Lean Conversations in Detroit - Saturday, October 12

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photos are from Richmond neighborhoods, not Detroit, because I was too busy with the conference to photograph while I was there


   The Lean Council of the CNU took place over the weekend of October 12-13, 2013 in Detroit. These are the first day's proceedings. Text <like this> is my commentary.

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• Rip Rapson leads off the morning telling a fascinating story of private-sector-funded transit system being built in Detroit.

• <I still say that the broad understanding of "buron" will be "bureaucratic moron.">

• Rip: There has always been great vibrancy in the Detroit cultural scene.

• Rip: The Kresge foundation can't run all the things we're starting in the long run; our role is to get them going.

• Rip: Philanthropy serves well as a table-setter. Philanthropy can also serve as the seller of a great project.

• Rip: 30 people don't change the world.

• <They may not finish the job, but they can certainly start it!>

• Rip: Arts & culture are crying out for Lean! Opportunities are endless.

• Rip: Maker spaces thrive in a Lean environment. We need more of them!

• Rip: 1. Nestle Lean with intensely local community. 2. Integrate the arts. 3. Adapt our physical heritage. 4. Leverage creative potential that's already there. 5. Recover natural resources. 6. Adapt to climate change. 8. Acknowledge interdependence of urban systems. <I missed Rip's #7. Did anyone else get it? If so, please leave a comment below.>

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• Anonymous: The Health Department is Killing Me!!

• <Scale is the best determinant of Lean. Where mega-projects are impossible, single-crew workplaces can still thrive.>

• <Lean is what people do when they realize that help definitely is not on the way!>


• Hank Dittmar: Millennials, immigrants, and small businesses are the biggest Lean market segments.

• Hank: We will act as coaches more than experts to foster a Lean future.

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• Andrés Duany: I have been trying to unpack Lean so that we can all work on it in parallel.

• Andrés: I think it is very early in Lean. We are still piling things into the soup.

• Andrés: Phil Bess has a great quote which I believe characterizes what we are doing: "Twirling… twirling… twirling toward freedom."

• Andrés: It is very important that Lean not overlap either CNU or Tactical Urbanism. Lean should be the seam between.

• Andrés: If you don't want it repeated, don't say it because it will enter the collective conversation quickly.

• Andrés: One of the things that must be broken to achieve Lean is old thinking.

• Andrés: The 21st Century actually started in 2008. 2000-2007 were the last years of the 20th.

• Andrés:  The 3 Great Crises of 2008 were the broad recognition of Climate Change and Peak Oil, and the real estate bubble. These things did not have to happen all at once. But they did.

• Andrés: It is a common misconception that our society is based on energy. Our society isn't based on energy, but on cheap energy.

• Andrés: The real estate bubble revealed problems that began years earlier.

• Andrés: The Continental Disadvantage: America's sprawl pattern is more difficult to fix than Europe's because they've built compactly for almost all of their history whereas much of the US is sprawl.

• Andrés: 3 Overlaid Crises of 2008 are all caused by suburban sprawl.

• Andrés: The Great Pall is in danger of occurring when it finally sinks in with the public at large that the things we've enjoyed since WWII aren't coming back the way they were. But the Great Pall is something we cannot allow, because people will give up. So we must be able to show them better things to go on to, rather than waiting for what will never come back again.

• Andrés: Worldwide mitigation becomes regional adaptation in Lean. 

• Andrés: Regional adaptation. Local self-sufficiency. Many small projects. All three of these are components of Lean.

• Andrés: The focus on the present has been a distortion field, and so has the focus on the too-distant future. We need to be solving things for the middle distance, before the silver bullets of some far-distant future emerge. It may be easy then, but we can't just wait for the easy.

• Andrés: Global economy gives way to local self-sufficiency in Lean.

• Andrés: In a Lean future, there will be few large projects, but many small projects.

• Andrés: The real estate bubble revealed a permanent impoverishment that is likely to be with us for a few generations. Governments can no longer do what they once could.

• Andrés: We absolutely will find new oil & new energy sources, but they aren't cheap anymore.

• Andrés: If you only pay attention to the present, you cannot have many ideas that are compelling.

• Andrés: Anywhere built on low land is a future slum because insurance will get withdrawn years before anything gets wet. The insurance companies are already pulling out of the lowest-lying areas because of flooding that hadn't even happened yet. The revocation of insurance is years, or maybe even decades, closer than the actual floods.

