The Economy of Cities: Incubating Meaningful Work

The Economy of Cities: Incubating Meaningful Work

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Jane Jacobs’ eloquent defense of the life, and death, of great American cities still rings true. As associate director of Architectural Forum in the 1960’s, Jacobs admonished us to remember what really made cities lively and alive—their inherent ability to foster creativity and innovation. Cities that do not add new levels and natures of work stagnate. “More of the Same” is deadening and results in cities that are no longer vibrant.  Yet many cities base their economic development plans on the expansion or recruitment of a cluster of similar businesses as a way to create “synergies.” The modern economic development plan seeks “like” businesses and related suppliers that support them, believing that they can create a center of excellence. This was the idea that Bangalore, India had when it established itself as the world’s premiere call-center. And Dublin Ireland had in pursuing the “computer chip manufacturing capital of the world”

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Urban Acupuncture

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I would like to lift up a metaphor that Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, uses to describe leveraged actions that can help transform a community.  Lerner calls such actions (and the art of discerning and carrying out such actions) as that of urban acupuncture.  As he states it, “I call it urban acupuncture, which is where you focus on key points that increase energy and flow” 1

Seeing Problems as Opportunities

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Recently, I was asked to speak at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City for a Sustainable Design and Construction series being offered as a diploma course. I wanted to illustrate the benefits achieved by performing a whole-systems site assessment for development clients—a service we call Integral Assessment. When conducting an Integral Assessment of place, we seek to understand the way a place functions, its current state of health, and the existing constraints it poses to the aspirations of the project. Underlying this process of analysis is the philosophy that the study of a site’s constraints will offer insight into their reconciliation—or, that many problems can be seen as opportunities or solutions.  

Regenerating Street Life

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Santa Fe journalist Zane Fischer, in his weekly column for the Santa Fe Reporter, wrote this week about community efforts to re-vision St. Michael’s Drive—a six-lane, strip-mall infested eyesore that divides the north and south sides of the city.  Santa Fe’s city planning department has apparently recognized the importance of transforming St. Michael’s from a 1970s-era car orientated wasteland into a vibrant and pedestrian friendly part of the urban fabric.  They have invoked the famous “La Rambla” of Barcelona as an exemplar. Fischer correctly points out that, “La Rambla isn’t only a successful community gathering space because it’s pedestrian friendly. It’s because it’s lined with cafés that don’t face arcane and prohibitive state alcohol regulations. It’s because kids are allowed to hang out well after dark in a culture that isn’t crippled by fear of litigation and the unknown. Businesses are open later than 6 pm, eateries are allowed to

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A Regenerative Context for LEED

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In 2000 the U.S. Green Building Council officially launched the LEED® Green Building Rating System. LEED is a grading system that assigns points and levels of performance to various criteria relating to our health and the health of the ecosystem. It grades a client and design team’s willingness to reduce impact in a number of broad areas such as energy and atmospheric pollutants; community issues; habitat; water quality and conservation; material resources; and the quality of our indoor environment. The purpose of this rating system was to put these issues in front of us as a grouped system. While it has been very successful in its impact on the marketplace, the danger is that users think that LEED helps create sustainable buildings.  It does not. 

The Future of Community, Economic and Education Development

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How to grow the wealth of a town, city or region without undermining its vitality and heritage: it’s an on-going challenge because we tend to see economic development and cultural and ecological stewardship as being at odds. But any viable future is going to require us to reconcile this apparent dichotomy.  I’m heartened by an integrated approach that emanates from a shared sense of uniqueness of a bioregion—a shared sense carried by its Story of Place. The story of a place is as old as its land and waterways. It is told and stewarded by native peoples and recent residents alike. Those who are drawn to a place represent it in their metaphors, prose and historical accounts. Story of place is made from the patterns that are apparent only on close observations—patterns that underlie all that is there. A place’s story guides what can and will be possible, whether or

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Maintaining the Marginal

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   Recently, a friend took me to visit an extensive public garden in Berlin, where she had helped establish a perennial plant collection some years ago.  For several hours we strolled over hillside meadows, through woodlands, along lakes and wetlands, all built during the last three decades in a formerly industrial area.  The garden was well laid out, bucolic, its trees beginning to achieve real stature, its plantings diverse and intelligent.  Drawing from the classic traditions of English landscape design, the garden offered a mirror of nature. I began to notice something was missing.  The park had elements one would expect in an ecological restoration project—water, topography, diverse plantings and habitat.  Yet the wildlife was noticeably absent.  The place is simply too well-maintained.  Scenic, but not really alive.  Bill Mollison (one of the originators of the Permaculture concept) used to say, “Tidiness is maintained disorder.”  I was witnessing a clear

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