June 2009 Archive

Will anything redeem suburban ‘sprawl’?

June 30th, 2009

Came across a great article over at Huffington Post.  Mark Oppenheimer asks some interesting questions about the ongoing debate between New Urbanist and proponents of suburan “sprawl” (not sure they have a collective name).  Mark writes:

I don’t know. On the one hand, I don’t want to underestimate children’s capacity for self-mystification. I suspect that most children, at least most of those who grow up middle-class, and sheltered from anything too abysmal in the family’s home life, look back at their early years with a certain sense of awe and wonder. Those lookalike houses in Del Boca Vista Estates are not lookalike to the children inside them, who know which house has the best video-game system, which kid has the dad who makes the best forts with the dining room table and some blankets, whose parents go out late and don’t hire a babysitter (all the better for watching verboten TV channels).

On the other hand, there is empirical evidence that suburban life of this kind can lead to bad things: obesity, too much time in the car, fewer friends, less play. And teenagers — forget about it. If they can, they flee to the city. Or at least the curious ones do.

But what I don’t have are good sympathetic non-fiction books about life in suburban sprawl. For every book critical of that way of life — Langdon’s book, Duany et al.’s Suburban Nation, Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place — there seem to be exactly zero books about why it can be pleasurable to grow up in spaces that are, after all, safe, predictable, and quiet, which are all good things.

I want the other side of the story. Ideas, anyone?

It seems like a fair question to me.  There surely is another side to the story and there must be people that like to live on the outer edge of suburbia.  I mean, they choose to live there, right?  One of the commenters – Steve Mouzon – says that yes, there are some who like to live there, but many suburbanites are simply there because they lack options.  He use some rough estimates to make a point, but the point is still interesting to consider:

grew up in suburbia, and could go on for pages about its deficiencies, but that would just be anecdotal, wouldn’t it? If you discount the “sprawl lobby” that is funded by the asphalt companies or the road-builders, then you’re right: you find precious little sympathy for sprawl. ESPECIALLY concerning its lovability. Maybe that’s a clue.
The bottom line is that sprawl proliferated not because it was well-loved, but because it was the only choice of an industrial-grade land development system that actually outlawed everything else. When the New Urbanism began, all of its proposals were either illegal or otherwise impossible, even though its principles were based on the places in each region that people loved the most.

In the end, we’ve built so much sprawl that it now constitutes half of American buildings. Let’s assume for a moment that 1/3 of Americans loved sprawl. That’s dubious, given your noted lack of evidence of sympathy for sprawl. But just being generous, let’s assume that 100 million of 300 million Americans love sprawl. But if half (150 million) live in sprawl, then we have huge oversupply of sprawl. To eat up the oversupply, America would have to grow from 300 million to 450 million so that the 1/3 (150 million) who possibly love sprawl could match the sprawl units. That means we’d need to build 150 million units of New Urbanism and not a single new unit of sprawl to meet the market preferences.

Interesting food for thought.

Daily Links

June 30th, 2009
  • ut what of that suburban sprawl — especially those cul-de-sac developments that have proved so popular in late-20th-century construction? Can one have a happy childhood where there are no sidewalks, where it's too dangerous to ride a bicycle, where there are no secret passageways behind garages or corner stores at which to buy candy?
    (tags: new.urbanism)
  • CNU is collaborating with the University of Miami School of Architecture for the first phase of the program. Professionals can take the online exam during three periods set during the year– the next exam period will start the second week of October and last until late November.

    The exam costs $225, and is comprised of 101 random multiple choice and two short answer questions. Reaching CNU-Accredited status or CNU-A can bring about business recognition or identification, reference criteria or even optional credits in the LEED for Neighborhoods (LEED-ND) rating system.

    After receiving accreditation, individuals could qualify for a LEED-ND point if they are part of a project team of a project seeking green neighborhood certification.

Assuming this works, my tweets…

June 29th, 2009

Assuming this works, my tweets will now not only update on Facebook but will also be posted to my blog – http://imaginativeamerica.com!

Read Jeff Speck’s OKC Walkability Report

June 29th, 2009

If you haven’t already, check out Jeff Speck’s recommendations for downtown Oklahoma City. This report will be at the center of much discussion over the next few years and I think it is important for everyone interested in downtown to become familiar with the concepts – whether you agree with his recommendations or not. I have uploaded it so that you can view it online (just click below) without having to download it, or if you prefer to download it, that option is available as well.

Click here to download the report in .pdf

Streetcars drive development.

