for local schools. Not only is it interesting for kids to see what the makers are doing, but there’s a pretty good chance that some of the kids might actually know more about some of the tech things than the makers, and be able to help them out… and maybe even come back after school.

Allow Temporary Single-Crew Shops

   Single-crew workplaces that are temporary or even mobile allow people to open their own businesses years or even decades before they could have afforded a bricks-and-mortar store… if ever. Put another way, raise the initial threshold to brick-and-mortar stores, and most people will never get started and the middle class will not thrive like it could have. Temporary single-crew workplaces run from the most ephemeral farmers market tents to food carts and shop sheds. In every case, they can be moved to another location whenever the town has a higher or better use for the land on which they’re sitting.

Build Craft Workshops


   Once someone has figured out how to do something useful, they need a more established place to do it longterm. When someone first moves out of a maker space into their own workshop, their needs are small. They probably need only enough space for one person to work, plus space to store their tools. Locate workshops on the borders of public spaces (plazas and sqares are best) for three reasons: it will make those civic spaces more interesting while helping create enclosure, drawing more people, and some of those people will become customers of the craftspeople. The third reason might be the most important: by being highly visible in a public place, kids are likely to see them working while coming home from school, and some of them might be inspired to try their hand at a craft someday.

Start Coworking Spaces

   Of the places to work, coworking spaces are the most expensive because they’re built just like a regular office. Their economy comes from the fact that each person uses only a very small part of the building.

Reopen the Old School


Legendary Bahamian craftsman Joseph

Saunders will soon be 91.

   Some old skills will never be needed again in most places. Saddle repair, for example, is a craft once found in every town, but now likely to be kept alive only in places where lots of people still ride horses. But there are many skills we’re now realizing we’d like to have back. Unfortunately, the last people to know how to do them are now aged or dying. Find an old abandoned school or similar structure (church building? office?) and gather the old craftspeople there to teach the young who want those abilities back again.

The Deal

   Remember, the original idea was “take a small fraction of the money you would have spent on corporate welfare and spend it this way instead…” in order to strengthen education and the middle class. The greatest help for a new business should come at the beginning, then taper off as new arrivals to the middle class can stand on their own. So rent charged at these workplaces should be free to begin with for a certain number of months, then transition to a percentage rent, where the city gets a percentage of each person’s gross monthly income. Once they graduate from being a single-crew workplace of one businessperson and maybe one helper, then they should be able to pay regular rent to a normal private-sector landlord.

Making Making Cool Again
(and Learning, Too)


   Being a craftsperson was once a high calling, but by the time I was in high school in the 1970s, classmates who spent their afternoons at the local vocational-technical school were known as “the VoTech losers.” Now, education of any kind is held in low regard in much of society. “It’s not cool to be smart” is sadly far too common, but easy to understand. Since the mid-19th Century, education in most industrialized nations was designed to produce graduates who were normal and obedient, so they could become good factory workers. How is it possible to be less cool than that?? So learning things and making things both need an image revival in most places today. Here are some low-budget ideas to try:

Idea Fairs for Kids

   Carve a little time out of the curriculum, probably on Friday afternoon, and start an idea fair in every grade of schools. Disruptive ideas are cool today, so frame it like “here’s how I’m gonna change this town,” to “here’s how I’m gonna change the world.” Give prizes. Make it the highlight of the month, or maybe even do them every week.

Idea Fairs for Adults

   Maker spaces are good places for neighborhood cultural events, so hold idea fairs there where makers can pitch their ideas to local businesses and investors. Saturdays might be a good time so as to not interfere with the workweek. And the Saturday idea fairs wouldn’t just attract people who might bring a contract with them. Look at Kickstarter’s traffic and it’s clear that many people consider looking at cool new ideas a form of entertainment.

Movie Night

IMG 6323

   Hold regular “movies on the green” screening films focused on kids with great ideas. Pay It Forward should be the anthem film, shown at least a couple times per year. Make this a real neighborhood cultural event, and a family night. Friday night right after the idea fair at school could be a perfect time. Do it as leanly as possible. You don’t need a big screen, for example; just a white-painted wall on the side of a building.

