Tag Archives: Ellen Dunham-Jones

CNU20: Final Reflections.

19 May

It’s been one week since I started out on my first CNU journey, and overall it was a wonderful one. I am still wallowing through all my reflections on my week in West Palm Beach and have been able to express many of them through posts I’ve written. I have believed in the movement and adhered to the CNU Charter in my own way since I wrote my MA dissertation on “New Urbanism in Suburban America: Strategies for the Implementation of LEED-ND” a few years ago. I’ve long considered myself a New Urbanist, but this was my first interaction with the organization. Here are a few final reflections on my experience:

Perhaps one of the most impressive things about my time at CNU20 were the people I met at the heart of the movement – not necessarily what they said, or how they said it, but their surrounding energy. I was most impressed with Ellen Dunham-Jones: I already knew her ideas, they are great, but that’s not what impressed me this week. What impressed me was her keen sense of natural leadership. She is kind, articulate, impassioned, and respectful with an air of carefree positivity. I immediately felt like she was the type of person who would be my mentor, as I am sure she is to many at Georgia Tech. I almost applied there after attending Georgia Tech Architecture Career Discover Camp the summer of 1999, but didn’t. This week, spending time with Ellen, made me seriously regret it.

Similarly, Victor Dover welcomed us with such a kindness, that even though he was speaking to a room of hundreds, I immediately felt important to the New Urbanism movement. I can only assume he was a commanding leader of the Board after all, the acceptance of diversity and warmth that he embodies is at the heart of good leadership. I am looking forward to getting to know him better as I become more involved in CNU.

Another thing that struck me about the CNU was the diversity that it carries in its mission. It was Solomon’s calm, yet striking comments and Duany’s passionate rebuttal that immediately made me realize that while this is a professional organization, it is very much steeped in academic debate. There is no doubt that I love to learn for learning’s sake, so this culture immediately felt like a forum in which to develop my career. I was so impressed with the tracks offered, and felt torn in many directions. I could easily see myself in The Incremental, Entrepreneurial City, Architecture and Placemaking, and Sustainability and Livability, but it was the Mobility and the Walkability track where I spend most of my time because of the commitment I have made in my career to integrate land use with transportation planning.

I really enjoyed the mobility track, especially because of Rick Hall, Eric Dumbaugh, and Peter Norton. Peter presented an extremely interesting and enlightening historical background of our “car loving” behavior, Rick spoke about the importance of working with Functional Classification to create complete streets, and Eric Dumbaugh addressed bike safety among a host of other topics. Each presented with an equal amount of conviction and entertainment. All three were extremely knowledgeable and passionate about what they do, and I have to say it was contagious. My experience confirmed for me that integrating land use and transportation is the most effective way to bring change to the large amount of the population whose lives are reined by the automobile. I am certainly where the action is: while the CNU needs members concentrating on all initiatives, transportation is the underlying foundation that will determine the success of economic development, placemaking, sustainability, and livability of a place.

There is no doubt that the magical matchmaking I felt with CNU, hit a stumbling block with Leon Krier’s plenary session. I will not elaborate here, but you can read my past post on the topic. And while it is challenging to identify myself with people like him, and those that champion him, we become better people, writers, designers, and professionals by being around others that test us and our beliefs. It will undoubtedly lead to passionate debate, exasperation, and sometimes even despair, but then we come out on the other side of it more clearly understanding our principles and how we apply them to our work better. New Urbanism makes room for me, and it makes room for him.

Going forward as a more active member of CNU, it will be my mission to help make the Congress the most relevant and applicable to real world scenarios. As important as I think it is to debate for our personal development, it is the work on the ground that is most influential in seeing change in our built environment. While theologians like Solomon certainly contribute to the success of the organization, people like Rick Hall and Andres Duany have made me realize the importance of speaking the language of those that mold the development of our cities. Whether its code, functional classification, or design guide standards, they are the vehicles in which New Urbanists will make change. While there has been a shift in the demands of the market and the expectations of local government organizations, if the design of the new Walgreen’s on the corner in my neighborhood is any indication, I still think we screw up our built environment more than we improve it. Until that scale tips in the other direction, we cannot afford to wait for people to figure out what we’re preaching, we have to apply it to what they already know.

