The Original Green is measured not by standard of living, but by quality of life. How good, not how big. This has many implications about scale.
Pretty much every problem of urbanism today is a problem of scale. Too big. Too fast. Too heavy. Too far. Too wide. Too tall. Too loud. Too long. The list goes on and on. This is because modern urbanism is built according to the rules of industry instead of the principles of humanity, and one of the top rules of industry is "scale up." But Original Green places built to the measure of humanity are inherently more livable and lovable than those built to the measure of machines.
Bigger isn't better; bigger is clearly worse, while smaller is better. For any given budget, the bigger the thing you're buying or building with that budget (like a house) the more cheaply it must be built. Build small enough, and you can have the best of everything.
If happiness is the measure, then there are two paths to wealth: having more, or needing less. If dollars are the measure, then there is only one path: having more. Someone will always have more than I do, and can prove it. Whereas who is to say who is happier? I can be fully happy. I can never be fully rich because that would mean having the whole world.
Before and after our time, I believe that consumption will be considered a vice, not a virtue. Read any ancient wisdom. Where can we find consumption considered as a possible virtue by the thoughtful before the Conspicuous Consumption thinking of the 1920s? Or how can excess consumption even be considered intelligent? Our worship of consumption is a (hopefully) temporary insanity.
Vernacular #PlaceMaking strengthens the good paths and heals the broken places in many small acts over a long time, and requires humility. Classical placemaking changes paths and places and can be done with humility by humane masters or tyrannically by the ego-obsessed.
While a few of us might be trying to build utopia, most of us are just trying to start out by making things less bad. Small first steps like being able to walk to the grocery store, and make a living where you’re living.
One-Story Urbanism is the natural starting point of places; the inaugural condition. Forcing more intense at the beginning is an unfair burden to place on development. Inaugural One-Story Urbanism should be temporary and mobile things like food carts and retail shacks. But be careful, because they can be so charming like Perspicasity at Seaside, Florida that people don't want you to take them out when the time comes to replace them with bigger stuff.
The Carlton Landing Fire Department began with a couple trucks sitting in a gravel parking lot near the edge of town. But even at this scale, it saved property owners far more than the cost of the trucks versus waiting for fire protection from quite some distance away.
Large monolithic projects weaken #WalkAppeal simply because they’re less interesting than a good #MainStreet, which changes every few steps. The only mitigating device is an interesting sidewalk-level frontage.
There is no greater indicator of failure to achieve urbanism than the large surface parking lot. Find several of those and you’ve found sprawl. Great urbanism requires no Sea of Parking. Instead, great urbanism spreads services in small establishments in each neighborhood, rather than a few mega-establishments everyone must drive to.
The most important part of great urbanism is also its smallest part: the frontages, which are the spaces beginning with the building face and ending at the edge of the street. Interesting frontages are the backbone of strong Walk Appeal. Good frontages are an excellent predictor of the future prospects of a place. Andres Duany says "if my code could address only a single part of the city, I would focus all my efforts on the frontages."
With the Great Resignation tipping the balance to employees, and with Return to Work dates still receding into uncertainty, what are the prospects of full-time officing ever going back to the way it was? And if not, what of the unused office space?
I’d suggest that office work as we know it today is largely (not entirely, of course) a product of the scaling-up of modern life due to the Industrial Revolution. Was Middle Manager even a thing in the Middle Ages?
The building to the right is El Capitolio, or Cuba's National Capitol Building, right in the heart of Havana. To the left is a cigar factory. Mega-scale industry is a bad neighbor and must be put in remote industrial parks, forcing all the employees to commute. Community-scale industry, on the other hand, can be a good neighbor, allowing employees living nearby to walk to work.
In the first centuries of the Industrial Revolution it wasn't that simple because factories were ferocious polluters, best known by William Blake's term "dark Satanic mills." But beginning in the 1960s in the US, industries were forced to clean up their act. Absent pollution spewing from smokestacks, the largest remaining problems with industry have to do with scale. Huge factories the size of multiple city blocks require a steady stream of tractor-trailer rigs delivering supplies and picking up finished products. This increases thoroughfare sizes and usually speeds around the factory, making life around it unsafe. And even if the trucking burden didn't exist, the mere size of a huge factory casts a large pedestrian shadow, making it unlikely that anyone will walk all the way around the factory to get to something on the other side.
When manufacturing can take place at a smaller scale, however, it can easily be a good neighbor in a city or town center. The largest manufacturing operations may require an entire building, like the cigar factory, but smaller ones may only need to be in a multi-tenant building. One key is transport; with lower needs for supplies and delivery of products to market, truck volume is lower, and depending on what is being manufactured, smaller trucks than tractor-trailers may be feasible.
Manufacturing at craft and artisanal workshop scales can even take place outside the city or town center, either in a neighborhood center or even working from a home workshop. My father was a cabinet-maker, and while he built most of his work onsite, he built some things in our daylit basement. Everything came in and went out in his van, so no big trucks were necessary. He never got a permit from the city to work there, but the neighbors never complained because his work had no negative impacts on them. Home workshops are legal in many cities today, and the flood of people working from home since the pandemic began is likely to make home workshops permissible in even more communities.
From my ancestral hometown of Mouzon, France, you can see straight from the center of town right into the countryside. This never happens in sprawl. The connection to nature has been completely severed by subdivisions, strip malls, and convenience stores.
The most walkable places are those with short blocks because they give you the most choices of where to walk. The shortest blocks are only one building deep, and they tend to be the "money shots" of the neighborhood.
Not every thoroughfare in a community plan should follow old cow paths, but there is a lot of embedded wisdom in the old paths still in frequent use. And a thoroughfare that follows an irregular path necessitates the use of narrower buildings as it curves through the urbanism, creating some of the most interesting places in town. It is not necessary to know why the old folks (or other creatures) chose this path; just trust that there was some good reason tied to the land.
Paving that is rough like cobbles slows vehicles down. Paving that is smooth like asphalt speeds traffic up. Really slow streets are places where people can stand in the street without fear. Stone cobbling on new streets may seem out of the question, but if you have an old cobbled street anywhere in town, by all means preserve it. If you know where a cobbled street has been paved over, daylight it.
The asphalt lobby has us convinced that anything other than asphalt is too expensive, and because they're good at lobbying, most places never consider any alternative, but consider these facts: Properly-installed stone or brick pavers have a life cycle much longer than asphalt in most climates. In my small city of 100,000 (when the 40,000 university students are in town) the city just approved a contract for resurfacing a few of the city's asphalt streets for a total of close to $10,000,000 if I recall correctly. So the maintenance on asphalt is a very expensive proposition.
When you pave with pavers instead of asphalt, utility repair is a breeze, because you just pull up the pavers in a small area, make the repair, and put the pavers back as opposed to saw-cutting a large area of asphalt and hauling it off to the landfill, then being left with an unsightly asphalt patch until the next time you spend millions to resurface the streets.
These two things are obvious; one you might not have considered is that in places that got rid of paver streets decades ago, streets with stone or brick pavers are now considered charming by many, raising property values and therefore property taxes on those streets. So those pavers, while more expensive than asphalt in the beginning, are actually making the city money long into the future.
Even with these benefits, paving stones or bricks should not be used everywhere. The unpleasantness of driving on cobblestones is directly proportional to travel speed. Obviously, rough pavers should only be used where you want really low travel speed, and the charm overwhelms the discomfort. And then there's the question of cyclists. Few of them travel even a significant fraction of speeds achievable by automobiles, so there should be much less interest in slowing them down, since they're a lot slower already. So it makes sense to pave bike lanes at the edges of streets with concrete instead of pavers. Visually, it would look like an extra-wide gutter. Technically a car could drive with two wheels in the bike lane, but the other two would be on the pavers which would still have a slowing influence.
Every community needs a great building where the people can gather. It could be a market hall like this one, a meeting hall, other types of civic buildings, or an arena. The great building varies by community size, from a hamlet market to a national capitol building in a great city.
Anyone on foot or cycle should be able to get to a green, park, playground, or square within a 3-minute walk. But that's not enough; occasionally we need more. So anyone on foot or cycle should be able to get out into serious wilderness in a single day's journey.
Before the Industrial Revolution, nature at all scales was closer. You could see a piece of nature just at a glance through a window, or by stepping out the back door. A pocket park or some other form of nature such as bodies of water embedded in the community were 3 minutes or less away on foot. The open countryside was no more than 15 minutes away on foot in all but the largest cities, although you could often see out into the open countryside from the center of town, as in Country Connection. True wilderness was rarely more than 1-3 hours away on foot, depending on city size.
If it doesn't have essentials like market & mail within walking distance, it's not a neighborhood; it's a subdivision.
Neighborhood-scale businesses which supply our daily needs should be smaller than what you might think. A neighborhood-scale market can be less than a thousand square feet to around five thousand. A neighborhood post office isn't actually a post office. Today, the US Postal Service doesn't do residential delivery in new places; they just supply gang mailboxes, so the neighborhood post office is a dignified place for the mailboxes that has the feel of a civic building. The neighborhood coffee shop can be as small as one barista. Every tiny necessity is one more necessity to which people can walk in their own neighborhood instead of driving to the supercenter. See Single-Crew Workplaces for more.
Places with lots of street stairs are more likely to be Blue Zones, where people live longer than their cultural counterparts elsewhere.
Grade everything from a neighborhood to a single building site like you only have a wheelbarrow; you’ll preserve much more of its character, interest, and trees that way. When interviewing for a planning job in 2002 with a Town Founder who had fired the previous planner for not respecting the beautiful piece of land he was developing, he asked me "what would you do with that pile of dirt the previous planner said we'd have to haul away?" I asked "do you mean that hill over there?" "Yes." "I'd leave it exactly as is, line a street up with it, put a chapel on top, and call it Chapel Hill. It will be the money shot for the whole neighborhood." We did, and it is. Even though conventional development practices insist on grading everything to a boring sameness to make development supposedly easier. In reality, it is also far more expensive, to the tune of a few million dollars per neighborhood on moderately rolling land.