The Idea Board

   Set up a blackboard, whiteboard, or some other waterproof board in a public place like a park, installed at a height so most third-grade kids can reach the top of the board. Divide it into rectangles. You may have seen these before; they’re often framed as “things I want to do before I die,” “things I’d like to see built here,” etc. Do this one as “here’s my big idea; help me out with it” and leave a lot of chalk.

Helpful Infrastructure

   There are some things that can be done to the city itself to help make it a more education- and growth-friendly place for children and adults alike.

Gigabit Internet

   Cities around the US are realizing that if they bring gigabit internet to town, the internet will bring bandwidth-heavy businesses to town. Even small towns such as Geraldine, Alabama have brought gigabit to town to attract businesses. There’s no debate anywhere as to whether it’s worth the expense, and gigabit is a huge benefit to education as well. On a personal note, Geraldine was the last place in Alabama where members of my extended family were served by outdoor plumbing, and that was as late as 1978. Outhouses to gigabit in 40 years!

Pink Zones

   The Pink Zone is an innovative idea from the Lean Urbanism initiative. It’s a place where the red tape isn’t eliminated entirely, but is made a little bit lighter so the small, the young, and the disadvantaged can get started easier. In other words, it doesn’t create a favela zone, but it does allow more freedom than the fully-regulated remainder of town. And a Pink Zone doesn’t cost money; it saves, because it can be administered lightly.

Walk Appeal


   Swapping great ideas shouldn’t only happen at idea fairs, movie nights, and other special occasions and destinations. Smart cultures and entrepreneurial cultures work best when there are many opportunities for chance meetings between people working to figure stuff out. And that begins with getting people out, because you never accidentally bump into someone if everyone stays inside. Places with great Walk Appeal get far more people outdoors than auto-dominated places that are unfriendly to walking, so do everything you can to boost Walk Appeal all over town. Many of these measures cost little, and quite a number of them are in the financial best interest of landowners to do at their own expense, costing the city nothing. Wanda and I are writing the Walk Appeal book; if you’re interested, you can subscribe to updates below.

Third Places

   Your First Place is home. Your Second Place is work. Your Third Place is where you go to hang out, “where everybody knows your name,” as the old Cheers tagline went. Third Places can be pubs, coffee shops, or any other place where you can buy something and hang out for as long as you like (maybe with your laptop because they have wifi). Third Places can be like chameleons, morphing from coffee shop in the morning to rum bar at night, like the Rum & Bean. Third Places have been hotspots of thinking throughout history, from the forum in ancient cities to the coffee shops largely responsible for the European Enlightenment. A city or town should not actually build any Third Places; just encourage them, and make it easy for them to open for business.

Infrastructure ROI

   For over a century, Americans have built infrastructure with no thought for the Return on Investment, or ROI. If a traffic study says we need it, we’ve gotta build it. Today, most American cities are loaded with infrastructure they cannot maintain, and it threatens to bankrupt thousands of cities and towns.  Joe Minicozzi and Chuck Marohn have been sounding the alarm for years; it’s high time we listen, because if we keep building infrastructure that doesn’t make a profit for the city, we won’t be able to afford the other things on this list, much less the One Big Thing.

   ~Steve Mouzon

   One more thing… I’m delighted to be participating in a blogoff again! This one is ArchiTalks, organized by Lora Teagarden, and this week's topic is starting a design. I’ve altered it a bit for this post to include things beyond a single design… this one is more like laying a good foundation for an entire city. I’ll update the links tomorrow as more posts come online. Enjoy the reads!

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Slow Down. Hold Still.

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
where do we start?

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
How to Start a Design

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
Starting a Design: #Architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
On Your Mark, Get Set -- Start a Design!

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
Starting Design

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks #35: Starting a Design

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Where do we begin?

Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Where do you start when designing a new home?

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
do-re-mi- Design

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
First Thing's First

Tim Ung - Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
5 Tips for Starting an Architecture Project

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
How it all begins...

Walk Appeal book front cover

Subscribe to get Walk Appeal book updates

* indicates required

The Twelve Steps of Sprawl Recovery

search the Original Green Blog


   The storm clouds of sprawl addiction had been gathering for years, but it took the Meltdown and the ensuing Great Recession to make it clear just how damaging that addiction had been to the health of cities across the US and abroad. Sprawl has two really big things going for it, but three even bigger things now going against it which are poised to turn the tide against the pattern of sprawl.