Thanks to everyone who made my CNU journey possible, enjoyable, challenging, and informative. I will see you next year.

This article can also be found at Tindale-Oliver & Associates.

Erin Chantry is an Urban Designer in the Urban Design and Community Planning Service Team with Tindale-Oliver & Associates. With a BA in Architecture, an MA in Urban Design, and an MSc in Urban Planning, Erin has served on a variety of projects for both public sector and private sector clients, with a primary focus on architecture, urban design, land use planning, design research, and sustainability. She has expert knowledge in New Urbanism, LEED for Neighborhood Development, and how sustainable city planning and urban design can be used as a catalyst for redevelopment.

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Film Review: Urbanized

25 Apr

Tonight I had the awesome pleasure of hanging out with some friends to watch the documentary, Urbanized by Gary Hustwit. Just recently released on DVD in 2012, this was my first opportunity to see this inspiring film about world-famous architects’ and planners’ strategies for urban design solutions in cities across the globe.

Urbanized The Book Review

First, let me start with a side note. My husband and I got bikes this past weekend. How could we not? With perfect weather, a well-connected neighborhood with pleasant streetscapes, and always feeling like we’re on vacation, it would seem wrong not to. While I’ve always been a fan of cycling for leisurely purposes, tonight I did something I’ve never done before: I cycled for mobility purposes. One might think this is pretty bad since I am an urban designer, but this is the first city I’ve lived in where all the factors have come together to make it possible…well for me. Charlotte = disconnected, very few mixed uses, and spread out; Boston = umm, 4 feet of snow?; St. Louis = dense college campus easy to walk around and not particularly needed; Baltimore = anyone seen The Wire?; England = umm, rain…all. the. time.

So how suitable that on the way to see Urbanized, we practiced urbanism at its best. Because our destination had little and paid parking, and was easily accessible with bike paths, we made a choice (because it was available), to ride our bikes. So as a disclaimer, I started watching this film in a very empowered state. It was a wonderful feeling to be given the option to make a sustainable and healthy choice, and then choosing to make it.

This film was inspiring, empowering, and motivating at many times. As we watched some of the greats: Ellen Dunham-Jones, Amanda Burden, and my all time favorite, Jan Gehl, do their usual thang, there were some other characters that really shined: Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Candy Chang, an artist who uses public space to share information, and Yung Ho Chang, an architect in Beijing. This film made my love affair with the former continue to grow, and with the latter, blossom.

Ellen Dunham-Jones, Jan Gehl etc.

Ellen Dunham-Jones, Amanda Burden, Jan Gehl, Enrique Penelosa, Cindy Chang, and Yung Ho Chang.

This film made me feel two things: inspired and a citizen of the world. Perhaps it was because I was watching it with five young people who share the same goals and belief that they can make a change, and a loving husband who is always committed to learn more about my passions. Or perhaps because this film reconfirmed for me that I have chosen the career where my talents and passions most meat the needs of the world. Or perhaps because I was watching the rock stars of my profession say things that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

I felt like a citizen of the world because the film concentrated on cities all over the globe, some of which I was completely unfamiliar with. As Americans we sometimes find it hard to look beyond our boundaries to how other countries handle the same problems. This of course is not unique to us. As a planning student in the classroom and local councils in England there was no time or energy to look beyond the new planning system policies. And of course there is this view by some, that we live in one of the greatest countries with the most educated visionaries in the world. We got ourselves into this mess, can’t we fix our problems on our own?

