Take a Walk

Posted by & filed under Design, Places, Public spaces.

Or try to. That’s the message of Tom Vanderbilt’s series this week on Slate about pedestrians–or without the perjorative that he points out–people walking.

He makes a point that’s long frustrated me. Sooner or later, we all walk, even if it’s only from the parking lot to the mall. Something inside us loves to stroll. What is a mall if not a re-creation of an urban boulevard and witness the success of retail neo-main streets.

But we spend so little of our time, money, and thought on establishing and securing pedestrian environments. Even the fact that I describe it as a “pedestrian environment,” as a place apart and separate, rather than woven through our lives and communties–speaks to our separation … Continue reading

Branding or Building a Neighborhood?

Posted by & filed under Architecture, Design.

Developers in D.C. are proposing a “pop-up” restaurant on a vacant U Street lot that would be constructed out of shipping containers and there are a lot of good questions about whether this is a good or bad thing. Online commenters wonder whether this is cool urbanism or just a descent into third world, make-do architecture.

Looking at other examples, in London and New York, it seems these are a retail opportunity for branding,  and by-the-way, an urban pheonmenon. London’s very cool Shoreditch box park describes itself as “low-cost, low-risk, unique, and flexible,” meant to draw tenants like local artists and artisanal manufacturers.

At New York’s Dekalb Market, tenants are a roster of hipster cliches from an excessive number of … Continue reading

Where (and Who) Do You Live?

Posted by & filed under Planning.

It’s not news that the suburbs are changing. Mom works, Dad may be at home, and kids, when they’re not strapped into their car seats, are scheduled  to the max.

But there are other changes as well, as documented in this Washington Post interactive map tracking racial changes in the ‘burbs. The map allows you to see the mix of people in the region as well as in various census tracts.

It also shows change since 1990, and not surprisingly, some places change very little. The quick pattern I see is that most tracts are less exclusively white than they used to be, but overall patterns in the region are the same.

As the Post points out, it’s still … Continue reading

Urban Economics and Where We Live

Posted by & filed under Architecture, Planning, Zoning.

American Century types like to complain that this country doesn’t make anything anymore or if we do it’s artisanal cheese and not steel. But as this article points out, that cheese or other basement production is often where the big stuff starts. How can we forget Apple’s garage beginnings.

So if economies are shifting, at least in some small way, to local production and services, are our communities able to accomodate new jobs?

According to Mike Pyatok, interviewed in Better Cities and Towns, “Most planning regulations are based on the Euclidean model that separates cities into zones accommodating a single use, which true live-work is decidedly not.”

While Pyatok is pointing out that the rules of subsidized housing preclude small scale economic ventures, … Continue reading

Mid-Century Architecture Gets its Due

Posted by & filed under Design, Places, Planning.

Guest post by Scott Whipple

The Washington Post’s “Where We Live” blog recently featured Washington area mid-century architecture (Washington’s mid-century modern neighborhoods | Washington’s mid-century modern neighborhoods, part 2), making mention of a number of Montgomery County’s recent past resources — including the Rock Creek Woods, Hammond Wood, and Carderock Springs National Register historic districts.

As Amanda Abrams writes in the first post, “I’ve found that once I look for them, I start seeing modernist communities everywhere.” We expect to be seeing more mid-century resources, too. So we’ve started the MontgomeryModern initiative to explore our county’s mid-century architectural history. We share the excitement about this architecture that Michael Shapiro mentions in his post, and we hope you will come … Continue reading

The Food Truck Challenge

Posted by & filed under Places, Public spaces.

No, it’s not about who’s got the biggest twitter following or who makes the best fusion taco. As always, follow the money. In many cities, trucks compete with local and chain restaurants and as this article points out, since there are only three meals a day, competition gets fierce.

Rising Cities

Posted by & filed under Design.

Cities have always drawn the best and the brightest, who are drawn by urban energy and in turn, contribute to it.

A new world economy is creating new up-and-comers, reviewed in this New York Times article. And what do these cities have in common–connectivity of varying sorts. Lots of cities are putting in free wi-fi and most of them, from Aukland to Vilnius, are expanding and improving mass transit. Sometimes in the most unlikely places and in the most unlikely (and exciting) ways!

Round House Weirdness

Posted by & filed under Architecture, Design.

Like a triple play or a blue moon, round houses are rare and wonderful things. But even though we always stop to look, we rarely buy. Round houses just don’t fit our image of home–a front door tucked under a gable roof. Instead, they look like something that’s just landed from another universe.

Building materials may be one reason we live in boxes rather than bowls. Teepees and yurts made of cloth and skins are self-supporting without a foundation. Even more contemporary materials like steel and concrete can be molded into round structures. But most home-building is stick-built construction. It takes effort and skill to shape two-by-fours into a round structure. (A more subtle influence might be lot shape–you … Continue reading

D.C. Environmental Film Fest

Posted by & filed under Architecture, Design, Places, Planning.

This year’s festival features films about the built environment, from the Mohawk ironworkers in Skydancer to Dutch architect Rem Koolhas coming to terms with rapid urbanization in Lagos, Nigeria.

Venues are all over the city, and screening times throughout the day. Find one that works for you, but tickets sell quick, so don’t delay.

Preservation and Change

Posted by & filed under Design.

Washingtonian magazine recently ran a long article about preservation in the Washington, D.C. region, including early efforts at Mount Vernon after the Civil War to more recent efforts recognizing Modern architecture.

You can read about the local battles and inspirations here, but to me, the most interesting paragraph in the article was this one:

“Sometimes historic buildings are sacrificed for what is considered the greater good. The Federal Triangle was Washington’s first great example in the 1930s, when several square blocks were torn down to make way for a federal office complex. Construction of the National Archives meant demolition of the city’s central food market. The Kennedy Center replaced the city’s largest brewery. And the Army Medical … Continue reading