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Walking Home: Ken Greenberg On How Jane Jacobs Was Right (Book Review)

Lloyd Alter, TreeHugger
Jane Jacobs is in the news these days, thanks to Edward Glaeser’s book Triumph of the City and his continuing attacks on her. He says she got it wrong, but he didn’t know Jane Jacobs. Ken Greenberg, recipient of the 2010 American Institute of Architects Thomas Jefferson Award for public design excellence, and the 2010 Best of Green Urban Planner, knew Jane Jacobs, and has built an urban design career getting it right. He has recently written Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of A City Builder, a cross between autobiography and planning polemic

… [Ken] has been a key participant in so many important urban design transformations, from Toronto, his home base, to Cambridge, Mass, to Amsterdam and Caracas and more. One can single him out. He understands the importance of throwing out the old rulebooks:

As we prepare to hit the wall of peak oil, with “peak car” following closely on its heels, we’ll have to change ho we get from place to place. Beyond the limit of oil supply, there is simply no more room for cars….the unhealthy consequences of a sedentary, car-dependent lifestyle are clear. Driving to the gym or health club is no substitute for walking as part of a daily routine.

It is a rare chapter that doesn’t have homage to Jane Jacobs, whether it is Dark Age Ahead, when discussing sprawl, or The Economy of Cities or Cities and the Wealth of Nations, when discussing how cities are the principal generators of wealth. Ken notes that hard right wing politicians everywhere are anti-city and anti-rail, but that there is also an endemic distrust of city governments as being corrupt and shortsighted. But if we could get it all together…..

what might life in our cities look like if we aggressively filled in the obsolescent rail yards and port lands, cleaned and remediated their polluted soils and built denser, more walkable neighbourhoods? What if we were able to move toward zero carbon footprint communities and even “net plus” energy by creating energy from our waste and from renewable sources where we live and work?…many of us will still be using cars, but perhaps not vehicles we own. And we would likely get round using a greater choice of methods, including more walking, cycling or transit. Our living spaces might be smaller, but that would be compensated by a greater variety of public spaces, amenities and necessities close to hand, so we will likely spend less time in our own private spaces anyway.

(24 May 2011)

Great places: dense, wired, and sustainable

David Roberts, Grist
Part of what makes great places great is ecological sustainability. So what’s the best way to reduce our per-capita resource footprint? Typically you hear one of two stories. One is about technology: making gadgets, appliances, vehicles, and factories leaner and more efficient. The other is about conservation, i.e., consciously choosing to use less stuff.

Neither of those stories captures the biggest opportunity and the best strategy for reducing consumption and waste, which is, quite simply, density. Density is the sine qua non of sustainability. Generally speaking, if you’re an American living in a suburban or rural area, it doesn’t matter if you live in a green home, own a Prius, are vegetarian, have a compost bin and backyard chickens — your footprint is bigger than someone living in an efficiency apartment in Manhattan.

Why is this so? There are many reasons but the main one is simple math: living closer to other people enables you to own less and share more. You share the streets, the cars (taxis), the subways, the ports, the office buildings, the lights, the heat. Another way of putting it is, with more people closer together, a given unit of resources can go farther: a unit of space, of power, of transportation or water infrastructure. Density is inherently more efficient.

This is part three in a series on “great places.” Read parts one and two.
(25 May 2011)

What’s So Great About Portland?

Jay Walljasper, AlterNet
Is it enlightened politicians? Their urban growth plan? Or something else entirely?

… I came to town to talk about my new book All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons, which outlines the potential of the commons as a worldview to help us re-balance the dangerously out-of-whack emphasis on “me” in modern society with a new realization about the power of “we”.

But I quickly saw that I would learn at least as much from this spirited gathering of Portlanders as they would learn from me.

I left Portland convinced that if Minneapolis and other cities across the land want to move up from the #2 slot in rankings of urban success, they ought to concentrate less on the nuts-and-bolts of achieving desired outcomes and concentrate more on efforts of all kinds that get people working together on the grassroots level to make a better community. That’s the simple but powerful secret of a great city.

Jay Walljasper is editor of, a news and culture website devoted to recognizing the importance of the commons — those things that belong to all of us — in modern life.
(16 May 2011)

Expanding Bike Programs Makes Sense in a Time of Shrinking Budgets and Soaring Gas Prices

Jay Walljasper, People for Bikes
Gas prices have raced toward four bucks for the second time in three years. So it’s more crucial than ever to find quick, enduring ways to free our nation from overdependence on oil.

Millions of Americans suffer when prices at the pump rise, because they have no alternative to driving almost everywhere they go. We need to create a transportation system that will not be held hostage by volatile fuel prices.

Here’s some good news: Over the past few years, simple infrastructure improvements (bike paths, lanes, etc) making it more convenient and safe for people to bike and walk have been constructed coast-to-coast. Cities from New York to Minneapolis to San Francisco have enjoyed 100 percent or more increases in the number of people biking to work, school and shopping.

Smaller cities from Greenville, South Carolina, to North Little Rock, Arkansas to Long Beach, California are now following suit. Creating better conditions for biking and walking is one proven innovation to cushion us from the economic upheaval of high gas prices.

But here’s some troubling news: much of the talk around Washington and state capitals this year is about eliminating or slashing these successful programs. That’s penny-wise and dollar-dumb. Biking and walking comprise only 1.5 percent of the overall federal transportation budget, while they account for 12 percent of all trips made by Americans today.

Indeed, the entire price tag for more than 3,000 federally funded bike and pedestrian projects across 50 states last year amounted to less than half the cost of one highly contested highway project in Maryland that opened this spring.

Bicycling has boomed during the past 15 years, illustrating how a small amount of federal funding has leveraged big results throughout America. And this was achieved through “bike-partisan” consensus.
(28 May 2011)