Sprawl's Two Enablers


   Sprawl development is, at its foundation, an industrial system, developed in the 1940s on the shiny and new mentality of the assembly line. The first enablers of sprawl are the core manufacturing systems that produces the subdivisions, strip malls, office parks, mega-stores, mega-churches, and mega-schools, and the mega-highways necessary to serve them all. The second enabler is the collection of support industries built around the core of sprawl: market surveys, zoning, infrastructure engineering, design, and their sprawl based standards, codes, and regulations, development lending and sprawl-based development practices, appraisals and home mortgages and mortgage bundling, “site-adapt” cookie-cutter building design, square-feet-bells-and-whistles real estate sales, plus all of the financial, design, development, and sales industry organizations, and the shelter publications and shows to support this behemoth. Because the parts were industrially designed to interact seamlessly with each other, and preclude any other way of building, it looked like an immovable rock for decades. Until the cracks in the infrastructure began to show.

The Three Interventions


   Three immense waves are now crashing against the monolith of sprawl, and promise to intervene in our current path to national, state, and local bankruptcy. The first is the relations between workplace and workers. The generation of workers who would follow a job across the country or even abroad is now retiring. Millennials turn the job hunt on its head, seeking first a cool city or town, then the coolest neighborhood in that town, then a job they like in that neighborhood. Cool Factor, on display in this image, is now what drives employment. And there is no place in America more devoid of Cool Factor than an office park, and a subdivision is close behind. Today’s slide is just the beginning of a precipitous drop in demand for boring places to work and live.


   The second great wave is also generationally-based, but more mathematical than the preferences for places with Cool Factor. For all of our lifetimes until just a few years ago, there have been net purchasers in the US housing market. Now, for the rest of most of our lives, there will be more sellers than purchasers. For a half-century, we’ve been assured that home prices will rise. Now, for houses located in ordinary subdivisions, the prognosis is very poor: falling real estate values as far as the eye can see. There is a solution: sprawling places that elect for an extreme makeover into vibrant and sustainable places can actually run against the tide and increase their values. But those which stay the current course cannot resist the value decline with any amount of wishful or “magical" thinking.


   The third wave is eqally inexorable: the failure of sprawl infrastructure. But this one is pure math and has nothing to do with Boomers, Millennials, or any other generation. Get to know two names really well: Joe Minicozzi and Chuck Marohn. They’re very different in so many ways: from different parts of the country, from different sides of the political spectrum, one a lone wolf and the other the founder of a movement with a small army and annual gatherings, but they are highly aligned as the two prophets of the end of sprawl. They show (in two very different ways, as you may have guessed by now) how that sprawl is a huge Ponzi scheme, and how it will collapse on the weight of its own infrastructure maintenance. “Do the math,” as Joe says… it shows a terrifying calculation no city wants to see: there is a date at which every city in the US with a lot of sprawl will go bankrupt because of the cost of maintaining the infrastructure. It’s not a question of if, but of when. And that date can be calculated.

   So make no mistake: Sprawl is an American addiction, and we must break it or it will break us. Cities cannot afford to maintain the sprawl developers have built, and the infrastructure bills are beginning to come due in greater quantities than ever. For sprawl, it's recover or die. Do the math. Look it up.

The Twelve Steps

   There is a 12-step sprawl recovery program that can transform the subdivisions, strip malls, and office parks of post-WWII sprawl into sustainable neighborhoods... IF the people living there want that extreme makeover. But they have to want it & be committed to the transformation. Without the commitment, they won’t be able to break the addiction. The 12-step sprawl recovery program can never be forced upon anyone. People have to be committed to transforming the sprawl around them into sustainable places. The benefits are many, including the fact that those places will live much longer. The alternative is bleak; there are ghost towns around the world for a reason.

Step 1: Civic Space


   The first step of sprawl recovery is to create at least one neighborhood civic space, which can be a plaza (for the most urban places), a square (as shown here), a green, or a park. What's important is to do it at the beginning. If you wait, it'll be too expensive later on because property values will likely rise as the neighborhood recovers. A centrally located vacant lot can work as the neighborhood square & it adds enough value to nearby lots to pay for it. An abandoned lot works best, although one with a foreclosed building can work as well.


   Squares are often the size of an entire city block, like Jackson Square in New Orleans, but a neighborhood center civic space doesn’t have to be anywhere near that large. This plaza in chicago is only 75 feet wide; I stepped it off to be sure. Incidentally, that’s about the width of some neighboring buildings, so it’s possible that this plaza was once a vacant lot before being converted into the civic space we see today.

Step 2: Thoroughfare Recovery


   The second step of sprawl recovery is beginning to recover the thoroughfares so that they have enough Walk Appeal that people feel just as comfortable walking and biking there as they do driving there, like they do in this picture. Part of the job involves slowing the cars down by putting the streets on a "street diet" and adding on-street parking. Another part is redesigning the sidewalks, planting beds, and street furnishing zones to entice people to come out and walk on their neighborhood streets. A third part is inserting rear lanes and service alleys to get the messy stuff off the front streets, and the means of getting property owners to give up the back 10’ to 15’ of their lots and be happy about it will be the subject of an entire future blog post.


   Multi-modal transport is very important at this step, especially the self-propelled modes of walking and biking. Get these right and Walk Appeal flourishes and many good things happen. Get them wrong, and you're stuck with the auto-dominated place you have now, where people spend more quality time with their steering wheels than with their families. There's an added benefit to the self-propelled means of getting around: neighbors will get more exercise, stay healthier, and actually be happier, which is a proven benefit of getting out and getting around on your own power.

Step 3: Accessory Dwelling Units


   This step adds accessory dwelling units like the apartment over this garage in order to add neighbors to the neighborhood because subdivisions in sprawl rarely have anywhere near enough neighbors to support neighborhood businesses. Some people worry that "those people won't be just like us," but a variety of people make a place more interesting, and you have control over who you rent your accessory unit to; it's not like anyone is putting up high-rise apartment blocks next door. And your tenant might even be your own kid, who has just graduated from college. Also, some cities and states are now passing laws legalizing accessory dwelling units (also called ADUs or “granny flats”) because while they’ve been used all over American and around the world for all of human history until recently, they’ve been illegal in the US since roughly the end of World War II. So if you’re living in a place that is now making them legal again, you’re one step ahead.

Step 4: Gifts to the Street


Encouraging neighbors to give "gifts to the street" is the next step. Gifts can delight people (like a beautiful frontage garden), entertain them (like a great storefront), refresh them (like a street fountain or even a sidewalk café), shelter them (like an awning or gallery), direct them (like a goal in the middle distance), inform them (like a clock or sundial), help them remember (like a memorial), or simply give them a place to rest. Whatever each gift may give to the street, there's no doubt that the collection of gifts will make the street a much more interesting place to walk.

Step 5: Lovable Edible Gardens


The next step of sprawl recovery is encouraging lovable edible gardens throughout the neighborhood, and also establishing a farmers market for those who don't want to raise a garden themselves. Fresh local food does much good for a neighborhood… so much so that these benefits will occupy an entire future post. It’s also really important that the edible gardens be treated with every bit as much care as ornamental gardens. Today, most vegetable gardens are treated with similar aesthetic respect to a utility room. For most people, that means “not much." As a result, many cities ban vegetable gardens in front yards because they can be eyesores. Recovering neighborhoods need to learn how to do edible gardens beautifully again, as our ancestors once did.

Step 6: Places to Eat


   Restaurants tend to be risk-oblivious, so they should be the first business type introduced to your recovering neighborhood (probably around the neighborhood square) as Step 6 of sprawl recovery. Small restaurants fit well in existing houses like the one shown here. But be careful where you put them, especially at the beginning. Quiet restaurants can fit well on most street corners because they close earlier and don't disturb the neighbors, but those with a younger clientele or that serve alcohol should be limited to around the neighborhood square, and should only be added later, once the neighborhood has a strong track record of beloved establishments.

