“The Place Making Dividend”

Georgetown Apple Store. Source: ULI

Interesting piece from the PCJ, via the Urban Land Institute, that highlights the powers that local boards may have over the design of buildings subject to their approval.  The storefront (photo, left) looks nice.  But I do wonder whether an Edison or a Yonkers would really have the same ability to leverage concessions that a Georgetown or a Cambridge would have.

UK Housing Benefit Cuts

This caught my attention, mostly because I don’t know very much about affordable housing policies in the UK.  The Guardian provides some insight, through its article on housing benefit cuts, into the vast differences that exist between types and degrees of governmental involvement in the urban housing economies of America and Britain.  Although, when you consider the amount of revenue that the US public sector loses annually by maintaining the mortgage interest deduction, the American system may actually be more generous.  As long as you aren’t actually, you know, poor.

A Thesis

One idea behind this project is a goal of developing several related strands of thought that could inform and enrich the drafting process for local land use codes.  Since I’m at Rutgers, I’ll focus primarily on approaches that could work within the legal framework of New Jersey.  And since Euclidian zoning is a national phenomenon (curse? blessing?), what works in New Jersey could likely be considered in other American states.  So, yes, I’m working under the rubric of Euclid, and– in my own state– the equitable doctrine of the Mount Laurel cases.   But the aesthetic theories that are presented here build on a number of influences that are entirely unrelated to any American legal doctrine, and include some which have been directly abrogated by the generic boilerplate that has been enacted pursuant to the post-1926 Euclidian zoning model.

The planning approaches of Victorian America and England, and those that have been recovered from Classical world, are currently two my strongest interests.  I find the organic urbanism of the Greco-Roman world engrossing, as well as the detailed architecture and simple layouts of US and British towns that were built in the later 19th century.  And, interestingly, the building stock of the two distant periods, as well as their street plans, have some striking similarities.  But I don’t want to get too caught up here in a web of theoretical pretensions.  And I’m not an architect, so I won’t act as if I am.  What I’m really looking to do is distill is a practical assortment of the basic physical, aesthetic, and socioeconomic building blocks of cohesive, attractive, and viable neighborhoods, and the ways that their key elements can be memorialized in land use codes to encourage future development.

New Cairos?

About a decade ago, the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto captured the informality of land use practices in developing countries in his book, The Mystery of Capital.  The popularity of de Soto’s writings has made it almost a cliché to point out that people in developing countries carve out many of their land uses beyond the formal boundaries of the law.  In light of that, or maybe in spite of the oversimplification of de Soto’s premise, it’s interesting to read the Times‘s coverage of Egypt’s response to the crowding and sprawl of Cairo with a policy of large-scale, government-sponsored urban planning, which is actually reminiscent of some of the socialist practices in Latin America and Eastern Europe during the second half of the 20th century.  Is Egypt’s policy an anachronism, or could its success herald a return to the sorts of grand-scale, government-sponsored development policies of the past?

Communities of Experience

This article in today’s Times touches on a couple of recent memes: First, that in the pursuit of happiness, memorable experiences are a better investment than mere possessions; and, second, that people are seeking to find these kinds of experiences closer to home.  In a discussion of the retail economy, Ms. Rosenbloom writes:

Once upon a time, with roots that go back to medieval marketplaces featuring stalls that functioned as stores, shopping offered a way to connect socially, as Ms. Liebmann and others have pointed out. But over the last decade, retailing came to be about one thing: unbridled acquisition, epitomized by big-box stores where the mantra was “stack ’em high and let ’em fly” and online transactions that required no social interaction at all — you didn’t even have to leave your home.

The recession, however, may force retailers to become reacquainted with shopping’s historical roots.  “I think there’s a real opportunity in retail to be able to romance the experience again,” says Ms. Liebmann. “Retailers are going to have to work very hard to create that emotional feeling again. And it can’t just be ‘Here’s another thing to buy.’ It has to have a real sense of experience to it.”

We’ll have to wait and see whether the economic behavioral patterns that are now a reaction to bad times become abiding priorities that transcend the recession.  But the value of experience to individual happiness seems to be borne out by a fair amount of psychological research.  And there’s hardly a more important context for experiences than where one lives.  So, what are the implications of these realizations for town planning?  Is a neighborhood something that fosters experiences, or is it simply a collection of houses and apartments?