Posts by joshua sloan
Representatives from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the Environmental Protection Agency recently presented the results of a study, â€śPutting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communitiesâ€ť, at the National Building Museum. As we look towards modifications to our zoning laws, it may be useful to summarize some of their findings.
Smart Growth Goals
- Economic support of working lands and conservation areas;
- Investing in assets to make rural towns thrive; and
- Creating new stable, sustainable neighborhoods and communities.
Simply put, USDA defines rural by what it isnâ€™t â€“ rural areas are not â€śmetropolitan countiesâ€ť. This course-grain approach, of course, doesnâ€™t help define the differences between and within Montgomery Countyâ€™s more urban corridors and nodes, its residential suburbs, and itâ€™s Agricultural Reserve.
A better way to think about the nature of rural areas is based on economic, geographic, and design characteristics:
- Gateway communities â€“ areas adjacent to â€śhigh-amenityâ€ť recreational areas (coastlines, national parks, etc.);
- Resource-dependent communities â€“ areas dependent on industries such as farming, mining, timbering, etc.;
- Edge communities â€“ areas at the fringes of metropolitan areas;
- Traditional Main Street communities â€“ small towns and villages with identifiable, often historic, centers; and
- Second home and retirement communities â€“ areas the provide housing and services for people looking for rest, relaxation, and recreation/service amenities.
Different areas of Montgomery County display many of the qualities of each these rural typologies. Being next to the nationâ€™s capital, with its numerous museums, memorials, and parks, the County acts as a gateway community for many tourists. With an active farming and horse community, the Agricultural Reserve and other rural-zoned areas share characteristics of resource-dependent communities. Scattered around the major road networks and throughout the rural areas of the County, aspects of the edge, main street, and second home/retirement communities are prevalent.
Issues Facing Rural Communities
Since we share many of the aspects of different types of rural communities, it is important to note the trends facing these areas:
- Decreasing numbers of farmers and farms;
- Decreasing natural and working lands;
- Increasing growth at metropolitan edges;
- Decreasing population;
- Decreasing access to jobs and services;
- Few transportation options; and
- Little planning staff/resource capacity.
The rural areas of Montgomery County are affected by all of these trends to greater or lesser degrees.
Smart Growth Opportunities/Benefits
To address these issues, the ICMA report lays out 10 principles from the Smart Growth Network that any policy should promote:
- Mix land uses;
- Take advantage of compact design;
- Create a range of housing opportunities and choices;
- Create walkable communities;
- Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place;
- Preserve open space farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas;
- Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities;
- Provide a variety of transportation options;
- Make development decision predictable, fair, and cost-effective;
- Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.
The second part of this synopsis will summarize how these principles can be used to support the three smart growth goals.
Seattleâ€™s Downtown Transit Tunnel was designed as a collaborative project between the project consultant (Parson Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas Inc.), the architecture subconsultant (TRA), and 25 artists.Â The team created what they have termed a distinct â€śart-itectureâ€ť for each station representative of the neighborhood it serves.
Even after just a couple days riding the light-rail or buses through Seattleâ€™s stations, a quick glance out the window provides a distinct impression that tells, or shows, where you are. The collaboration is obvious in the integration of artistic details and the creation of a place. You feel that the design process was a conversation â€“ between the place informing the design of the art and the art and architecture reinforcing the sense of place.
Signage and practical information is kept consistent; station logos are modified, but from the same graphic language; and safety is served through varied applications (such as paving, bollards, etc) of similar techniques.
One of my favorite artworks is in the International District Tunnel Station by Sonya Ishii — a grand gesture spanning almost 150 feet along the eastern wall.
This work is a set of nine, 14-foot by 14-foot aluminum panels at various folded stages in the creation of two origami figures. The panels begin virtually flat and end up 2 feet deep to accommodate the folds. One reads from left to center, the other from right to center (as pictured, the top photo is the left).
The heaviness and size of the steel is appropriate for the size of the station and, in this context, actually feels as light as traditional washi origami paper. The colors are simple and bold (not unlike the totem figures of the northwest Native American works that dominate the Seattle art scene).
In all, the work is derived from the place â€“ an international art form in the international district, while helping create a sense of place â€“ â€śget off the bus at the station with the huge origami figuresâ€ť (and I bet a first time visitor could pick the station from a random list of all the stationsâ€¦). This place-making art draws from the uniqueness of the place. It wouldnâ€™t be a stretch to call this an aesthetic example of the dialectic synthesis, as the philosopher would call it, and a model for civic art.
Communities invest in places that reflect and reinforce their sense of self; the artist and design team can bring new perspective and form to that sense. We would be wise to learn from examples such as this before our plans for the Purple Line and the CCT get too far down the, ahem, line.
And if you ever get around to hoping on a bike, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to perch on one of Kara Ginther‘s seats.Â Ah, the joys of synchronicity:Â art meets bike news in my inbox.
Sometimes being vegan is no fun…….maybe I can custom order one in pleather.
Go west, young man. Or south. Or, generally, somewhere other than here.
Map from Forbes.
An elegant, simple design solution to an uncommon traffic problem.Â This is design as problem-solving at its best.
