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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.

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…is paved with brick, “special” light poles, custom garbage cans,  and light pole banners. You don’t need to be a keen-eyed tracker to read the signs–planners have been here.

But are special materials necessary to create a good design or great architecture? Frank Gehry made his name with chain link and corrugated steel. Without a designer’s hand these are the materials of a shantytown. The Case Study Houses are icons of modernism, but they were originally built with off-the-shelf materials, intended to be accessible to the average Joe and Josephine.

The request or requirement for special materials is well-intentioned, but not necessary. With artistry, asphalt and concrete become unique reflections of place. 


 Are special materials really … Continue reading

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While stumbling around the Northern Liberties neighborhood looking at all of the new development, I spied down a narrow street an apartment building with a Corbusier-meets-Mondrian facade.  As I moved in for a closer look, I was confronted with the block-sized project that is The Piazza at Schmidts.  Developed by Tower Investments, Inc., and designed (in whole or in part) by Erdy McHenry (who did Liberties Walk),  the site features an “80,000 square foot open-air plaza with free events year-round, surrounded by three new buildings including 35 artist’s studios and boutiques, four new restaurants, 500 apartments and 50,000 square feet of office space” (according to their website; see also the New York Times Article).

As you move down the street, an open-air passage leads … Continue reading

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Some Monday morning eye candy from last Friday’s Providence Journal feature on two beautiful new townhomes in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.   They were designed by Melrose Partners, who seem to do a fair amount of beautiful work.  Thanks to Larry from Providence for the tip.  Happy Monday.

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In honor of the upcoming Earth Hour on March 27, we offer a random assortment of efforts to reduce light pollution, conserve energy, and protect migratory birds by minimizing wasted photons. Learn more at the International Dark-Sky Association.

Earth Hour’s website, sponsored by WWF, has a clock counting down the seconds until March 27 at 8:30pm when everyone partaking will shut off their lights, especially exterior lights. Check out these awesome examples from last year.

A good summary of recent (and not so recent) legislative efforts in Maryland has been provided by Dr. Harold Arlen Williams, director of the Montgomery College Planetarium. In DC, City Wildlife has spearheaded a campaign to help migratory birds.

On a side note, public … Continue reading