June 23rd, 2009

More downtown housing creates more pedestrians, more demand for retail, and an altogether more vibrant downtown.  So what creates more housing?…a modern streetcar system for one.  In my opinion, this is the appropriate strategy for laying out the route of the (hopefully MAPS 3) downtown trolley system.  Existing proposals that attempt to be all things to all people – connecting every node of downtown with every surrounding center of employment – fail to consider the development generating power of streetcars.

From Speck’s Oklahoma City Walkability Analysis:

Oklahoma City is in the process of considering a downtown streetcar system, which is another way of describing a trolley on rails.  Many cities have built these systems, and some have been very successful while others have never caught on.  The key to creating a successful trolley system is to understand that these systems are principally useful not as a means of mobility but as a tool for increasing the value of real estate.  The story of Portland’s trolley in the Pearl District is the story of millions in public investment leading to billions in private investment, because the rail line was planned in conjunction with thousands of units of new housing, which was made desirable by its presence on a rail line.  The lesson learned there and elsewhere is that the path of a new streetcar must be carefully coordinated with planned housing if the transit investment is to pay off.

To add to what Speck said, consider this.  How great can the benefit of streetcars be in places that are already fully-developed for people traveling by car alone?  Now think of how many empty storefronts, underutilized buildings, and bare lots exists, in and around downtown, that might benefit more from the addition of streetcars.  Streetcars are not just for connecting active places, they are for creating active places.  Before the MAPS 3 streetcars system is implemented we need a plan that understands transit’s ability to catalyze new development and create density.

Who is smiling now

June 18th, 2009

I was just made to look like a fool over OKCCentral.com.  No, it was nothing Steve wrote, it was something I wrote, or at least attempted to.  I tried to drop a nice little


at the end of my post. You know, to look cool and win friends by implying a bit of a joke, or some strain of light-heartedness.  And I did; I carefully entered ” :) ” expecting to see ” :) ” pop up on the screen after pressing submit.

Instead, I got this clown:

What the heck is that.  I thought Pacman was only intended to be viewed in profile.  Seriously, I feel as though this guy is mocking me, staring back and chuckling as if to communicate what the whole world will realize after seeing his worthless yellow face – “Blair Humphreys is a loser!”  No longer does it look like something cool a hacker invented.  It looks like something stupid I took the time to purposefully place at the end of my comment…like dotting my i’s with hearts or something.  They are called emoticons and I can not stand the little bastards.  In fact, it was to my horror that I discovered my very own imagiNATIVEamerica* has been breeding them for almost a year now.  Well no more!


To the admin panel we go. As you can see, this clicked box – which is the default on wordpress – is the source of all our pain.

But luckily I intervened and after a few hours of difficult coding – ;) – I was able to fix the problem. So no more emoticons on imagiNATIVEamerica.  You can comment with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that whatever you type will appear as you typed it.


Just in case you aren’t already down with the emoticon lingo, I offer this handy matrix.  If you find yourself on a blog that still allows these twerps…ahem…OKCCentral.com…please feel free to come back here so you will have at least a small clue as to what the person is trying to say.

icon text text full text icon full text
smile :) :-) :smile: lol :lol:
biggrin :D :-D :grin: redface :oops:
sad :( :-( :sad: cry :cry:
surprised :o :-o :eek: evil :evil:
eek 8O 8-O :shock: twisted :twisted:
confused :? :-? :???: rolleyes :roll:
cool 8) 8-) :cool: exclaim :!:
mad :x :-x :mad: question :?:
razz :P :-P :razz: idea :idea:
neutral :| :-| :neutral: arrow :arrow:
wink ;) ;-) :wink: mrgreen :mrgreen:
* not sure why it hasn’t bothered me before

Digitally active, physically reserved: a formula for efficacy?

June 18th, 2009

A friend sent me this quote from G.K. Chesterton that appeared Orthodoxy (available here for free):

It is customary to complain of the bustle and strenuousness of our epoch. But in truth the chief mark of our epoch is profound laziness and fatigue; and the fact is that the real laziness is the cause of the apparent bustle. Take one quite external case; the streets are noisy with taxicabs and motorcars; but this is not due to human activity but to human repose. There would be less bustle if there were more activity, if people were simply walking about. Our world would be more silent if it were more strenuous. And this which is true of the apparent physical bustle is true also of the apparent bustle of the intellect. Most of the machinery of modern language is labor-saving machinery; and it saves mental labor very much more than it ought.