Step 7: Bed & Breakfast


   Add a bed & breakfast at Step 7 so subsequent houses aren't burdened with needing a guest suite and can therefore be smaller if desired. Before the Meltdown in 2008, a guest suite in many suburban houses included a bath and often even a walk-in closet, frequently  tipping the scales at 250 square feet or more. At $200 per square foot, the necessity of having a guest bedroom inflated the mortgage by $50,000 or more. The mortgage savings can more than pay for putting your guests up at the B&B.

Step 8: Cottages


   By this time, your recovering neighborhood is ready for Step 8 of sprawl recovery, which is the construction of small cottages throughout the neighborhood so you can invite more neighbors to live there and help support the growing collection of neighborhood businesses. Because they're small, cottages can slip into many underused parts of a neighborhood, including along rear lanes or in cottage courts carved into the middle of a block. Having smaller homes in the neighborhood expands the affordability range, allowing young adults to live just down the street from their parents for the first time in nearly a century.

Step 9: Live/Work Units


   Step 9 is construction of live/work units so you can open a small business and live above the shop. America was built by people living over the shop; live/work units were only banned after World War II, when planners decided to segregate homes not only from factories, but from everything else as well. Recent decades have seen countless corporate job losses, and many of those people have gone in business for themselves. Now, just as it was when the US was founded, there is no better place to cultivate your own business than in a live/work unit.

Step 10: Neighborhood Market


   Your neighborhood should be mature enough in its recovery by this point that you're ready for Step 10, which is a dedicated neighborhood market. This one has apartments above, but the owner may live elsewhere in the neighborhood. One really important note about neighborhood markets: retail experts may tell you that they need to be at least 40,000 square feet to be successful, and this is true in sprawl, where they're often much larger. But in a walkable neighborhood, they can be much smaller. There are even single-crew groceries of less than 1,000 square feet, and a grocery of 5,000 square feet can stock everything in a convenience store, plus healthy food as well.

Step 11: Dedicated Office & Retail


   This step of sprawl recovery is the construction of dedicated office and retail space. On quiet streets, it might be just a small home office for one person built tight up to the sidewalk; larger establishments fit better around the neighborhood square. Look at old town centers, and you'll see that some of these shops and offices are quite small, and are built in the front yards of homes near the town center. In other cases, homeowners eventually redeveloped their homes as dedicated office and retail, like the shops shown here.

Step 12: Civic Buildings


   The final step is the addition of civic buildings, if you haven't added them already. A meeting hall, wedding chapel, or place of worship are all candidate civic building types; your neighborhood's needs may be different, so build the ones you need. Civic buildings in the US often sit on a square or plaza, but while that's nice, it's not necessary. Most of them do need space for a crowd to spill out in front, so setting them back from the street is one way to do this. Another is to place them in a location where the streets swells out, creating a small civic space that might be as simple as an extra-wide sidewalk.

   We realize that an extreme makeover of your neighborhood sounds like a scary thing. It is because it's a big change. But it's the kind of change that can transforms ordinary subdivisions and strip centers into a vibrant and sustainable neighborhoods that can join the ranks of the Most-Loved Places someday. Good luck, and let’s talk about the challenges and techniques of making this happen!

   ~Steve Mouzon

   Wanda and I are writing a book on Sprawl Recovery and you can subscribe to updates below, which is good, but what’s even better is to join in the discussion so we can all work these things out in the open. Nobody’s under any illusions that this will be easy, but sprawl recovery is likely the most important challenge America has ever faced because sprawl has grown so large.

   One more thing… I’m delighted to be participating in a blogoff again! This one is ArchiTalks, organized by Lora Teagarden, and the topic is renewal. It’s clear to me that renewal of the health of our cities after the long addiction of sprawl is of paramount importance. I’ll update the links tomorrow as more posts come online. Enjoy the reads!

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
get out of town renewal

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Goal Renewal

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
renewal: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Renewal - Re-Ranch

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@BuildingsRCool)
No guts, no glory!

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)

Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
working towards my site re-launch. next time! cheers

Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
5 Tips for Harnessing Renewal to Advance Your Goals

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Renewal (at Each Beginning)

Tim Ung - Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
Break Routines

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Opting out on this one

Larry Lucas - Lucas Sustainable, PLLC (@LarryLucasArch)
Renewal is Valuable for Heart and Hometown


Subscribe to get Sprawl Recovery book updates

* indicates required

© The Guild Foundation 2017