• Andrés: Let CNU be in charge of the long vision and the large scale, Tactical Urbanism can handle the smallest-scale issues, and Lean Urbanism can handle the seam in between.

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• Robert Orr: "Climate Change & Risk", was the scariest conference I ever attended. 

• Douglas Duany: Adaptation is the only answer.

• Doug Kelbaugh: If you don't attend to the long-range stuff, you won't be able to adapt to the near-term stuff.

• Karja Hansen: Projections have to do with averages, and with politics.

• Sandy Sorlien: We should focus on adaptation that also mitigates.

• Andrés: What happens with the depression that occurs when people say "whoa… it's hopeless!"

• Hank: I'm no Al Gore, but I know Al Gore, and a big mistake he made was not allowing any discussion of adaptation.

• Doug: Adaptation and mitigation are both essential to climate change.

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• Andrés: Our diminished circumstances call for a return to common sense.

• Andrés: At the beginning, there is ignorance, then avoidance, then alleviation, then reform.

• Andrés: Lean operates at the scale of the household, block, and neighborhood, but not city, region, state, or nation.

• Andrés: These are the important Lean dates: 1874, 1924, 1984, and 2014.

• Andrés: The last quarter of the 19th century should be very interesting to Lean, and the Mormons were America's stars. Do you have any idea how many towns they founded during this time? During the last quarter of the 19th century, people with no computers or electricity got amazing things done.


• Robert: What you're proposing is much like a garage-cleaning: taking everything out and throwing away what you don't need.

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• Andrés: The codes were very light in 1874 in the US because the risks imposed by any single building were small.

• Andrés: The New Urbanism was largely based on things built in the 1920s. Lean should be based more on 1874.

• Andrés: In the absence of regulation, the Town Founder and planners of Seaside found no impediments to building. What we owe the 30-year-olds is a permitting environment like the one we found at the founding of Seaside. 30-year-olds with the same skill sets that designed Seaside are doing little more than chair-bombing today. We owe them the ability to do what we did.

• Andrés: You can't fix 2014 Detroit with 2008 tools.

• Andrés: We've forgotten the original ways of doing things; even the New Urbanists conceive New Urbanism as the only way of doing things.

• Andrés: We're drawing high rises today, in a time when millions of people are barely avoiding shacks.

• Andrés: You can't think anything like 1990 if you want to fix Detroit.

• Andrés: Mizner Park should now look very archaic, like something out of prehistory. We should look at Mizner Park and say "isn't that quaint?" It was a good time, but it's over… you have to be more wily now.

• Andrés: The Original Green is actually the normative human condition. Recent times are the anomalies.

• Andrés: There is nothing dishonorable about 1874, 1924, or 1984... it's just not now.

• Andrés: The $100 million project is still viable. it's the middle that's falling out.

• Andrés: The first phase of Lean is created by the Risk Oblivious, who are the Bohemians. The Bohemians didn't get loans or permits, but have created value for 150 years.

• Andrés: The second phase of Lean is built by risk-aware developers like Tony Goldman.

• Andrés: The third phase is when the risk-averse (like dentists from New Jersey) move in and spoil the Cool Factor. When the risk-averse move in, the risk-oblivious leave.

• Andrés: It is absolutely crucial for Lean to allow the Bohemians to act.

• Andrés: When the Cool Factor fades, the value eventually fades as well, resulting in collapse and re-emergence of Bohemians.

• Andrés: The Cutting Tools of Lean are Subsidiarity, the Transect, Succession, and the Charter.

• Andrés: The ethics of Lean are the ethics of the Charter of the New Urbanism.

• Andrés: "Lean Alignment" may be a better term than "Lean Team"… we're aligned, but often work independently.

• Andrés: The glacier of regulation is receding from Detroit, and opening things up to happen.

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• Sara Hines: Buildings in 19th century camp communities like Chautauqua were essentially "tents made solid."

• Sara: Neshoba County Fairgrounds is unique in that it's built around the county fair, not church-sponsored.

• Sara: Almost all camp buildings were handmade, and self-built. The scale of camp cottages were often tiny.

• Sara: The Park Model of manufactured house is up to 500 SF and avoids most regulations imposed on HUD Code trailers.

• Sara: Dan Camp has done a great job building Lean housing in the Cotton District.

• Sara: Boats can be great Lean housing.


   ~Steve Mouzon


© The Guild Foundation 2013