Certainly the bustle of the street cannot be wholly attributed to inactivity, as the distribution and sales of goods are just as necessary as the production.  Still, it is interesting to consider the great number of negative consequences that are directly or indirectly caused by our quest to make life easier.  Most of the examples that come to mind have to do with transportation: street widenings, car dependency, surface parking lots, international energy policy decisions, etc.  But just as streets were once thought in terms of “lines of communication,” I now wonder how much of what we do on the internet is improving life and how much of it is actually limiting our time spent living life more effectively in other ways.  Certainly the internet has been a blessing while away in Boston, giving me the opportunity to stay engaged with people in Oklahoma City that share my interests.  Still, perhaps we should not be so dependent on the internet for this discourse.  As soon as I get back to Oklahoma City, I hope I will commit at least some of the time I currently devote to internet community in all its forms, to creating really opportunities for engagement.  Right now my list of internet community “machines” includes: email, twitter, facebook, blog, linkedin, etc; along with a range of other academic, professional communities I try to keep up with.  I am not talking of abandoning the internet by any stretch, rather I am considering what an appropriate balance might be.

What do you think?  What communities are you involved with on the internet?  How about face-to-face in Oklahoma City?  I wonder what physical communities exists that resemble the community found here or at OKCCentral.com.  I really think this blog is useful in many aspects, but I beleive that real breakthroughs are still more likely to take place with regular face-to-face discussions.

Time to Nominate the Best of OKC!

June 16th, 2009

The OK Gazette has opened nominations for their annual Best of OKC list.  There is a huge range of categories – over 100 – but I have a few that I can offer some suggestions on.  I don’t claim to be an objective source on this, in fact, my suggestions are heavily biased.  Still, if you find your self agreeing with me then please follow the link and show your support by nominating them.

Best book by a local author > OKC: Second Time Around

Is there any question on this one? Steve Lackmeyer and Jack Money unravel the history of Oklahoma City’s last 50 years.  From the big dreams and destruction of the 1960’s and 70’s to the rebirth of the city with the passing of MAPS.  The book is a tremendous accomplishment and helped to substantially fill some of the gaping wholes in the history of Oklahoma City’s growth and development.  I should have already written a whole review, but thankfully Doug Loudenback has already done so – here – and it is more thorough then I could ever hope to be. If you haven’t read it, you should pick up a copy at…

Best local bookstore > Full Circle Bookstore

Unless something has changed in the last two years, then Full Circle continues to be the best local bookstore worthy of your vote and patronization.

Best casual-dining restaurant > Interurban Grill

Even if my father-in-law was not the proprietor of the Edmond, Memorial, Yukon, and (new) Norman locations and I would give this place my praise.  I cannot resist their Honey Chicken Sandwich.  You may have had one in the past at the Arts Festival, and perhaps also enjoyed their incredible tequila bread pudding or any of the other many items on their loaded family menu.  If you eat there and enjoy it – nominate them.  If you haven’t eaten there, try it – and then nominate them.

Interurban is also a perfect choice for a host of other categories…Best restaurant in Edmond? Norman?

Best Mexican restaurant > Casa Perico

You likely don’t know it yet, but the best Mexican food in Oklahoma City is at Casa Perico.  I have consistently enjoyed this place for a decade now and highly recommend it.  Value-wise it simply cannot be beat.  Give it a shot at either of their two locations: 63rd and Meridian, or 122nd and Penn.

Best Blog > OKCCentral.com / Doug Dawgz / The Lost Ogle / Dustbury

I live in Boston.*


Best Coffee > Cafe Evoke Catering
Best New Service Business > Cafe Evoke Catering

Jason and Jenni turned this coffee liker into a coffee lover! Their coffee catering service moved from Bozeman in 2008 and they have been brewing it up for the people of OKC since. They just opened a new space – 1708 – in the Plaza District. You should definitely check them out for your next event!

Okay, start nominating over at OK Gazette.com!

* Seriously though, while I have a good post from time to time.  Day-in and day-out these guys are making it happen and contributing great content to the OKC blog scene.  They are deserving. (Don’t let the mommy blogs win).

This is worth reading:

June 12th, 2009

Okay, I know I only just introduced you to Chad Reynolds at Massahoma, Oklachusetts, but his latest post – an open letter to Mayor Cornett about MAPS 3 – is definitely worth a read! Please check it out.

A few photos from my trip

June 11th, 2009

A few of my favorite shots from my first few days with my new camera:

Camden, Maine

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia