I spent the past several days in Salt Lake City at the Congress for New Urbanism (cnu.org) conference. Some of the highlights of the conference were:
* Andres Duany’s keynote speech. Duany focused on the relationship between environmentalism and New Urbanism. He suggested that the fear of climate change was actually more important in shaping public policy than climate change itself, because this fear may create long-term demoralization (especially, I suspect, among environmentalists – though I’m not sure if Duany was saying this).
In response, Duany said that New Urbanism could stop such demoralization by making environmentally responsible conduct pleasant and desirable. Good urbanism turns the apparent limitation of life without a two-car (or three- or four-car) garage into a virtue. Duany also emphasized that our job as new urbanists is to focus on adapting to climate change rather than prevention. Why? Because in the absence of international action, there’s not all that much that can be done to prevent climate change.
Duany also discussed city design, emphasizing that one problem with the process of public hearings is that issues are sometimes decided at the wrong level. For example, infill development may involve issues of citywide or regionwide importance, yet the interests of one neighborhood are often given overwhelming weight. He also suggested that new building doesn’t need to be multistory; when a neighborhood is being developed, one-story buildings might be the cheapest form of real estate and thus most appropriate. As the neighborhood becomes more popular over time, multistory building might be more practical.
*A panel on form-based codes. The panel responded to concern that such codes had become too complex. Brenda Scheer suggested that codes were too focused on good design rather than good urban fabric. Sandy Sorlien suggested that codes often involved too much nonmandatory explanation and too many photos.
*John Massengale and Victor Dover led a panel on street design. They showed us photos of supposedly “complete” streets (that is, streets with sidewalks and bike lanes, or that had been narrowed to make pedestrian crossing easier) that are still basically ugly and car-oriented. In addition, they showed us car-oriented avenues in Manhattan, reminding us that even pedestrian-friendly places have some very car-dominated streets. Finally, they showed us examples of one-way streets and pedestrian malls (both of which tend to be unpopular among New Urbanists) in walkable towns, showing us that ideas that make little sense in much of America might make sense in the context of a network of small, interconnected streets.
*Sarah Susanka’s plenary address contained one line that spoke to me. She spoke about an “appreciation for space”, comparable to an appreciation for music. I think one reason I don’t fit in with my relatives and friends who have gotten used to sprawl is that I have a highly developed, perhaps overdeveloped, sense of space. My relatives in Atlanta have gotten used to things (such as streets without sidewalks) that horrify me.
*A panel on financing explained the problem of FHA financing. The FHA will insure purely residential mortgages, but will not support mixed-use developments, because it views its mission as primarily support of housing. Until recently, the FHA would only allow 20% retail space in a project; thus, a building with retail on the ground floor had to be at least five stories. It has increased the permissible amount of retail to 35%, so a three-story building with retail on the bottom is fine with them. However, they still will not support a mainstay of new urbanist development- the two-story building with retail on the bottom (which is thus 50% retail, above their 35% quota).
*A panel on local government showed how some local goverments were trying to promote smart growth. Matthew McElroy spoke about El Paso’s steps- a form-based code for city-owned land, and tax incentives for more walkable development.
*Annick Beaudet spoke about Austin’s “complete streets” program. The program focused on adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes – fairly modest steps, but a good start towards retrofitting sprawl. According to Beaudet, as the number of bike lanes rose, the number of bicycle crashes went down.
*On Sunday, I visited some of Salt Lake City’s suburbs and some of its more walkable areas. I saw some good things and bad things. On the negative side, streets were often too wide to be interesting or comfortable for pedestrians, especially downtown where more people normally walk. (However, in some non-downtown neighborhoods, this was less true). The light rail system closes at 7 PM on Sundays – a serious hardship for travelers taking late flights. The bus system closes around 10 pm, and around 7 pm on weekends. On the other hand, there are some nice walkable neighborhoods; as in the south, these areas tend to be dominated by single-family homes, the occasional duplex, and the occasional small apartment complex. There are almost no rowhouses or similar attached dwellings.
On the positive side, I was amazed that a city as small as Salt Lake City would have three light rail lines and a commuter rail line, even if their hours don’t always make sense. I didn’t see a single street without a sidewalk, even in sprawling Sandy. There is lots of undeveloped land near suburban light rail stops; this means that the system doesn’t go where people now live (bad) but it also means that the system has ample room for growth (good) as areas near rail stops get filled in with housing.
My Salt Lake City photos are here.
