Planetizen


Free Pancakes, Free Rides, and (Almost) Free Beer

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March 19, 2009
We Americans love a discount.

Wal-Mart and the discount retail boom are proof enough of that. What we love even more, though, is free stuff. Just slap the word "free" before almost anything and we'll line up.

This mentality represents some challenges for cities, but also some opportunities. The challenge is that if people don't have to pay for something, they probably won't. And the opportunity is that if people don't have to pay for something, they're way more likely to want it. Let's think of this concept in terms of three innately American traditions: pancakes, mobility, and beer.

Improving On The Ambiguity of Privately Owned Public Spaces

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February 12, 2009
Cities are filled with spaces intended for the public -- but many of them are clearly owned and operated by the private sector. Though cities bend rules to get these spaces built, the public benefit is often outweighed by the cost. The challenge now is to make them better.

The difference between what is public and what is private is usually pretty clear. A city park is available to everyone. Your neighbor's living room is not. But the line dividing public and private can blur, and when it does, spaces get ambiguous, and questions arise. Who can use them? What are they for? Who's in charge of them?

Ninth Ward, The Movie: How To Really Rebuild New Orleans

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February 8, 2009
New Orleans is still struggling, especially its hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward. The economic recession has been bad news for development all over the world, and it's really not helping things down in New Orleans. The federal government's broke, states are cutting costs, and local government is practically bankrupt. But even in tough times, there is one place where business always seems to be good and money's always flowing: the movie industry.

Maybe New Orleans should look to Hollywood as a means to recovery. It has the money, it has the incentive, and it's proven that it actually has the power to make it happen.

Inside the Mind of the Green Market

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January 28, 2009
The green marketplace is the marketplace of the future. From Wal-Mart to Toyota to the neighborhood dry cleaner, it seems like every business is going out of its way to tell us how green they are. That could either be a great thing because these businesses are actually using environmentally-friendly practices, or it could be a bad thing because they're just claiming to be green. Regardless of whether it's one or the other, what's certain is that they say they're green because that's what we want to hear.

This market's existence and growth was hammered home by the recent VerdeXchange Green Marketmakers Conference in Los Angeles. The conference pulled together an impressive list of green-thinking politicians, public officials, private business people and practitioners from around the globe to discuss trends in the environmentally-conscious market and to outline how businesses and communities can actually be as green as they love to say they are.

The Urban Recruitment Center

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January 24, 2009
The military has recently opened a new type of recruitment office known as "The Army Experience Center" in a Philadelphia shopping mall. It's like an arcade, where video games and other interactive technologies provide visitors a glimpse of what it might be like to be in the military.

It's a new approach, one that capitalizes on the modern teenager's affection for video games to attract them to the military life. You could call it persuasive, cajoling, or even a thinly-veiled attempt to con kids with flashy games, but, as it provides exactly what its target audience wants, the bottom line is that it's very effective. Why couldn't a city do the same thing?

It could be like an urban recruitment center, where people could come in and see what's happening in the city, how to get involved, how to make change, and -- maybe most importantly -- how to get a job.

From Utility to Amenity: Greening the Alleys of Los Angeles

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January 22, 2009
Green alley projects are popping up in cities all over the U.S. and Canada in an effort to make the concrete jungle a little better at absorbing rainwater. A new alley program in Los Angeles goes beyond the runoff to actively integrate these unique spaces into the urban fold.

They're all over the city, but you'd hardly know it.

Across Los Angeles, the city's alleyways account for more than 900 linear miles of pavement. If you put them all together, the city's alleys would make up about 3 square miles – about half the size of L.A.'s Griffith Park, twice the size of New York's Central Park, or the equivalent of about 400 Wal-Marts (not including parking). They're peppered throughout the city, in neighborhoods, commercial zones, downtown, and L.A.'s industrial areas. But for the most part, these alleys are ignored.

Helping is Hurting

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January 8, 2009
Protecting the poor and protecting the environment are two areas we haven’t quite figured out yet. Put them together, and we’re really up a creek. And we are, because these two silos are actually linked very closely. The relationship between poverty and environmental degradation is incredibly complex, but you wouldn’t guess it by looking at some recent policies gathering support out there in the world.

Solutions, it would seem, are incredibly simple. But most of these ideas, though well-intentioned, address only one side of the poverty-environment relationship -- and really hurt the other.

Long seen as an affluent concern, environmentalism is largely a movement of the rich, but the problems the rich are fighting against are caused by everyone, rich and poor (though, of course, in varying degrees). Poor people, it’s often argued are too poor to worry about protecting the environment, leading to degradation like raw sewage in rivers and slum housing on clearcut rainforests.

Top Planning Issues Of 2008

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January 1, 2009
Over the course of the year, the Planetizen staff editors review and post summaries of hundreds of articles, reports, books, studies, and editorials related to planning and urban development. Now, we take a look back at 2008 and the trends and issues that defined the year in urban planning.

The economy and the housing market dominated the news this year, but there was also a considerable amount of coverage related to the Presidential election and President-elect Barack Obama. Transportation investment and city living were also major themes of the year. Read the full summaries below to see how these stories played out in 2008...

Booze It Up for Barry and Save the Capitol

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December 7, 2008
When President-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated on January 20, the city of Washington D.C. is likely to be the most lively, exciting and vibrant city in the world. Millions will be there. Hotels for miles around are booked full, couches across the city will be crashed upon, and many in the city are expecting the party to last for days. City officials are doing what they can to make sure the party does indeed happen.

For the four days leading up to inauguration day, bars in Washington D.C. will be allowed to stay open 24 hours a day, and be able to sell alcohol until 5 a.m., two to three hours past the usual last call. The mere idea of adding a couple extra hours into the city's bar scene is sure to inspire the prospect of late-night celebrating in D.C., This is a prime example of what I like to call event-based urbanism -- a topic I'll be looking at much more in the near future.

News Summary: Cities Cutting Back

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December 4, 2008
It is a confusing time for cities and the people who work for them. On the one hand, the recent election showed a groundswell of support for new investment in infrastructure. At the same time, cities are facing mounting fiscal problems as the wave of the mortgage crisis hits home. How are cities making the tough decisions?

Americans passed $75 billion in funding for public transportation, from a bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles to an elevated commuter rail system in Honolulu. Voters also overwhelmingly elected a presidential candidate that is promising to invest attention (and hopefully, dollars) in cities through the new Office of Urban Policy. He’s also supported creating a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to the tune of $60 billion over the next 10 years.