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Category Archives: Dispatches
Found myself in New York City the other day with a couple hours to spare, so thought I’d explore some of Manhattan’s recent urban planning projects. Two hours turned out to be just enough time to check out the (sort of) newly pedestrianized Times Square, trace the 9th Ave bike lane from 33rd to 20th, walk the length of phase 1 of the High Line, and head back to Port Authority alongside the 8th avenue bike lane.
It is fitting that the New Orleanian who tagged this wall a few blocks north of St. Charles chose to quote John Connor. The Big Easy has been falling on hard times for decades, emerging from several Judgment Days of its own with stays of execution if not blanket absolution. Somehow, like the Weebles of my childhood, the city wobbles but it won’t fall down.
I’ve heard Seaside, Florida, lauded as the first great project of the New Urbanism. I’ve also heard it ridiculed as new-faux urbanism. So what’s the truth, at least as I see it? Well, during the scant few hours I recently spent there I saw a lot to like. Dozens of wonderful pathways for bikes and pedestrians that connect everywhere to everywhere, many of which feel like something to discover instead of simply travel. Residential roads eschewing sidewalks in favor of shared space. Relatively tall buildings on relatively narrow lots. Architecture with integrity. Loads of trees and shady places (critical given the town’s latitude). Seaside feels like it was designed by people who care.
To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of New Urbanism or Seaside until I moved to Florida in 2008. The sunshine state is gaga for New Urbanism, and while any planning discussion walks a tightrope of divisiveness DPZ’s landmark resort was nearly universally praised by those I spoke with. Sure, its utopian urban design made it an easy visual joke as the shooting location of The Truman Show. And, no, it was never intended to be anything more than a wealthy resort town. But I kept hearing how wonderful the experience of actually being there was, and after two years of this finally got to spend a few hours last week exploring it myself.
Portland, like its famed streetcar, is an interesting case. It boasts many of the pieces found in successful cities and some that no other American cities can match. The streetcar. Light rail. Cycle tracks. Skateboard tracks. An aerial tram. Traffic calming. No major downtown arterials. Local music. Local art. Local beer. Great food. Environmental awareness. A history of proactive and progressive decision making. Historic urban fabric. Food trucks. Park blocks. It’s walkable. It’s bikable. There is much to like in Portland, and the hype is not all smoke and mirrors.