Category Archives: News

The Language of Towns & Cities

I’m very pleased to say The Language of Towns & Cities: A Visual Dictionary has been published and is available for purchase. The massive tome was written by Dhiru Thadani with more than fifty contributors. I was the editor of the book as well as a contributor.

My leading observation is that the title is a misnomer. It’s not a visual dictionary, it’s a visual encyclopedia — a combination of reference book and coffee table book. It represents about 15 years of creative production by Dhiru, including his maps of urban spaces around the world and his insights from 30 years as an architect and town planner. Numbers also tell the tale: the book consists of 804 pages; more than 500 subject matter entries ranging from single paragraphs to full essays; and more than 2,500 diagrams, illustrations, and photographs.

The book is physically heavy and bulky. Its dimensions are 10.4″ x 10.4″ x 2.75″ and it weighs 9 pounds… not what you would call a portable book. Once it gets parked on a desk or coffee table, it’s not going to move far.

The Language of Towns & Cities is a fine example of the craft of bookmaking. Credit is due to Rizzoli Publications and the Chinese firm that manufactured the book. It is beautifully printed

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, with heavy coated paper stock that showcases the vibrant, lush photography. The binding is sturdy and lies flat at any page, which many books these days are not made to do.

The authorial tone of the book is accessible and straightforward, aiming for clarity rather than obfuscation by jargon. Indeed, The Language of Towns & Cities is a work of anti-jargon, because it introduces concepts, defines terms, explores patterns, and reveals history.

Being an encyclopedia, The Language of Towns & Cities is arranged alphabetically. Rob Krier’s review on describes his childhood joy at browsing reference works. Krier says that reading Language made him feel the same way. Each flip of the page brought a different subject into view, encouraging serendipitous exploration and discovery.

To sum up, Language combines beautiful images, a wide variety of subject matter, accessible writing, and fine bookmaking. I call it the ultimate browsing book on urban design.

What follows is the dust jacket book description, list of contributors, and a sample from the book including the complete table of contents.

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Location, Transportation, and Urban Design in LEED 2012

The draft LEED 2012 rating systems were released for public comment today. The proposals contain new and revised credits that relate to the location, transportation options, and urban design of projects. Here I’ll review the changes that are of greatest interest to new urbanism and smart growth advocates.

The following proposals are in the Building Design & Construction document, which includes most of the LEED rating systems. “LT” stands for Location and Transportation, which is a new category within LEED systems.

Please note that “LEED 2012” is my own personal shorthand for these draft proposals. The more accurate and official term is “proposed update to LEED” with no year associated.

LT Prerequisite: Bicycle Storage

LEED has been critiqued for a variety of flaws both real and alleged. But one thing you can always count on is a mention of the bike rack credit. Every critic or reporter has a sworn duty to point out that bike racks can earn a LEED credit point. Installing bike racks is cheap and easy compared to (for instance) making buildings more energy efficient, and may be worth the same number of credit points. This has consistently been presented as an example of LEED illogic.

Worry no longer! Installing bike racks is now a prerequisite for all LEED projects, except for those in totally unbikeable locations. The racks have to be safe and convenient — no stashing behind garbage dumpsters. Residential projects provide additional bike storage for their residents.

This prerequisite is both functional and symbolic, providing a visible signal that transportation mode choice is an essential aspect of LEED. Also, creating a bicycle storage prerequisite allows the bar to be raised for performance in the “Bicycle Network, Storage and Changing Rooms” credit.

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e²: Good Urbanism on TV

The Brad Pitt-narrated PBS series e² ( “the Economies of being Environmentally conscious”) has several episodes about urban design and planning. For a general introduction to walkable, transit-oriented design and planning, I recommend the episode “Portland: A Sense of Place.” It focuses on the city’s rail transit and aerial tram, the Pearl District redevelopment, and the quality of life that can result from downtown revitalization with good urban design.

Even better is the episode “Seoul: The Stream of Consciousness” which focuses on Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project. This was a major freeway in the heart of the city that was torn down and replaced with a linear park and recreated running stream. The best thing about this episode is the sense of hope and renewal for the city that is conveyed by the residents’ pride in their new park.

These episodes are beautifully produced

, not wonky at all, and will certainly hold anybody’s attention. The episodes can be viewed at Click on “Webcasts” and scroll down to the episode titles. They are also available on DVD and from iTunes.

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British Train Ridership Hits Peacetime Record

A story about record train ridership in the UK includes this impressive graphic:

Image credit: The Independent

The chart is based on the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) booklet The Billion Passenger Railway. The booklet features several articles — including one that forecasts that the competitiveness of 21st century cities will depend on their high speed rail links. Andrew Curry reports from September 2083:

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Council Report VII: Green Architecture and Urbanism

As editor of the Council Report VII: On Green Architecture and Urbanism, I am pleased to announce that the publication has been printed and is now available for order.

councilreportviithumb.jpgGreen building today is well-defined and increasingly popular. However, green urbanism is only starting to coalesce as a defined or systematized approach to the built environment. The Council Report VII features 21 articles on sustainable construction and placemaking by leading practitioners of new urbanist design, planning and education.

