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Over the first rainy weekend of Spring Break 2010, lads in tow we trundled up on the Amtrak to spend a few sodden days in Brooklyn.  Having only really been to Brooklyn in a couple of three-hour sittings, we looked forward to digging the scene, as it were.  Our “Nu”Hotel, situated directly across Smith Street from the famous Brooklyn House of D (at left), is on the northern end of the Boerum Hill neighborhood south of downtown Brooklyn.

The streets were lined mainly with older 3-4-story brick walk-up apartment buildings and rowhouses, with ground-floor retail on the north-south Smith Street and Court Street (with the latter moving into the adjacent Cobble Hill).

As you would expect, the shops featured a … Continue reading

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The ReThink Montgomery speaker series began last night with a panel of five area bloggers discussing how they began, cultivated, and use their sites to disseminate knowledge and spark conversations. The panel, moderated by Community Planner Fred Boyd, generously gave us their time – when I’m sure they would have rather been writing – to talk about how individual sparks of interest led them to the relatively new platform of blogging as a value-added news and editorial medium. Like most blogs, these writers use their sites as collaborative spaces, political soapboxes, breaking-news outlets, and link depositories allowing people to pursue interests deeper throughout the web. What’s key to differentiating their sites from general topical blogs is the focus on … Continue reading

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Straight Line Blog Post

The Planning Department’s Rethink effort started last night with a blogger panel featuring David Alpert of Greater, Greater Washington; Dan Reed of Just Up the Pike; Barnaby Zall of Friends of White Flint; Cynthia Cotte Griffiths of; and Eric Robbins of

Two ideas in the discussion struck me. The first was Dan Reed’s passion for his community and the sense of justice that prompted him to start blogging. His reporting recounted Maryam Balbed’s some success in connecting the Silver Spring skater kids to the planning process through his blog. This is the kind of outreach planners know that must do to create a valid plan, but don’t always achieve.

Connecting to a larger … Continue reading

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Where do you park your car? Of course, in front of your house. What would your neighbors say if you parked in front of their house?

How quickly do you shovel your sidewalk after it snows? Do you shovel your steps and the elderly lady’s next door?

If there is garbage on your street, do you pick it up, even if it’s not yours, even if it’s not in front of your house?

Remember why the big fat Greek wedding family was embarrassing? Not because they cooked a lamb on a spit (though that’s a little weird), but because they cooked it in the front yard. They broke the unwritten rule of suburbia, cookouts happen in the backyard!

The … Continue reading

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The updated version of Fritz Haeg’s book, Edible Estates, An Attack on the Front Lawn, releases today with a discussion at WNYC’s Green Space with gardeners and politicians. If you can’t make it to New York, maybe you can visit the Baltimore Regional Prototype Garden.

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As the weather has started warming up I’ve been riding my bike more often between home, work, and school. It’s been great for my commute because the County has a number of good trails and off-road routes for getting from place to place. While certain parts of the County are extremely bike-friendly – think Bethesda on a weekend morning – others could use some work. It’d be nice to see the County expand it’s on-street bicycle infrastructure. When it does, here’s one idea I think is pretty effective.

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Rollin Stanley is trading in urban living for the simple life. This morning the Montgomery County Planning Director revealed to staff that after years of hoofing it to work through snow, wind, and rain, he’s tired of living his modestly-sized apartment building. “It’s just too close to things,” he said.

“After years of walking to work, I feel like there’s so much that I’ve missed out on. I’m really looking forward to my commute,” he added.

Mr. Stanley has taken up residence in the pastoral Manor Estates, a gated community of 5-acre lots where he’s established an architectural review board. In his first order of business, he’s banned red doors and vinyl siding.

As for the possibility of moving … Continue reading

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For decades, the environmental impact of vehicle emissions has served as one the primary arguments against sprawling, auto-oriented land uses. That argument took a sizable blow over the weekend when Nissan announced that it would release Leaf, the first affordable, four-door, commercially available electric plug-in vehicle, sometime this year. Targeted at disenchanted Prius owners and prospective customers for the forthcoming Chevy Volt, Nissan boasts that the zero-emissions vehicle has “no transmission, no engine oil, no timing belts, and most importantly, no tail pipes.”

What, if any, impact will this have on smart growth advocates, and walkable urban communities? Should we ditch this crazy notion of transit-oriented development? Not so much. As Yonah Freemark of Transport Politic notes:

The clearest … Continue reading

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Elza’s planners intution was correct. On a Saturday morning (even a cold and early one), Northern Liberties has more life.

What struck me about the space was the very fine relationship between buildings–entrances and exits are evident but not obvious, the apartments are close enough to oversee the space, but still have privacy.

This kind of deliberate use of space is the hallmark of an urban environment. In the suburbs, where land has been plentiful, it is rarely part of the design.

There’s no reason a suburban parking lot or superblock couldn’t be redeveloped with this degree of refinement, it just never seems necessary when we spend most of our time in our cars.