(A reference to “grid street loyalists” made me think of this):
To the tune of “Battle Cry of Freedom“
Yes we’ll rally for grid streets, yes we’ll rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom,
We will walk near the coasts, we’ll bike from the plains,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
CHORUS:The grid street forever! Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with cul-de-sacs, with loops and lollipops;
While we rally round the grid, yes, rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
We are springing to walk from one street to the next,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
We’ll have eight or ten ways to get from one place to the next,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
So we’re springing to the call from the East and from the West,
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom;
And we’ll hurl cul-de-sacs from the cities we love best,
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom.
Anyone want to improve the lyrics?
We invite you to join health districts initiative discussions:
Thursday, May 30 Open Source Session during the Plenary Speakers: 9:00-12:00 pm in Ballroom BC at the Grand America Hotel.
Saturday, June 1 12:30-1:45 pm: Health Districts Lunch with Larry Frank, Jason Harper, Bob Farrow, Lizz Plater-Zyberk, Tracey Coker and Chris Carrigan.
Task 1 of the Initiative enhancing the CNU-A+ accreditation, with CDC Health Community Design content and encouraging the use of the CDC’s Healthy Community Design Checklist for healthcare facilities site selection and urban design.
The CNU-A online curriculum now integrates CDC content and required reading. A more extensive Healthy Community Design education module is targeted for October 4
with peer reviews planned from Larry Frank, Dr. Andy Dannenberg, Natalie Bixby and Lizz Plater-Zyberk.
Regulatory Review is lead by Michael Lewyn, who will discuss next steps in an Open Source session.
With Caitlin Ghoshal, CNU Director of Program and Development, we will focus Initiative Tasks toward the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Funding Announcement, seeking June 1-28 proposals for:
“Models that improve the health of populations – defined geographically (health of a community)… beyond the clinical service delivery setting”.
Thank you for Advising the Health Districts Initiative!
Charles Green, Laura Heery Prozes
Jason Harper, Michael Lewyn, Joanna Lombard
Lots of cool stuff at the Community Commons website - mostly health and poverty-related,census tract by census tract. I don’t have time to really dig around yet, but the bottom line seems to be that despite all the talk about gentrification, poor people (or at least census tracts with lots of poor people) are still within city limits far more often than not. The only difference between rich cities (NYC) and more suburbanized or poorer cities is that in NYC or SF, the poor areas are at the city’s fringes but still not in suburbia (e.g. Bronx, the southern half of San Francisco) while in, say, Atlanta, they are more likely to be near downtown.
After 3 people were killed in Boston, Deval Patrick shut down the local economy.
After 3000 people were killed in 2001, President Bush said “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy.”
Who acted more wisely? I may blog about this in more detail after thinking a bit more.
I just finished spending a weekend at Limmud, a Jewish learning experience covering not just religious topics but also culture and history. Some of the highlights:
*My first session Saturday morning was studying Talmudic discussions of work. The most interesting segment was this:
Rabbi Beroka Hozaah asked Elijah the Prophet: Is there any person in this market who is destined for the world to come [i.e., Paradise]? He replied, no. … While they were conversing, two people passed by. Elijah said: These two are also destined for the world to come. Rabbi Beroka approached them and asked them what they did. They replied: We are jesters, and we cheer up people who are depressed. Also, when we see two people who are quarrelling, we work hard to make peace between them (Babylonian Talmud, Taanis 22a).
Though I’d heard of this segment, I heard a new slant on it: you don’t have to be a professional comedian to be a jester; you can be one in any occupation- perhaps even law professor! I resolved to think about ways to amuse and cheer up my students (though admittedly, the next couple of weeks will be quite difficult since they involve future interests and the rule against perpetuitites, two of the more difficult subjects in my first-year property course).
*Another segment covered Jewish disunity in the past- in particular, the conflict between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai (two groups of Pharisees). Although Pirke Avot says their controversies were “for the sake of Heaven”, the Talmud says that there was a fight between them that possibly involved numerous murders; later Jewish commentators were divided as to whether these references to “slaughter” should be taken literally. The broader point: even within a group that seems homogenous to outsiders such as the Pharisees, deadly conflict can arise (and has arisen). So if you think there was Jewish unity in the good old days, you are wrong.
*I attended two sessions with Deborah Dash Moore of the University of Michigan. Prof. Moore spoke about her book “GI Jews” which discusses how American Jewish participation in World War II changed Jews. Before the war, Jews had been concentrated in the Northeast and were widely discriminated against. A few decades later, Jews were much less geographically concentrated, more assimilated, and less persecuted. How come? Moore suggests that military service exposed Jews to southern and western military bases (causing them to migrate south and west after the war, especially to Florida and California), and exposed Jewish soldiers to Christians (causing them to become more comfortable with, and more willing to challenge, Christians). The other session was about a few Jewish photographers in the 1940s who specialized in downtown NYC street scenes- some interesting photographs by Helen Levitt and Miriam Cherry. (Just google them to find out more).
