New Urbanism lecture on YouTube

(Jon) Here’s a well-thought-out lecture on New Urbanism by Andres Duany, author of Suburban Nation, The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream — a book I happen to be reading right now and enjoying very much.

This lecture is posted in nine parts (often chopped up in the middle of words). All nine pieces of the lecture can be found here.

Also, you can read an excerpt from Suburban Nation here. I’ll be posting about the book as I read through it over the coming weeks.



Suburbia: The next slum?

(Jon) Next American City points us toward a sobering article in The Atlantic about the effects of the subprime crisis on the nation’s suburbs. “The Next Slum?” says these changes “may turn today’s McMansions into tomorrow’s tenements.”

Here are some highlights:

At Windy Ridge, a recently built starter-home development seven miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community’s 132 small, vinyl-sided houses were in foreclosure as of late last year. Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped the copper wire from vacant houses; drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in. In December, after a stray bullet blasted through her son’s bedroom and into her own, Laurie Talbot, who’d moved to Windy Ridge from New York in 2005, told The Charlotte Observer, “I thought I’d bought a home in Pleasantville. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that stuff like this would happen.”

(Arthur C.) Nelson (director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech) forecasts a likely surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (houses built on a sixth of an acre or more) by 2025 — that’s roughly 40 percent of the large-lot homes in existence today.

If gasoline and heating costs continue to rise, conventional suburban living may not be much of a bargain in the future. And as more Americans, particularly affluent Americans, move into urban communities, families may find that some of the suburbs’ other big advantages — better schools and safer communities — have eroded. Schooling and safety are likely to improve in urban areas, as those areas continue to gentrify; they may worsen in many suburbs if the tax base — often highly dependent on house values and new development — deteriorates. Many of the fringe counties in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, for instance, are projecting big budget deficits in 2008. Only Washington itself is expecting a large surplus. Fifteen years ago, this budget situation was reversed.

The experience of cities during the 1950s through the ’80s suggests that the fate of many single-family homes on the metropolitan fringes will be resale, at rock-bottom prices, to lower-income families — and in all likelihood, eventual conversion to apartments.

As the residents of inner-city neighborhoods did before them, suburban homeowners will surely try to prevent the division of neighborhood houses into rental units, which would herald the arrival of the poor. And many will likely succeed, for a time. But eventually, the owners of these fringe houses will have to sell to someone, and they’re not likely to find many buyers; offers from would-be landlords will start to look better, and neighborhood restrictions will relax. Stopping a fundamental market shift by legislation or regulation is generally impossible.

Will this happen in Fort Wayne’s suburbs? It’s certainly possible. Is there any reason that the same forces that brought crime and abandoned houses to the inner cities would be stopped at the city limits? Indiana currently has the ninth highest foreclosure rate in the nation.

There should be no gloating on the part of urban advocates. This is a serious situation that will impact real families who thought they had escaped the negative effects of city living. It will be quite a shock if they discover they were wrong.

Related: Check foreclosures in your own neighborhood at RealtyTrac.

– Photo of Las Vegas suburb by Rich Lem on Flickr


Looking back at Southtown Mall

(Jon) A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the Web site, which chronicles the sad stories of decaying retail centers.

In this article, the featured mall is Fort Wayne’s own now-demolished Southtown Mall.

The commentary includes a short history submitted by a Fort Wayne resident and a kind of walking tour made by the Web site’s owner in 2001. You can also view a gallery of 25 photos taken in 2001 of Southtown Mall (Note: photos 26 through 33 are of a different mall).

You can also see many more exterior and interior photos of Southtown Mall in a photo gallrey at

I find it amazing that such a spookily vacant mall was open to the public for such a long time after it was obviously dead. Whatever you think of Wal-Mart, it sure beats what it replaced.

I’ve heard Southtown was successful for the first half of its life. But was there anything about the mall that doomed it to fail?

Related links:


Why the public hates publicly funded art

(Jon) If public art has the power like no other to “brand” a city — think of the Eiffel Tower and the Gateway Arch — then why is the public so often against the expenditure?

Dan on Cyburbia thinks it may be the style of art that’s been typically commissioned in the last half of the 20th century:

“Since about the late-mid 20th century a popular form of public art has emerged that I will call ‘amorphism’ that can be found in cities all over the world. It’s difficult to describe, but much like pr0n, you know it when you see it.

“Given that most people prefer their art to have form why have so many formless works been selected/commissioned? Do various governments have a desire to appear cutting edge/avant garde/futuristic and feel the art helps convey that impression? How are most selection committees formed?”

To bring the issue to Fort Wayne: Could much of the disagreement with Harrison Square have to do with distrust of the city’s ability to build something iconic?

I am thinking of the “amorphic” red steel artwork beside the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, the name of which escapes me. (Could someone could post a name and even better a link to a photo?) I heard stories that when it was reported the structure was sinking into the ground, a radio station encouraged listeners to drape their bodies all over it, to hasten its sinking?

On the other hand, I’m also reminded of our beautiful Allen County Courthouse, one of the best example of beautiful and functional public art anywhere. What was the spirit of those hardy Fort Waynians, and can it be recaptured?

Please comment here, but also take a minute to read the Cyburbia post and view the great examples.

Author’s photo on Flickr


Former Honolulu mayor to speak on cities of the future

Andy Mitchell of Martin Riley Architects and AB417 brings news of what sounds like a fascinating lecture coming to town in a couple of weeks:

“(It) will occur in Fort Wayne on March 17th from 4:30-6:00 pm. Jeremy Harris, recent Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii will be at the auditorium at the main branch of the Allen County Public Library discussing sustainable development and the cities of the future. He is visiting with Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning and then, through some generous donations from local organizations, will be available to come up to Fort Wayne to give a presentation. He is an excellent speaker and has a vast knowledge to share with us all. I hope you can attend.”

According to his bio:

“During his three terms as Mayor, Honolulu was recognized as one of the best managed cities in the United States.”

After he left office, among other things:

“(H)e served as a national director on the board of the American Institute of Architects, and helped create a new AIA program focused on helping American cities become more sustainable. He was also appointed as a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council. Mayor Harris is currently a member of the Sustainability Roundtable of the National Academy of Science and also serves on the National Academy’s Committee to advise Congress on the future policy and research direction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

It is unknown whether the lecture will be recorded. You can read more biographic tidbits about Harris after the jump below.

photo of Honolulu by shchukin on Flickr

Continue Reading →