That may be true, but enter Enrique Penalosa of Bogota, Colombia. Who would think to look to Bogota as an example of cycling culture? Amsterdam? Yes. Copenhagen. Sure. Bogota? Not Really. This guy is awesome. With a population of over 6 million people, Bogota had the growing problem of maintaining infrastructure and traffic congestion. To fix the latter, he recognized the stigma associated with traditional buses (also alive and well here in America), and introduced a bus rapid transit (BRT) system to strengthen ridership. Acknowledging the more affordable cost versus rail and its necessary adaptability of routes in the future it was a perfect solution (and one that should be used WAY more often here.) But what was really creative was that the stations appeared and felt more like a subway stop than a bus stop. Elevated platforms, automated ticket machines, and flashy stations made taking this bus modern, relevant, professional, and cool.

In addition Penelosa put money into a very complex and extensive dedicated cycle network throughout the city. As opposed to linear routes favored by American cities along well-used corridors, Bogota has a mesh grid of paths that infiltrate the city making cycling the favored choice of citizens to get, well, anywhere. Amazing right? Penelosa made clear that first money went to the bike paths, and then to the roads. The film showed cars navigating bumpy dirt roads full of potholes, while cyclists zoomed by on their bikes. Penelosa made Bogota put their money where their mouth is…he got shi*t done in who knows what political opposition. The result of having state of the art, first-world cycling routes, and in some occasions third-world car lanes is inspiring.

Bogota Urban Design and Planning - Enrique Penelosa

Enrique Penelosa, former mayor of Bogota’s lasting contributions: BRT and cycle network.

(Source)(Source)

Another of my favorites was Candy Chang who works in New Orleans. As she passed delapidated and abandoned buildings throughout the city, she had the idea of using the boarded up windows as a means of communication. Leaving name tags simply stating, “I wish this was a…” and a sharpie she was able to communicate with the whole city. But what really struck a chord with me was that she said “today it is easier to reach out to the entire world, then to communicate with your own neighborhood.” Man, how true this is. And how I wish it wasn’t this way.

Any finally there was Yung Ho Chang who simply shared his memories of taking walks with his parents around the city as a child and running into his friends. As Beijing is viewed as a thriving and healthy city by most, he sadly stated that Beijing has lost its liveability…and that it didn’t need to happen. Perhaps what struck me most about Chang was that when he said this you could see in his eyes that he was mourning the loss of his city as he once knew it.

Finally, Urbnized addressed the controversy of Stuttgart 21 in Germany. While I am sure with a little research I could write a whole blog series (and probably more well-balanced) on this one topic, what almost brought me to tears was watching hundreds of people put themselves in harms way to desperately, carelessly, and heartfully try to stop the demolition of a group of hundred year old oak trees. It was heartbreaking to watch a grown man wipe his tears as he watched them pulled down in seconds by a bulldozer. After all, even during WWII when the city was desperate for firewood to stay warm, they never dared touched those trees. The film left it unexplained, but I imaged that they stood defiantly representing the beauty of nature in the country’s most uncertain times.

Stuttgart 21 Protest Trees

The heartbreaking attempt of protesters to try to save the beloved trees in the way of Stuttgart 21.

(Source)(Source)

Based on your mood this film will pull at your heart strings and turn you into a sappy mess, or pull at your “brain strings” and challenge you intellectually, and in time as I recover from my inspiring and empowering evening, will probably do both.

The Hope for Suburbia.

13 Jan

I’ve always been a fan of Ellen Dunham-Jones’ concept of retrofitting suburbia and I’ve often thumbed through her book with absolute excitement. After writing about urban sprawl and our unfortunate dependency on the automobile, I thought I’d return to Retrofitting Suburbia to regain my faith again in our urban planning and urban design future. Often times, I, like many others I am sure, feel a slave to the economy, the market, and years of poor development precedents. I think its important that we remember that the miles of suburban wasteland all over this country, isn’t that at all. It is an opportunity to halt greenfield development, re-green our cities, and redevelop parking lots, or “under performing asphalt,” to be the mixed-use and walkable places that we so badly need.