On a recent trip for my auntâ€™s wedding, I had a chance to stop by my grandparentâ€™s place in a small town in CT. One of the first things I noticed, being who I am, is that the community open space was either play space or community garden space. My grandmother, of course, has a small plot where she can grow flowers and some veggies and generally keep active in a town where there isnâ€™t much else to do â€“ especially for seniors (or kids, for that matter).Â I don’t think we can overstate how important connections to nature and food are and how community gardens, playgrounds, and open space bring people together and promote health, well-being, happiness, etc.Â The American Community Gardening Association has summarized the benefits well:
Benefits of Community Gardens:
- Improves the quality of life for people in the garden
- Provides a catalyst for neighborhood and community development
- Stimulates Social Interaction
- Encourages Self-Reliance
- Beautifies Neighborhoods
- Produces Nutritious Food
- Reduces Family Food Budgets
- Conserves Resources
- Creates opportunity for recreation, exercise, therapy, and education
- Reduces Crime
- Preserves Green Space
- Creates income opportunities and economic development
- Reduces city heat from streets and parking lots
- Provides opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connections
But, even without space for community gardens (as with most infill, gray-field projects), we can still benefit from creating our own little Edenic plots.Â A number of urban gardening stories have come across my desk/mailbox/computer recently; two that I’ll pontificate on here.
Wired magazine had an interesting story on creating gardens at various scales â€“ from balcony to suburban lot. What was key to each of the scales was maximizing productivity (and luring nerds into the green-geek world of botanical names, grafting techniques, soil science, etc. of gardening). One aspect that didnâ€™t escape my attention was the fact that virtually all the scenarios involved keeping animals of one kind or another, which is generally verboten in most of our denser residential and mixed-use zones. Is there tolerance to change this? Maybe step by step: bees, chickens, rabbits, goatsâ€¦â€¦
Which brings me to a video I came across on an intensive farm created on an abandoned lot in Oakland, CA. In this case, the admitted state of anarchy in the area has allowed the gardener to be left to her own devices â€“ the cops have better things to do. But, as the example shows, if the garden is technically illegal, doesnâ€™t the fact that it co-exists peaceably, and may even be fostering some community bonds tell us something about our squeamishness regarding farming in urban areas? Many cultures live in and around their food sources. We generally donâ€™t â€“ our landscapes are aesthetically focused. Itâ€™s a shame we havenâ€™t yet integrated the productive values of landscapes (ecologically, socially, nutritionally, economically) with our typically English pleasure garden aesthetic. Again, step by step: corn in the front yard, espaliered trees along fences rather than evergreen hedges, strawberries in our container plantingsâ€¦..
Iâ€™m looking forward to keeping this conversation going during our zoning rewrite process and Iâ€™ll be interested to know what our tolerance really is. Can we put our farms where our mouth is?
As we start writing the code for the new zoning ordinance, a â€śbig pictureâ€ť view seems in order. The biggest-picture formula in climate change, called the Kaya identity, is:
- F = Global CO2 emissions (combustion, flaring of natural gas, cement production, oxidation of nonfuel hydrocarbons, and transport)
- P = Global population (total number of human beings)
- g = Consumption per person (gross world product divided by population)
- e = Energy intensity of gross world product (global energy consumption divided by gross world product)
- f = Carbon used to make energy (global carbon dioxide emissions divided by global energy consumption)
The most obvious thing about this equation â€“ if you remember even grade-school math â€“ is that to reduce F to zero, any of the four factors on the right must go to zero. Since even the most misanthropic earth-firster has not suggested that global population should be reduced to zero (or if they have and taken their own advice, they arenâ€™t here to argue against me), efforts at reducing F should concentrate on the areas where we can have the most impact.
Here are a few basic suggestions on the issues over which we (planners and designers) have influence.
We can minimize g & e (consumption-related factors) by:
- Decreasing the need for energy for transport by co-locating as many jobs, houses, services, and amenities as is practical;
- Providing resource-sharing opportunities (like mass-transit and libraries);
- Allowing for development with minimal resources (one wall between two residences requires less resources than two walls and a strip of grass);
- Allowing for optimally efficient building siting (donâ€™t penalize development with setbacks or height restrictions when those features are used to optimize passive energy use);
- Encouraging recycling, reuse, and retrofits of existing infrastructure;
- Providing flexibility for more locally-sustaining economic development (farms, markets, co-ops, craftspeople and artisans, localism generally);
We will have to wait for the scientists to provide an f that equals zero, but we can help minimize f (carbon use for energy) by:
- Ensuring that rules donâ€™t get in the way of technology that uses renewable energy sources (geothermal, wind, solar); and
- Providing incentives to encourage use of the available renewable energy sources.
Thanks to Wired for reminding me of the useful perspective provided by this formula as we look to finalize some thoughts on sustainability and our zoning code rewrite efforts. Further suggestions to add to the list above are, of course, welcome.
What would one notice if a map was created based on the geographical entries in Wikepedia? A confirmation that “we” [viz., the countries in dark red below] are more interested in ourselves than other places.
This may be obvious, and not necessarily self-serving, but it does point to our lack of knowledge of other places and peoples. In any event, the visualization of this information is a pointed reminder that much of the world isn’t even involved as part of the conversation on knowledge and information. If nothing else, we should remember this when we speak of “the greater good”.