As sustainability techniques are adapted from the building scale and applied to the neighborhood and regional scales, a number of critical issues arise. In the rush to go green, we are seeing more instances of misplaced priorities and poorly conceived approaches to scaling up green techniques. That leads to unintended consequences and worsened environmental performance. Therefore, the Council Report VII addresses questions like:

  • What are the best principles and techniques now being developed to coordinate sustainability measures and functional urban design? What are the advanced tools now being developed by urban designers to code and build sustainable urbanism?
  • How are firms redefining themselves to focus on sustainability as a foundation of their practice?
  • What lessons are offered by leading examples of sustainability policies, built projects, and plans? What are effective guidelines for communicating and marketing sustainable communities? What are the definitions of sustainable urbanism, and how do we measure or quantify it?
  • What is research telling us about the sustainability of traditional architectural design and construction techniques, and their performance relative to modernist styles?
  • How are universities incorporating sustainable urbanism, and what programs and initiatives are now underway?
  • What are the philosophical underpinnings of green urbanism and what are the proposed agendas for future research and advocacy?

In the extended entry

, a complete table of contents and a summary of each article.

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APTA Study on Transit and Land Use

The recent study Growing Cooler, coordinated by Smart Growth America and published by the Urban Land Institute, found that “Typically, Americans living in compact urban neighborhoods where cars are not the only transportation option drive a third fewer miles than those in automobile-oriented suburbs…”

On March 10, 2008, the American Public Transit Association released a closely related study that supplemented those findings. APTA’s study, The Broader Connection between Public Transportation, Energy Conservation and Greenhouse Gas Reduction, tackles the same topic from a different direction. It asks, How does the availability of transit affect land use

, its energy efficiency, and its greenhouse gas emissions — not only for transit riders but for those who don’t ride transit?

The conclusion: Not only is the land use effect significant, it is major. Below the fold, some excerpts from the study and key findings.

Image credit: APTA

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Performance Parking in DC

Market-rate parking is going forward in the new Washington D.C. ballpark district, and the pilot plan has received a good amount of coverage lately in the local press. has a roundup of links: page one and page two.

Here’s JD’s parking map page

, which says: “On all streets shown in the color red, DDOT will install new multi-space meters or modify the times and prices on traditional existing meters. Multi-space meters will be programmed with rates that vary according by day and length of parking stay. These rates will be aimed at encouraging parking turnover and limiting vehicles squatting on commercial spaces.”

Why is this good news for D.C.? I previously discussed market rate parking, its justification and benefits, and a trailblazing implementation in California, in Redwood City’s Free-Market Parking Meters. If D.C.’s pilot plan is implemented as well as Redwood City’s, then the ballpark district should see reduced traffic congestion and pollution, scarce parking allocated in a more convenient and efficient way, more income for streetscape improvements, an improved pedestrian environment and therefore more business for local shops.

And who doesn’t love a solar-powered parking meter? (Okay, that was a rhetorical question.)

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A Revolutionary Map of the World

On November 26, 2007, professors Erle C. Ellis and Navin Ramankutty published a conceptual model and map that revolutionize the story of global ecosystems. The conventional view, which can be found in millions of atlases and introductory textbooks, is an aggregation of ecosystems called biomes. Biomes are classified by vegetation, climate and location, and have exotic, suggestive names like “Tropical Mountain Systems,” “Temperate Oceanic Forest” or “Boreal Tundra Woodland.”

Biomes also suffer from a notable deficiency: The humans are missing. In certain important respects, the conventional biome map is a fantasy, an image of the earth minus the influence of people and their land uses.

And have we ever had an influence! As Ellis and Ramankutty note, humans have been redesigning, re-engineering and remaking the land such that “the vegetation forms predicted by conventional biome systems are now rarely observed across large areas of Earth’s land surface.” Today, in the year 2007, “more than three quarters of Earth’s land surface has been reshaped by human activity.”


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Queensland, Peak Oil and New Urbanism

Today the government of Queensland, Australia, released its taskforce report titled Queensland’s Vulnerability to Rising Oil Prices. The report found that Peak Oil is real, and that preparations are essential:

The Taskforce considered the question of whether and when world production of oil will peak. The range of creditable predictions for a world peak oil situation run from 2005 to 2040, with the mean and standard deviations of all academic and industry predictions being 2013, ± 7. The Taskforce concludes that the overwhelming evidence is that world oil production will peak within the next 10 years.

The report recommends risk mitigation approaches such as reduction in consumption of liquid fossil fuels; alternative fuels, technologies and strategies; and preparation for demographic and regional changes, as travel, work and living habits change in response to rising fuel prices. In regards to the latter

, the report recommends new urbanism specifically.

Kelvin Grove Urban Village, a brownfield redevelopment under construction near Brisbane, Queensland. Photo: Queensland Department of Housing

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The Enclosed Mall Goes Extinct

In a Sarasota Herald Tribune article titled “Trend could spell trouble for malls,” the appropriately-named Devona Walker writes a lede that makes you go “Hmmm…”

The American mall, with its department store anchors, culinarily challenged food courts, concrete shells and native denizen, “the mall rat,” is becoming an endangered species.

One anchor mall is being built in 2007 and none are planned for 2008.

What is being built in massive quantities are “off-the-mall” retail and urban-friendly, largely upscale, open-air lifestyle and mixed-use retail centers.

Yes, the trend is old news by now. Still, I was unaware that it had reached the terminal point. Instead of endangered species, a better term (at least as regards new construction) may be extinct.

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Suburban Poverty

An article by Eyal Press titled The New Suburban Poverty, in The Nation magazine, reports a stunning fact about the American suburbs:

Stories of downward mobility in America’s suburbs have not exactly cluttered the headlines over the past decade. Gated communities of dream homes, mansions ringed by man-made lakes and glass-cube office parks: These are the images typically evoked by the posh

, supersized subdivisions built during the 1990s technology boom. Low-wage jobs, houses under foreclosure, families unable to afford food and medical care are not. But venture beyond the city limits of any major metropolitan area today, and you will encounter these things, in forms less concentrated — and therefore less visible — than in the more blighted pockets of our cities perhaps, but with growing frequency all the same. …

The result is a historic milestone that has gone strangely ignored: For the first time ever, more poor Americans live in the suburbs than in all our cities combined.

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A Global Turning Point

As the U.N. observes, 2007 is a turning point in global history. For the first time in the history of humankind, the majority of people are city dwellers.

A New York Times profile of visionary Stewart Brand describes his view of a rapidly urbanizing world:

He now looks at the rapidly growing megacities of the third world not as a crisis but as good news: as villagers move to town, they find new opportunities and leave behind farms that can revert to forests and nature preserves. Instead of worrying about population growth

, he’s afraid birth rates are declining too quickly, leaving future societies with a shortage of young people.

Indeed there is good news and new opportunities; and yes, some of the abandoned hinterlands are regenerating their natural vegetation. However, there is far too much misery and suffering in the global urbanization trend to unreservedly label it as beneficial.

Some of the numbers are fairly well known and covered in publications like the U.N.’s The Challenge of Slums (2003). There are a billion slum dwellers in the world, trying to cope with increasing rates of unemployment, malnutrition, disease and illiteracy. That’s one third of all city dwellers worldwide.

The problems of sanitation and shelter are familiar, but an entirely different type of scourge is making surprising advances in developing nations: traffic crashes. In fact, over the next thirteen years, traffic crashes will become the third-biggest death/disease factor worldwide.

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Neighborly Housing

Two recent articles of note.

1. Buyers Value ‘Neighborly’ Housing, Study Finds
College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, University of Illinois
February 5, 2007

Chicagoans who buy new housing in low-income neighborhoods prefer homes that are integrated into the neighborhood and not isolated from it

, according to a new report by University of Illinois at Chicago researchers.

Buyers are willing to pay 33 percent to 50 percent more for units in single-family or small multi-family buildings with entrances that face the street and parking that faces the alley, according to the report published in the Winter 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association. Buyers also favor relatively short setbacks from the street and construction materials similar to those used in neighboring buildings.

The working paper is available from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy: Does Urban Design Influence Property Values in High-Poverty Urban Neighborhoods?

2. Rethinking Suburbia
Style Weekly

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, Richmond VA
February 7 – 14, 2007

Neighborhoods that once held the suburban dreams of many have become havens for crime and the all-too-familiar problems of the inner city.

… It’s difficult for many to fathom that the old suburbs, even in their grimiest state, could somehow foster the kind of crime and dereliction that plagues the inner city, places like Gilpin and Mosby courts. But it’s already started.

Combined, Chesterfield and Henrico recorded 14 murders in 2006 and 23 murders in 2005, the biggest indicator that violent crime has moved in, albeit mild compared with the 83 murders in Richmond last year.

The signs of decline, however, are everywhere. In “Tomorrow’s Cities, Tomorrow’s Suburbs,” University of Virginia urban studies professors William Lucy and David Phillips argue that the older suburbs are actually far worse off than many inner cities for several reasons.

More information about “Tomorrow’s Cities, Tomorrow’s Suburbs,” including the table of contents and ordering info, is available from the American Planning Association.