I came across this lecture about Retrofitting Suburbia by Ellen Dunham-Jones that is a nice summary of her work and the possible future we have in front of us as urban designers, planners, developers, and architects.

The hope lies for me in statistics. Because after all, the proof is in the pudding. And our pudding is market drivers. Here is a list of some of Dunham-Jones research and some observations of my own:

The Movement Has Begun

It’s much harder to get an idea off the ground than encourage one that already exists. There were 80 examples of suburban retrofitting in 2010, and probably a few more since then. A majority of these projects have shown that the movement is a success with an increase in land prices, local investment in the area, and celebration by the surrounding community. They range on scale from a small strip center that was re-branded as an organic food hub, to a large shopping mall that has been leveled and redeveloped. The point is, that where retrofitting suburbia is happening it is successful, which will encourage the further spreading of the movement.

Changing Identity

Suburbia, which used to be where you moved as soon as you had kids, has diversified its demographics. Surprisingly, especially to me, 2/3 of households do not have children living there. The baby boomers are retiring and by 2025 the majority of new households will not have children. Generation Y prefer an urban lifestyle within a the city or a suburban setting. This has already been demonstrated by the market success of more dense, multi-family, and multi-use living. Perhaps as families become less traditional with more adults in the workplace, the value of walking to a restaurant or food market for dinner is becoming more attractive. As Dunham-Jones says, “don’t underestimate the power of food.” Also, because many households are retired or young couples without children, there is a growing hunger for a “third place,” which is a place (neither home or work) where people go to build community. It can be a church, or community center, and probably more popular: retail environments. More market drive for development.

Housing Market

There was an article the other day that demonstrates that suburbia is economically unsustainable. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/03/the-next-slum/6653/ Along with the general climb of poverty in the suburbs, comes the drop is property value. This of course is only worsened by the housing bubble that popped with the recession. The once glorified suburban house is not as a good of an investment as it used to be, which means they will stop being bought by a large part of the population, namely the part that has a choice. Once it can be established that this housing type is not sought after anymore, more sustainable and dense dwellings, which are often part of suburban retrofitting, will become more in demand.

Surburbia McMansions

The once popular “McMansions” are forming the next slums http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/coma/images/issues/200803/housing.jpg

“Underperforming Asphalt”

All the many parking lots that have been left fallow in suburbia, as greenfield development leapfrogged over it, are owned by someone. In many cases these are now in a central location within the city, which means the land is becoming too valuable not to develop. Lucky for us urban designers, a parking lot with no activity around it doesn’t make any money. Many of these lots are becoming the perfect sites for rehabilitation.

Incremental Changes

When thinking about how much suburban landscape there is in this country it can become a little overwhelming. This change will not all happen at once – and this is ok. Actually, it’s better than ok, it’s a positive. So much poor development has occurred because it has happened quickly, instead of organically over time in response to the needs of the city, the neighborhood, and the community. This will only lead to more environmental, social, and economically sustainable places.

Of course we attribute a lot of change to the market, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for municipal planners and politicians. Actually, they are responsible for the most important aspect of retrofitting suburbia. For these large changes to the built environment to be the most sustainable over time, they must be part of a larger environmental, social, and economic masterplan. Policy must be a driving force, especially in introducing public transportation and transforming roads into boulevards. These are often the greatest driver of retrofits. We have a greater need for visionary masterplanners than ever.

Ellen Dunham Jones has a goal for the next 100 years: 1,000 feet buffers on stream corridors, public transportation on all major street and boulevards, and improve the architecture quality of suburbia. How can we help? Start demanding more sustainable surburban places and support the changes we see for good in our community. How can I do this? Walk a half of a mile and sit at my local coffee shop instead of drive to Starbucks. Remember, change starts small with every one of us.

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