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Lunch break

A very cool presentation on retrofitting suburbia:

By Ezra Klein  |  July 1, 2010; 1:09 PM ET
 
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Bob Collins of MN Public Radio links to the same piece, with this introduction:

"In my fair city -- Woodbury -- they're thinking of spending $170,000 in the city of potholes to remove the clay roof tiles from the city's public safety building. What's wrong with them? Nothing. They work great and will outlast most of us. The problem? They're too distinctive and in the suburbs, you don't want to be distinctive. "We don't have any other Mediterranean-look buildings," City Administrator Clint Gridley said. City officials want the building to look like all the other buildings in the city.

Which is why this latest TED video is such a joke, it presumes that the suburbs are capable of daring to be different. Still, it's nice to dream."


http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/news_cut/archive/2010/07/five_by_8_-_7110.shtml

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 1, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Another reason to like Ezra. I've know about TED for years, and often perused the musical stuff (since I'm a huge fan of Thomas Dolby, and he's TED's music coordinator dude). But, thanks to Ezra, I've started going through all the talks available online, and it's fascinating stuff.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 1, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

She seems to be making an assertion that suburban living is a causal factor in transportation costs, but I'm not sure that's entirely correct. Almost every place I need to shop is near by. My biggest transportation cost is my job, which is at an office that is actually ex-urban. If I lived in the ex-urbs, I'd actually have lower transportation costs, not higher.

I know people who drive further than me that live in mid-town, but work out in the suburbs (even though there are jobs fitting their skills in the midtown area). People make decisions based on all sorts of factors, and the only thing that's going to lead to a radical reduction in energy expended on transportation is mass transportation (which has many drawbacks) or forcing people to live near wherever they choose to work.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 1, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Silver Spring is not plural. Also, the SoftLawn (not Astro Turf) is gone now - she doesn't mention that it was always meant to be temporary. I actually think that little plot of land is fascinating, in the way that folks gravitated to it and turned it into a town square even though nobody planned it that way. The fake grass was just keeping the spot warm until they could start building on that lot.

I definitely agree with the need to re-think suburbia, no question. But I'm not sure why she set it up as a dichotomy - families want "a" and non-families want "b," and we should be appealing to the non-families. She never mentions what families should do in the meantime; move out to the exurban wastelands once they outgrow the loft condo? What kind of solution is that? Those "Gen Y" folks she's talking about who don't have kids yet will, in many instances, want kids eventually. It would be nice if having a family didn't always mean leaving your neighborhood behind. But if you've never tried to live with a baby or toddler in a development geared toward childless 20somethings, take my word for it - it's not always pleasant. And, ending up with thousands of emptying condo buildings as these Gen Y folks start to have kids is not appealing - she doesn't address this. She also doesn't present any solutions that will encourage sustainable living across a lifespan. I don't enjoy the notion that families and childless folks can't inhabit the same reclaimed space, but it does have to be well-done; it can't just be about swank restaurants and cofee shops.

Posted by: stacylane | July 1, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

There's another issue she raised that went by a little unnoticed in the talk. As she mentioned the odd tensions of the suburbs she noted that many of these redeveloped areas are 'public space, managed privately'. I think that fact goes a long way to explaining why some of these developments feel so fake.
I used to live within walking distance of the new shopping plaza behind the Pentagon City mall outside of DC. It was a lovely little outdoor space, but it always creeped me out a little that all of the 'public space' was privately owned by someone who had the right to decide what did or didn't happen there. In her example of Silver Spring, she mentioned how great it was that there was a protest there -- but what if the land owner decided he didn't like what they were saying? They may look great, but a privately held common area is not the same as true public space.
Walnut Creek, CA is another example of an aging retail core that's been completely redone. It's gorgeous, but it's not at all about libraries, public services, and civic engagement -- it's an altar to consumer spending and the national chain stores. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if they used an off the shelf architectural design that you can also find in Cleveland, Wilmington, and Dallas.

Posted by: jeremyincalifornia | July 1, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

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