Dan Philibin

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Why Building Better Places Isn’t About Money

Added on Jan 2, 2023  ·  Filed under urbanism

Coby Lefkowitz offers some thoughts on why creating "quality, beautiful places" seems so difficult. He covers the common suspects like zoning, codes, and parking minimums—which do affect what's allowed to be built, yes—but then suggests that a lack of vested interest at the local level in making beautiful places also contributes negatively:

Perhaps the most important driver of this disease of thoughtlessness is who’s building our places today. Whereas in the past, our communities were spearheaded by craftsmen, designers, and developer entrepreneurs who both valued creating solid, quality places in their backyards, and had the freedom to do so, that’s not the case today. Most new building is subject to antiquated zoning codes that are carried out by institutionally backed developers who care little of the street-level impact their projects have. These firms tend to be out of towners who have little stake or vested interest in the neighborhoods they build in beyond their stabilization cycle. So long as the economics work, and the units are occupied, the project is deemed successful. Any qualitative impact it may potentially have is deemed superfluous, or not considered at all.

Someone with a one-hour commute in a car needs to earn 40% more to be as happy as someone with a short walk to work. On the other hand, researchers found that if someone shifts from a long commute to a walk, their happiness increases as much as if they’d fallen in love.

Not Everyone Should Have A Say

Added on Nov 23, 2022  ·  Filed under urbanism

Key to understanding the undemocratic nature of “community participation” is defining who is actually meant by “community.” First, the types of people who have the time and money to sue developers under federal environmental statutes are not representative of the broader community. Second, the costs of construction (noise, a disrupted view) are localized, whereas the benefits of renewable energy are large and diffuse. That means if the process for green-lighting a project prioritizes local voices, it will miss a much larger piece of the picture: all of the millions of people who will benefit from a greener future.

There Are No Cars in Wakanda

Added on Nov 22, 2022  ·  Filed under urbanism

In continuing to look at the car as some magical conduit to a brighter future, we continue to ignore what the automobile has wrought. [...]

What if we could rethink mobility to be not about the car, but about people? What if we thought less about technological innovation and more about connection and community, equity and access? Might it be possible to imagine a move away from petrol? From drivers? From cars?

State and local governments prioritize building infrastructure for cars, and public transportation remains underfunded and unreliable. Wide roads and parking lots spread everything out and make walking extremely difficult, if a neighborhood even has sidewalks to begin with. Today, because a majority of Americans, including an increasing number of children and the elderly, live in car-centric areas like suburbs, our ability to form connections and community is limited. [...]

As local governments across the US increasingly take steps to make car-centric cities more walkable and amenable to public transit, it makes sense for us to consider what it would take to do the same for car-centric suburbs. Americans of all abilities deserve to participate in society independent of their ability to own, maintain, and drive a car. That includes being able to make friends on their own two feet.

The Human Scale

Added on Oct 30, 2022  ·  Filed under urbanism

Spend some time with urbanists and you are bound to hear the term human scaled sooner rather than later. A near relative to the term human scaled is when we talk about a town or neighborhood being walkable. What the term means is simply this: a human scaled town is one where you can live almost your entire life within walking distance.

The housing theory of everything

Added on Oct 23, 2022  ·  Filed under favorites, urbanism

Try listing every problem the Western world has at the moment. Along with Covid, you might include slow growth, climate change, poor health, financial instability, economic inequality, and falling fertility. These longer-term trends [...] may seem loosely related, but there is one big thing that makes them all worse. That thing is a shortage of housing: too few homes being built where people want to live. And if we fix those shortages, we will help to solve many of the other, seemingly unrelated problems that we face as well.