Archives For progressivetimes

grocery store aisleIn skimming through the recent articles on the Sustainable Cities Collective, I came across one that featured a story about an Austrian “Smart Buildings Program” at the University of Applied Sciences in Salzburg. One of the projects for students was probing the design for the most efficient supermarket, effectively built to Passivhaus standards–which any American architect will tell you is ambitious for a retail entity that relies so heavily on cooling. Given that our country’s food system is highly carbon-intensive, a study for how its sale and distribution can be more ecological responsive is certainly worthwhile. Continue Reading…

international green construction codeIf the goal is to limit the overcrowding of cars on the street, is it a better solution to dilute density in order to spread people out or to foster the ability for more people to carry out more of their day via alternative transit? Is the best way to avoid excessive signage and light pollution to forcibly segregate all commercial program or might it be easier to simply regulate sizes for signage and candlepower for lighting? In an effort to limit the amount of cooking odors disturbing nearby residences, would it make more sense to remove proximity of all retail business or to set standards for the design and location of cooking exhaust?

Questions like these draw into focus the difference between two mindsets for planning and design, prescriptively restrictive vs. performative. The deeper question is whether it makes more sense to guide design and development by prescribing solutions with an (educated) guess as to how they may perform over time or by simply setting standards for testing how things should actually perform? While the former has proven to be easier for governing bodies in many cases, the latter can be built on what we actually have rather than an idea of what could occur. Continue Reading…

Too often, we find ourselves in new suburban developments that are little more than a watered down model of a historic precedent. With large swaths of sub-divided into saleable parcels, the go-to combination of a windy road, ample lawns and a smattering of colonial reminiscing can get the property off the hands of a developer into the eager grasp of new tenants. But when it comes to actually fostering a sense of community, more often than not we see houses thrown up in reasonable proximity with hopes for the best. This method leaves a lot of clubs in the bag for crafting variables entirely within our collective control to produce better results. Among them is the relationship between our homes and the streetscape, with plenty of ways to promote connection rather than just proximity. Continue Reading…

demolition stoop urban ruinDensity plays a key role in the creation of a walkable, pedestrian-oriented, sustainable community. Though there are examples of denser development patterns that are not walkable, it is hard to create walkability without hitting a certain threshold of units per acre, so bolstering the streetscape with new buildings can be important for the sustainable aspirations of a young municipality. However, for cities like New York, density is not a recent phenomenon. The city has been building since its inception, which has lead to density not only being achieved from new construction, but in large part due to the wealth of existing buildings that have been around for a while. Given the vast amount of resources frozen in our existing building stock, our older urban landscapes need to look through more lenses of sustainability than only the merits of new development. Continue Reading…

maroma resort beachWhen most of us manage to carve out the time, money and effort required to clock out of the daily grind for a while, the top priority is stepping away from the nagging mundane worries that are waiting for us every morning. Vacation spots excel at helping to push thoughts of the job, the commute, the chores and the bills to the side in deference to an image of luxury, if only to be enjoyed for a short time. Given Gallup’s recent numbers on where the environment sits in the list of priorities for Americans, chances are that sustainability doesn’t rank high on most of our vacation itineraries. Continue Reading…

trees, sidewalk, people, streetThis was one of the underlying questions within the discourse on a recent webinar that targeted how designers can engage in progressive community development. I had the pleasure of being joined by fellow panelists, Christine Modor and Fleur Timmer with moderation by author David Thorpe. Titled: Urban Architecture and Building Better Communities, the discussion fielded questions on the role of architects and landscape architects in helping to craft useful and coveted community spaces. Continue Reading…

recycled bottlesWithin the realm of broad sustainability efforts in this country, recycling could be considered one of the veterans. Recycling programs have existed in America since the 1990’s, but despite their longevity, they still have not yet reached their maturity, falling short of refined systems streamlined for maximum impact at minimum cost. In most places, recycling programs are still a net cost for municipalities that host them. Though it is not to say that environmental programs like recycling are not worth costs to accomplish their goals or that any should be expected to “turn a profit”, it’s possible that some programs are operating far below their potential and broadcast a bloated image of expense that is ripe for improvement. Continue Reading…

Manhattan Beach Pedestrian StreetAchieving density and creating public circulation space that is centered around pedestrians are both key components to fostering a walkable environment. Both are things that the typical American, suburban model lack. With homes spread so far apart–from both each other and any non-residential destination–walking becomes senseless in communities that are beholden to the car down to the very fabric of their planning. Raising the number of residential units per acre and designing space for pedestrian travel that would  otherwise be devoted to roads can be important strides in making options other than driving more attractive and plausible. However, walkability hinges on more than only these variables alone and their inclusion does not guarantee success. Continue Reading…

self storage roadAs January comes to a close most of the presents of the holiday season have probably found a place in our homes. Shelves are a bit heavier. Closets are a bit fuller. Unclaimed space is a bit rarer. The success of the retail industry shows itself in our collective burgeoning homes and as the spring approaches there will be Americans looking to find new homes for possessions they can’t fit, but don’t want to part with. Similar to the growth of digital space in the cloud, the displacement of our excess stuff to an out-of-sight location can be perceived as utilizing an endless amount of space with little repercussion, but this strengthening trend has fueled an industry in the business of taking up space while giving little back. Continue Reading…

Cities of 2030, Today

Cities can grow to defy our current perceptions of plausibility. In the future, each spire in a collection of gleaming, vertical towers could harness density through a mixture of use types from working to living to growing food. Not only could each building produce its own renewable energy, but the excess could be pumped back into the city around it to help power the seamless public transit system ranging from lighted bike paths to high speed trains that allowed people to sail from one urban core to the next. Air quality would rise, water use would fall and the cultural affordability would compliment density with diversity. In a word, Oz. Continue Reading…