Posts Tagged ‘urban planning’

The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome:
Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream

John F. Wasik
Bloomberg, 2009

207 pages
ISBN 978-1576603208

John Wasik, a columnist for Bloomberg News and the Huffington Post, has written a book that examines the recent period in our history when homeownership actually made many people poorer. They have been forced to tap their home equity, go into debt to finance their unsustainable lifestyle, and contributed little to retirement investing because of the misguided assumption that home appreciation would fund their future years. Basically the period of time when homes stopped being a place to live and raise family, and became a temporary abode for a migrant family that changed residences every 5 to 7 years.

As John Wasik himself has said on his Cul-De-Sac Syndrome website:

After a lifetime of research and observation, an agonizing decline of the housing market, publication delays and collapse of the stock market, my Cul-de-Sac Syndrome has braved all odds to be published.

Why should you care about this book? It’s about our homes and communities and how we need to re-invent, re-envision and re-build the American Dream if we want to survive in this contentious century. Economics meets ecology in this radical new look at what we’ve taken for granted as a birthright.

The plight of the housing market writ large. The unsustainable “spurbs”, Wasik’s name for car-dependent sprawling urban areas, dot the land. I lived for a time in Colorado Springs and had friends who lived in one these spurbs. They had a twenty minute drive to get to the nearest grocery store, and the neighborhood was more a fenced-in plots of anonymous neighbors, than a community.

The City of Kenmore has a chance to make itself a more livable city, a more walkable city. It also needs to make itself more attractive to more manufacturing and office jobs, since retail and other service oriented businesses just isn’t enough.

Decide for yourself, you can pick up a copy of his book from my Sustainable Living Store.


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So, what would happen if the City of Seattle where to tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and not replace it with anything?

According to most pundits: Gridlock!

But according to the Braess Paradox: Better traffic flow and less traffic.

This is the conundrum presented in the Infrastructurist post “Huh?! 4 Cases Of How Tearing Down A Highway Can Relieve Traffic Jams (And Save Your City)”, where four case studies are examined and show that removing roads can actually reduce traffic in a city.


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The Seattle Bubble just ran an article about the apartment complex I ranted about earlier in “A place to live?“.

The story of Northshore Townhomes is a classic tale of bubble mania. The 6-acre parcel was purchased in 2002 for $1 million by well-known local developer Mike Mastro (via an LLC), but development did not begin in earnest until 2006, in the midst of the real estate frenzy (condo prices were up over 24% year-over-year in November).

Now, Kenmore is nice, but it’s not exactly near the top of most people’s lists when they are thinking about where they want to live around Seattle. Is Kenmore really the best market in which to build 86 new townhomes priced $280,000 to $400,000, with a feature list that includes “the finest finishes throughout” and “chic cabanas with table, bar, and rollout lounges”? And even if Kenmore is a good place for such a development, does it make sense to put it half a block from a major auction house? Obviously not, but during the bubble everything was being snatched up with bidding wars as soon as it came on the market, so in the mind of developers it was probably a no-lose proposition.

Read the full article at Northshore Townhomes: A Case Study in Bubble Mania Development.

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Yesterday on KUOW’s Weekday program, Thomas Sieverts and host, Steve Scher,

Northland Shopping Center – overgrown parking lot and neon sign. Photo by Lost Tulsa.

Northland Shopping Center – overgrown parking lot and neon sign. Photo by Lost Tulsa.

 talked about the Zwischenstadt, or intermediate city/sprawl/in-between places that exist in communities. They’re a mix or the city and country, the natural and man–made. And they are a growing trend in many places. 

“[As an architect,] I was taught to make a place functional. In the future, we must learn simply to build a place. A place as open to different functions as possible–a place whose use can change while maintaining its architectural qualities. Experience shows us that the beautiful building is the longest lasting, not the most functional.”

 –Thomas Sieverts

Zwischenstadt means sprawl: the patchwork proximity of unconnected and highly disparate elements which vary in function, scale and use. It describes the hotch-potch on the margins of the metropolitan landscape – shopping centres alongside family homes next to a motorway, for example – but it also denotes a more general structure which is “undermining” the historical norms of city life. In historical terms, the Zwischenstadt is a newcomer, an interim stage in the transition to an uncertain future.

To learn more, listen to the KUOW.org podcast:

Hi quality

Lo quality

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A story in USATODAY.com talks about how the residents of Clark South Dakota created a new General Store after the older, franchise store was closed by the parent company. A store that is more responsive to the community’s needs because it is own by the community.

[M]ore than 100 people in Clark have purchased $500 shares to finance the opening of the Clark Hometown Variety Store. The store will take the place of the Duckwall store, which was one of 20 underperforming stores parent company Duckwall-Alco Stores of Kansas closed in 2005.

“We had no place in town to buy a pair of shoelaces or buy socks or underwear or any of those things,” says Greg Furness, a shareholder who runs the local funeral home. Residents, he says, had to make a 40-minute drive — sometimes in treacherous winter conditions — to Watertown every time they needed supplies.

This is a great example of a community banding together to provide themselves a service, in this case a general store, that a large franchise deemed unprofitable. So how does this mesh in with the sustainable lifestyle? Well, for one, a community owned store has to answer to its stockholders, the people who invested in it. They have a say in the type of products that the store sells, and they can ask that the store sells locally sourced products. It may mean higher prices for goods and services, but at least the community has a say.

For more information about how to start your own community-owned business, check out the BigBoxToolkit PDF file: How to Launch a Community-Owned Store.


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The folks at Arnold Imaging, together with Kansas City Public Television, produced this 11 minute movie on the benefits of light rail on land development. This video shows how it helps encourage walkable development wherever there is a light rail station. It helps reinforce how light rail is a positive change in a community.

Imagine KC

In a way, this meshes with a previous post in the Living Sustainability Blog: Smart Transit Oriented Development.    


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Since 2002, Michelle Kaufmann Designs and mkStudios, have been at the forefront of green and sustainable prefabricated house designs on the West Coast. Founded by it’s namesake, Michelle Kaufmann, it’s guiding principle is to provide a full service design/build architectural firm that uses off-site modular technology and  prepackaged green solutions as the means to create beautiful, eco-friendly homes and multi-family developments.

Both companies strive to show how Michelle’s five EcoPrinciples can be easily and elegantly incorporated into nearly everyone’s daily life. These EcoPrinciples are:

  • Smart design
  • Ecological materials
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water conservation
  • Healthy environment


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