What Makes a Place Livable and Loveable? Thoughts on Placemaking

2.15.2013 | At the intersection of resilient regions and placemaking today lie history, the here-and-now, and a good question about the future. 

“American suburbs have been seen as both exclusive idylls for elites as well as crucibles for new ideologies of gender, class, race, and property. But few have considered what the growing diversity of suburban America has meant for progressive social, economic, and political justice movements.”

Thus begins the description at Amazon.com for Social Justice in Diverse Suburbs: History, Politics, and Prospects — a new book from Temple University Press scheduled for release on June 7, 2013. This 252-page book, edited by BRR Research Associate Christopher Niedt, examines suburban conflicts and organizing efforts ranging from integration to environmental justice to immigrant communities, and even “displacement along the suburban-rural fringe.”

More examinations of the history of urban and suburban diversity can be found in the Journal of Urban History’s January 2013 edition.

From that overview of regional backgrounds to an overview of regional economies, the Urban Institute’s new MetroTrends Data Dashboard lets you see charts of local trends in employment/unemployment, housing, demographics, and crime. In Madison, WI, for example, unemployment appears to have remained static over the last year, while housing prices and crime rates fell. The region also lost a net 147 people in 2009 and 2010 (the most recently available years). Cities from Akron, OH, to Yuma, AZ, are in the database, which an easy way for researchers and journalists alike to compare cities and regions.

Housing prices may have fallen in most parts of the country, but that doesn’t mean architects and developers stop planning. Bridget Moriarty asks at Curbed’s Thinking Big page whether bigger is better and whether there are any limits to what people can build. Sky City in China, for example, has been designed to house 31,400 people with 104 high-speed elevators. Personally, I think there are limits imposed by economic constrictions (for example, those that helped kill the Santiago Calatrava-designed “Spire” in Chicago) and the still-inevitable fact that the clock is running on our hydrocarbon-based economy. How will those skyscrapers Moriarty describes, some of which look like they’d be easy nominations for James Howard Kunstler’s Eyesore of the Month, be maintained when hydrocarbon energy costs rise even higher than their highest spires and antennae? (Side note: Somebody is rather geography-challenged. That image of China’s Sky City Tower places it in Chicago’s downtown Streeterville neighborhood. And if that was done for comparisons of scale, that only further proves my point.)

The folks at the Metropolitan Planning Council probably didn’t intend that their recent focus on placemaking offer an effective and striking counterpoint to that “bigger is better” philosophy. Its three-part series of posts about tangible benefits for economies, allowing people to “age in place,” and individual health, is a better map to regional resilience and long-term prosperity. A hint: “Places that incorporate local heritage and artists attract more tourists, and residents feel a stronger connection to such places.”

Upcoming Conferences of Note

Registration for CNU21: Living Community, May 29 to June 1 in Salt Lake City, is now open. The program and schedule should be posted soon. Early registration discounts are available through April 24.

Registration for the fourth Safe Routes to Schools Conference, August 13-15, in Sacramento, CA, will open in May. Hosted by the Local Government Commission, the biannual conference focuses on best practices of regions and communities improving and easing the ability of schoolchildren to walk or bike to school. Check the website for further information.

photo credit: Construction Week Online

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