*Saturday afternoon I saw part of a talk by Sarah Benor of USC on her new book Becoming Frum. Her book focuses on BTs (short for “baal teshuvas” or “returnees to observant Judaism”) adjust to the culture of “frum from birth” orthodox Judaism- focusing not so much on religious practice or intellectual views as to cultural quirks (for example, certain examples of questionable grammar common in close-knit Orthodox communities). She also used an interesting phrase I’d never heard before: “peripheral BTs”, which she used to describe someone who is not fully part of the Orthodox community (either in terms of observance or by not living in a heavily Orthodox area) but still has taken on a great deal more religious observance over time. She noted that BTs often either highlight their distinctiveness from other Orthodox Jews or “hyperaccommodate” (that is, show that they are more religious and /or visibly observant and/or culturally orthodox) than everyone else.
*Later on Saturday night I saw Rabbi Charlie Savenor talk about a distant relative of mine, Rabbi Tobias Geffen, who in the 1930s persuaded Coca-Cola to change one of its ingredients so that Coke could become kosher. (More importantly, he found my father in the DP camps and brought him to Atlanta, where his wife fixed him up with my mother – but Rabbi Savenor’s talk had nothing to do with that). I learned that many rabbis around the country had thought Coke was kosher, but that none had checked its ingredients as thoroughly as Rabbi Geffen. A short version of the story of Rabbi Geffen and Coke is here; however, we read a responsa (Jewish legal opinion) written by the rabbi himself. Rabbi Geffen had more of a flair for the dramatic than I had thought; a couple of paragraphs into the responsum, it appeared to me that he was saying that Coke was kosher, then he explains why it isn’t, and only at the end of the opinion does he explain how he got Coca-Cola to remedy the problems with its ingredients so its product could become kosher.
*Sunday I saw Joan Nathan talk about Jewish food in France; she discusses how the food culture changed- first due to medieval migrations from southern to northern France (which caused a shift away from foods like romaine lettuce that grew best in relatively warm weather to cold-weather foods like horseradish), and more recently due to the migration of much of north Africa’s Jewish population to France. (In fact, because of this migration France’s Jewish population is actually larger than before Hitler).
*Deborah Lipstadt of Emory spoke about the Eichmann trial. Key point: Eichmann trial, to a greater extent than Nuremberg trials, involved Holocaust survivors as witnesses, perhaps emboldening survivors to tell their stories more over time and thus raising long-term public awareness of the Holocaust.
*Israeli rabbi Aaron Leibowitz discussed kashrut in Israel. To label itself as kosher, all Israeli restaurants must have certification from the Chief Rabbinate. Unfortunately, there have been scandals involving Chief Rabbinate supervisors being sloppy- for example, visiting restaurants only once a month or so, not often enough to make sure the restaurant is following directions. (Of course, if the Chief Rabbinate reforms it might go too far in the other direction, given its reputation for extremism in other areas).
*Today I saw Ethan Tucker discuss when someone can commit one sin to avoid another. For example, one medieval case involved a Jew whose adult child was being pressured to convert to another religion. Could the Jew ride a horse or write a letter on the Sabbath (both no-nos) to prevent this? Some rabbis said yes, some no, some said it depended on how willing the child was to bail out on Judaism. Tucker said the broader theoretical issue was whether we should worry about our own “personal spiritual batting average” or that of the community as a whole.
*Also today, I saw a photo exhibit about Hebron, a city so radically divided between Muslims and Jews that on some streets, half the street is fenced off for Jews and the other for Muslims. For more info on this (though from a perspective somewhat critical of the Israeli govt.) you might want to read this page on “Project Hayei Sarah.” (The second person on the video helped lead our discussion).
*Rabbi Leonid Feldman of Palm Beach spoke about work-life balance (he was for it). He gave interesting examples; for example, he noted that when Jethro visited Moses after the splitting of the Red Sea, etc. Moses embraced Jethro instead of his wife or sons- and that by an odd coincidence, his sons’ career and children are not mentioned in the Torah. Perhaps Moses’ commitment to his “work” deprived him of an adequate relationship with his children!
NOTE: I spoke on Sunday morning; I will post that speech separately.
I was walking down 35th Street today and noticed that every building was around 15 stories. When people think of NYC they often think of the skyscrapers occupying the core of midtown or of low-rise rowhouses. But I think its worth noting that there is a middle ground that is pretty common (the attached is actually 37th but it is fairy similar to 35th).