Incidentally, we were able to build an avenue either side of a line of majestic 100-year-old oak trees because of the fact that we graded the site very little. For the first century of their lives, they had simply been fencerow trees. But from that point forward, they serve to make the place feel timeless, especially when coupled with mostly timeless architecture in the neighborhood.
This won't work for every neighborhood, but for places willing to consider serving at least a part of a neighborhood with neighborhood electric vehicles (otherwise known as golf carts, or NEVs,) the transformation is stunning. Utility trucks are essential in all places that will no longer tolerate beast-borne or human-borne burdens. But when you only have to account for a utility truck passing an NEV at low speeds, streets can be much narrower. This Dodge Ram truck can easily pass the NEV on a street that is only fourteen feet wide fence-to-fence. Countless streets in sprawl are three times that wide.
But the land savings only begin there. NEVs can tuck into many tiny parking spots around a building. A two-car garage (now small by American standards) requires over 1,200 square feet of land counting code-required setbacks, and the driveway typically eats up much more land than that. And places served with low-speed vehicles don't necessarily require sidewalks, as people just walk in the streets. All told, places served by NEVs can get more than twice the density as those where cars have to go everywhere. This is on the same land, with no loss of function; the same yard sizes and the same civic space.
This approach isn't new. European towns built long before cars regularly have a parking lot at the edge of town where everyone parks and walks in. Adding NEVs increases convenience over the European model, but allows places to be built with the same scale and charm as the European towns people travel to see from halfway around the world. Again, this won't work everywhere, but you should know that it's possible, and highly profitable.
Put as many eyeballs as possible on a view into nature, whether it be water, farmland, or forest. And be sure the buildings front onto the view so people from several blocks away can walk the street and enjoy the view. Many aspects of neighborhoods of Original Green scale are about going small, like being small enough that you can walk to your daily needs. But this one is about going big, because views into nature create value, and the more people you can share those views with, either right out their window or just down the street, the more vibrant the neighborhood will be.
This outbuilding to a larger house is currently an artist’s studio, but could over time be a granny cottage, a home office, a craft workshop, a rental cottage, or many other uses, all of which make money or save money for the homeowner. This is a boon to affordability for everyone involved. The property owner can better afford the property both when the outbuilding produces income, and also when it saves money by allowing uses such as a craft workshop that would cost more if the owner had to rent space elsewhere. It also is more affordable to tenants, whether residential or business tenants, than if they had to pay for a standalone property elsewhere. And later in life, an empty-nester couple or single sometimes move into the cottage and rent the main house, essentially living for free.
This is one of the best examples of Christopher Alexander's pattern of Small Parking Lots. The more it's possible for people to walk or cycle to work, the better buildings can be served with small lots instead of seas of parking. Yes, the space between the buildings would have to be significantly larger in the US because of today's monster trucks and SUVs, but the principle of parking lots with a few cars being better than seas of parking still holds.
A living creature does not grow one adult organ or limb at a time, but starts as an infant and grows one cell division at a time. A Living City does not grow one fully-complete development at a time but starts as a hamlet and grows in small property divisions, as described in the Sky Method.
Time preference began as an economic term, but it is now in frequent enough use in architecture and urbanism circles to mention here. Essentially, high time preference can be characterized as "I want it right now, even if I have to do it with cheap junk," whereas low time preference means "this means so much to me that I'm going to do it really well, even if it takes a long time to afford and build it. This is the Pantheon in Paris, which is obviously a low time preference building.
Industry says “build as much as possible, sell it fast, and design it to wear out quickly so they’ll have to buy more.” Craft says “build as well as possible, and make it to last so future generations can appreciate my craftsmanship.” Industry begins at the scale of the factory; craft begins at the scale of one craftsman. A craft studio, because of its scale and impact, can and does fit into the fabric of humane neighborhoods of great cities around the world. A factory, because of its scale and impact, is relegated to industrial zones outside the city where it does less harm to the city and its people than if it were located nearby or within the city.
Put another way, a high irony of industry is that while on the one hand, scale is the highest ideal of industry. On the other hand, scale makes industry noxious faster than any other use. Craft workshops have been great neighbors in urbanism forever. But not mega-factories!
I’ve observed by looking at a lot of the #NewUrbanism over the past decades that almost without exception the worst quality, both construction quality and quality of urbanism, is that which was built with the greatest velocity.
In how many realms does fast vs. slow tend to be Industrial & dangerous vs. humane & healthy?
It's not so important how late we die, but how fully we live. A hundred-year life repeating everyday things is not nearly so important as a life ⅓ that long spent doing the most important things, for example.
The longer the scale of time, the more likely things and places are to gather imperfections; even scars. And for those who aspire to perfection in design, that's a problem. On the other hand, imperfect things and places have more stories to tell. And if you have any doubt as to the value of patina, just look at the prices charged for "distressed" products versus clean ones right off the assembly line.
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