Share // A Connected, Walkable City: Building for Urban Wildlife

Originally seen on Planetizen.com, this article by Steven Snell tugs on my heart strings. How can we create a humane (or, as the article refers to it, a human(e)) city? What does it mean to be a human(e) environment?

Read the article here: http://www.planetizen.com/node/87396?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-07212016

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Research published in the ENRE Division Newsletter

July 2015 Newsletter for the Environment, Natural Resources, & Energy Division of the American Planning Association is out, and guess who’s in it! That’s right, me! As a result of my 2013-2014 Fellowship with the ENRE Division, my research has been published in their newsletter. You’ll have to become a division member to receive the publication, but here’s a snapshot of my page! ENRE Newsletter_July 2015 page

It may not be significant to some people, but this makes me extremely proud! Now, if only I could find more time to work on my research!

Baltimore Riots … Blame the Urban Planner?

Blame the Urban Planner

With my City in turmoil, I’ve been asking myself about the role of society, citizens, and my profession in contributing to, and then resolving, conflicts like this.

As a practicing Urban Planner who is relatively “fresh” out of grad school (one year, now), I have found myself wondering these past weeks (well, to be honest, my whole life, but especially in these last few weeks) what society must do to remedy tragic and unequal conditions in urban neighborhoods. As a minority majority member in a City whose population is 63% African American/Black, it becomes an issue about race whether you want it to or not (I know, we thought racial inequality ended decades ago…well it very certainly did not).

Being connected to many white people through facebook, posts this past week have created deep chasms between polar opposite viewpoints.

This presentation, which I gave yesterday morning to the Planning and Urban Design team at my office, talks about how structural racism has contributed to a cyclical and viscous inequality among Baltimore’s residents.

Despite its name, the presentation is not so much an attack on Urban Planners, but a criticism of society and urban policy as contributors to urban inequality and the resulting violence. However, the presentation is intended to be a call for action for urban planners and designers, and citizens alike.

Megan_May2015_TeamResearch_lores links

Why the Lack of Writing?

Well, I’ve been busy!

I started a new job in June at a Landscape Architecture firm that’s had my interest since my undergraduate studies; then, just two months later, my husband and I purchased our first home! Proud to say that I am FINALLY a Baltimore city-dweller (and my twitter handle—@theurbangranola—is now validated by my truly urban lifestyle :)).

Between those two major life events, I haven’t had much time for anything else!

I suspect I’ll have time once again soon, but I’m also preparing to take the AICP exam (the professional certification test for urban and regional planners) in May 2015. Thus, I’ll surely be spending a good deal of time studying. But maybe there’s a way to make my studying a writing component?

Stay tuned!

Consulting in Lancaster City

Not to begin yet another blog post with an apology, but I truly am sorry for not posting more often!

Since graduating with my Master’s in City and Regional Planning, I’ve been working as a planner for the Baltimore-based landscape architecture firm, Mahan Rykiel Associates. In addition, my husband and I are looking at a house down the street from my new office. Should all go as planned (there have been a few hiccups), we’ll be in there next month! In short, life has been great!

Although I don’t have much planning content at the moment—especially not written—I would like to share some of the work I’m doing with Mahan Rykiel.

One of the main projects that I’m working on is an Economic Development Strategic Plan for the City of Lancaster, PA. You can read about the project on the website of our client, the Lancaster City Alliance. In case you haven’t been to Lancaster, or haven’t been in some years (as was the case with myself), I highly recommend a visit soon! The city is in such a great place that this plan, being produced more than 15 years after their previous Economic Development Strategy (1998), is being shaped from a “position of advantage.” Believe me, that’s not just some cheesy line, this city is really something to see! Rather than a reactive, symptom-based plan, this will be a proactive, asset-based strategy that builds on existing strengths in the city!

One of the things that I find most refreshing about Lancaster is the lack of chain stores. Though it does, at times, limit the ability of local residents to meet their daily needs (where to buy underwear!?), it provides visitors and residents alike with unique products and experiences. Furthermore, it enhances the city’s identity as an authentic place, built from diverse backgrounds and a rich heritage.

I credit this success to the strong, energetic spirit of Lancaster’s creatives, young professionals, investors, and business entrepreneurs. There are some terrific dialogues taking place, center on great ideas and inspiring collaboration.

I just got back from my third trip up there; and am still feeling enthusiastic after our Thursday evening public meeting! As a planner, I have never been in a public meeting where the tone remained almost completely positive throughout, where there appeared to be total agreement on many of the points brought up, and where the community truly saw and embraced the potential. I was able to visit a few of our study areas during this most recent trip. Below are some of the (many) photos that I took while up there! Enjoy!

Juxtaposition of cables, wires, church steeple, and moon in the morning sky

Juxtaposition of cables, wires, church steeple, and moon in the morning sky

The Southern Market Center building, Queen Street

The Southern Market Center building, Queen Street

Green window boxes along Queen Street

Green window boxes along Queen Street

Wayfinding signs become attractive from the back with the imposed City logo design

Wayfinding signs become attractive from the back with the imposed City logo design

Commissioned Sculpture outside of the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design (PCAD)

Commissioned Sculpture outside of the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design (PCAD)

A neighborhood park in Lancaster, PA

A neighborhood park in Lancaster, PA

Curved alleys are scatter throughout Oldtown in Lancaster, PA

Curved alleys are scatter throughout Oldtown in Lancaster, PA

The Cork Factory Hotel, Urban Place along New Holland Avenue/Pike

The Cork Factory Hotel, Urban Place along New Holland Avenue/Pike

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

El Jardin, Florist along East King Street in Lancaster City

El Jardin, Florist along East King Street in Lancaster City

Street in Lancaster, PA

Street in Lancaster, PA

Pub facade in Lancaster City

Pub facade in Lancaster City

Downtown Lancaster, Duke Street

Downtown Lancaster, Duke Street

Green window on Duke Street in Lancaster City

Green window on Duke Street in Lancaster City

An arts initiative places painted pianos throughout the City of Lancaster

An arts initiative places painted pianos throughout the City of Lancaster

Lancaster City Central Market Day

Lancaster City Central Market Day

The project is looking at some of the major commercial corridors in the city—Prince and Queen Streets, New Holland Avenue, Harrisburg Avenue, South Duke Street, East King Street, Manor Street and West King Street, and the downtown area. The photos above are limited, mostly, to the corridors we visited this past week (New Holland Avenue and East King Street) and to the downtown area simply because that’s where I went walking yesterday morning!

While this project is still in the early stages, I encourage people to follow along! Search twitter and other sites for #BuildingOnStrength to see what’s happening!

Also, if you happen to be from Lancaster, please take a moment to complete this survey (there is a version en Español).

Planners’ Opinion Survey : ECOLOGY + PLANNING

Planners’ Opinion Survey : ECOLOGY + PLANNING

This is a call to all professional planners out there! It’s professional project crunch time and there’s work to be done. If you can spare 10 minutes, I’d like to request that you take a moment to visit and complete my Planners’ Opinion Survey: ECOLOGY + PLANNING. Let me tell you why it’s worth your time!

If you follow my blog, you may already be aware. I am a May 2014 graduation candidate and the recipient of the 2013/14 Fellowship of APA’s Environment, Natural Resources and Energy Division. The ENRE Fellowship is supporting the research of my professional project which investigates the potential of a new planning approach, called Deep Ecological Urbanism, for improving urban development through the understanding and integration of natural sciences and environmental ethics into urban and regional planning processes.

As a component of my research, I am identifying current practices and opinions about sustainability, resiliency, and ecology issues to understand, support, and identify the potential need for a new planning approach that is focused on ecology, and to identify how cities are currently addressing sustainable development with an emphasis on ecological health.

It is my hope to develop a vigorous knowledge of current practices, progressive planning approaches, innovative policies, and emerging priorities, as well as any challenges and limitations to the implementation of planning projects.The information I will collect through this survey will help me to understand what tools planners need most, and how to best provide these resources.

Results from this survey are crucial to my studies. In addition to identifying areas for further research, this results will help to shape the recommendations that I put forth. Furthermore, I would like note that I will be presenting the findings of my research at the upcoming American Planning Association 2014 National Planning Conference in Atlanta, GA, at 12:00 p.m. on Monday, April 28th.

So please, take a moment (about 10 minutes) to complete this survey and share the link with your colleagues! Your help is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

P.S. The recent lack of posts on this blog is by no means an indication of my laziness! Quite the contrary, I simply don’t have the time to post! However, when I’m finished my professional project (in about 80 days), I will share the results of my research and make it a point to post more frequently. Until then, I will do my best to post more often!

Urban Utopian Ideals: Why We Ought to Break the Habit

Here, I find myself in week 6 of my independent study, halfway through Unit 4: Learning from Nature. Where I am, I feel it is a good point to draw attention to a critical error which I’ve encountered in some of the readings previously reviewed, as well as a fundamental flaw in most visionary planning: utopian ideals. Whether an architect/designer/theorist/other will admit it or not, much of what constitutes the bulk of writings in the field of ecological urban design is clearly rooted in a very utopian foundation.

Utopian ideals often do more harm than good. In a little over a century, we have witnessed many visionary concepts (Garden City, for example) as they completely turn on themselves, leaving people trapped amidst the very conditions which the utopian vision intended to change, though possibly more severe than they were at the start and often compounded with newly discovered/created issues.

Luc Schuiten’s Vegetal City

Some of my most influential authors can at times suffer the idealist dilemma. Their designs are gorgeous illustrations of the perfect world where nature and city intersect harmoniously, where communities are verdant and whimsical, very much reminiscent of paradise. I am particularly in love with Luc Schuiten’s concept of the Vegetal City (above) and Richard Register’s Ecocities; but as much as I long for a world like the ones these and other visionary architects often depict, I can sometimes feel defeated when I realize the likelihood of such places ever existing is slim to none. Yet, the truth is, paradise absolutely cannot be the answer- we cannot abandon our current cities, and we don’t have the resources to start such grand experiments.

Given the frustrating conditions of our urban environments, it’s not difficult to see why so many create a utopia in the first place. In his book, Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government, Evan McKenzie noted:

“Utopian thinkers are inspired to create their ideal worlds in large part because of their dissatisfaction with the world around them, and their solutions tend to be reactive and one-dimensional.” p. 23

It’s no wonder that many of us, in a desperate attempt to “fix” the issues of current development patterns, dream up perfect worlds where everyone is happy. After all, how many of us declared as children that we would change the world by making it a better place for all to live. In our attempts to address the current ailments of our cities, we mustn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. So perhaps in this case, I can’t really say we’re learning from nature, but we’ve certainly learned from our many past mistakes; such valuable lessons cannot be wasted in lieu of the next best thing in urban planning.

In the same chapter, author McKenzie goes on to quote Fritzie P. Manuel, a scholar of utopian thought:

“The great utopians have all borne witness to their anger at the world, their disgust with society, their acute suffering as their sensibilities are assailed from all sides. They withdraw from this world into a far simpler form of existence which they fantasy. The escape from everyday conflicts and disappointments has a childlike quality. And their way back from utopia, their return to the real world they had abandoned, is often characterized by devotion to a fixed idea with which they become obsessed. They clutch frantically at this overvalued idea that at once explains all evil and offers the universal remedy, and they build an impregnable fortress around it.”

I tend to get that way, too- in all realms of my life. I convince myself that the cure to the clutter in my life will be more baskets, bins, and boxes. While compartmentalizing things helps (well- in planning, this is an entirely different issue for another time), it’s not a panacea. I have to change my habits and behaviors, and address the items that cause the clutter in the first place. Thinking about what both McKenzie and Manuel are saying here, I think it’s quite important to note that there are useful elements of the current conditions as well as some worthwhile features of the idealist visions, but they must be viewed together.

I believe I had mentioned earlier in this series my discontent with the greenfield alternative. After all, the greenest building is the one already standing. Wouldn’t that also mean the greenest city is the one we’re already inhabiting? Why start over? I have been disappointed with the lack of adaptive solutions until I came across an article from 2010 which describes Denver, Colorado’s planned Living City Block development. Neil Takemoto wrote in his Cooltown Studios review of the project:

“If a cell is defined as the smallest structural and functional unit of an organism, if a building were an organism, its rooms would probably be its cells (‘cellula’ is Latin for a small room). For a city though, it may be more helpful to associate cells with its blocks, fitting perhaps since a cell is often described as the building blocks of life. From the air, a city’s blocks resemble cell structure more than its buildings.” [emphasis in original]

This beautiful introduction made the article an ideal fit for my biomimicry study, but the article also happened to perfectly compliment the topic of this post. Quoting the mission of the Living City Block project, Takemoto notes goal is to regenerate existing cities! It’s such a relief. Now still, the project is very sustainably oriented, and not excessively ecologically focused, but the renderings (see below) depict a pleasing amount of green infrastructure.

Living City Block Project

It’s very important to me, and will hopefully be clear throughout this study, that existing cities are the focus of my attention. While I’m encouraged by projects like Masdar, the Abu Dhabi planned city which intends to be a sustainable, zero-waste, zero-carbon, carbon-free city, such places do not address the urban areas which are currently a main reason we’ve developed concepts like “zero-waste” and “zero-carbon” in the first place. Building efficiently tomorrow will do us no good if we allow the negative elements from today’s cities to remain.

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