Read ‘The Three Rules,’ and tell the author what you think

To those who love our city, here’s your assignment:

First: Understand The Three Rules.

David Sucher loves cities. He hopes to foster what he calls “urban villages,” cities that are vibrantly urban but yet also in some way cozy and neighborly. Kinda like what many of us want in Fort Wayne.

His Three Rules are his attempt to help urban planners consider site plans as the key to urban vs. suburban:

If the problem is to create a walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, much of the answer is architectural. Actually, it is not so much “architectural” in the usual sense of the word, for it ignores style. Site plan trumps architecture.

The Three Rules, in brief, are:

  1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).
  3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

Second: Download and read Chapter 3 of “City Comforts.”

In this 11-page chapter of his book, he expands on the rules and gives examples, photos and sub-rules.

Download the chapter here (PDF).

If you love cities, you’ll find this chapter all too short. You’ll probably want to buy the whole book sometime, but for now, stay on topic.

Third: Tell the author he’s full of it.

Really. Sucher has the crazy idea in his head to expand the chapter on The Three Rules into an entire book. But he wants your advice:

Praise it if you like but I am even more interested in hearing the reasons why I am full of it, why the “Three Rules” is naive, incomplete, simple-minded and overall just plain wrong and/or misleading. Let me have it. Bring it on, in the words of our bumbling leader. Tell me in as much detail as you are able why I should drop this project immediately and not embarrass myself any further by my clueless rantings.

So be sure to leave some comments at his blog (feel free to jot them here, too) when you’re done reading his chapter.

The prizes

If he really, really likes your critique, he’ll give you a book. If you convince him that he’s out of his mind and he drops the project completely, he’ll buy you dinner at a restaurant of your choice — in Seattle, naturally.

Now, if you win dinner with Sucher, I’ll want to see the photos. And you’ll have to take a ride on the Bainbridge Island ferry for me. But in the meantime, read, consider, discuss and distribute his short chapter. I believe Sucher has a lot to say to Fort Wayne at this juncture in our urban history.

Harrison Square news

I don’t know what reader of The Good City wouldn’t also be a reader of the Downtown Fort Wayne Baseball blog, but just in case …

The guys at DFWB are all over the developments surrounding Harrison Square. I’m just going to point you to their blog and say, read up about

  • the Harrison Square groundbreaking
  • the condos going on sale Friday
  • the bridge across Harrison Street getting approved
  • the construction webcam going live

and lots of other news.

And although I previously stated a strong opinion against the sky bridge, I at least appreciate some of the steps the planners are taking to not damage the Indiana Hotel beyond repair.

Car trouble

If you want to feel how desperately dependent on the automobile you are, simply arrange for your only vehicle to break down.

This happened to me and my family recently, and suddenly, getting a daughter to a distant doctor, getting a dog to the vet, and getting groceries became either difficult or impossible.

At least for us, this was not a new feeling. Back when we were living in western New York State on a newspaperman’s salary, we could not afford both food for a growing family and a car. So we had to rely on walking and an inadequate transit “system,” which in its entirety consisted of one small bus making one circuit around town once an hour.

James Howard Kunstler, in his admittedly caustic book “The Geography of Nowhere,” identifies three groups of people would are discriminated against in an automobile dominated society:

  • The poor, because they can often not afford a car.
  • The young, because a parent has to drive them everywhere.
  • The old, because once they lose the physical ability to drive, they are helpless.

I know it is thought to be a conservative value to oppose subsidies for public transit, forcing things like train lines and city bus companies to fend for themselves. But cities and states remain committed to spending billions building new highways and interchanges to support an urban culture in which an automobile is a necessity for everything in every day life.

We put all of our eggs in one basket, and now there is no wonder why there are no trains leaving from the Baker Street station. We’ve starved every other mode of transportation to feed our appetite for the automobile. I’m glad I will be buying another minivan, but our community is poorer for not having more options for moving people around.

Proposal: Open-source government

Transparency. Conversation. Collaboration.

In a post below entitled “How not to fix your city,” I ended with an off-hand remark:

But the way to retain young business people can be as simple as making it easy to start a small business.

Kevin Knuth, chairman of the Allen County Democratic Party, rightly thinks I’ve left a few things unsaid:

I would appreciate you explaining how the city can make it easy to start a business. Are you referring to financing? incentives? I am not wanting to sound snarky, I really do want to hear your viewpoint on this.

I’m not talking about incentives. I’m no expert in that area. My area of expertise is communication. And it’s my belief that any city that successfully talks with clarity to its own citizens will shine like a beacon among U.S. cities.

I propose something I’m calling open-source government.

Maybe that’s not the best term, because many advocates of what’s called open source governance go too far with applying software terminology to government, replacing one kind of jargon with another. No thanks to that.

What I mean by open-source government is the application of some of the philosophy of the open-source software movement to government, not necessarily the technology. This idea is not too far-fetched — open-source software got much of its inspiration from the workings of democracy.

The three core principles of open-source government as I see them are:

  • Transparency: All details of any of the workings of government are open and understandable.
  • Conversation: The government speaks and listens to its citizens as though they are intelligent, but not as though they are already savvy insiders.
  • Collaboration: With transparency and conversation in place, the citizens are invited to have intelligent involvement with their government.

This sounds easy, but consistently putting it into practice takes a lot of dedication. If it were easy, why was there no information about the city of Fort Wayne’s election on the city of Fort Wayne’s Web site? A claim such as, “Oh, that’s the county’s job,” goes against everything I’m proposing. Citizens have every right to expect the city government to have information about its own elections, or at least be able to point to the information elsewhere. Not having election information on the city Web site is embarrassing.

In fact, although “conversation” may sounds like the easiest component of my proposal, it may be the hardest to do well. The typical city is divided into many separate departments, organized not for the understanding of the citizenry, but for the understanding of the people inside the government. So a citizen with an opened-ended question — such as, “What do I need to know to open a small business in Fort Wayne?” — has to file through department after department, looking for all the bits and pieces of information that may or may not be applicable.

Why is such communication difficult? Those of us in journalism know that the more you understand a concept, the harder it becomes to remember what it’s like to not understand a concept. So for a communicator, it’s not enough to understand the complex. You must also understand how to make the complex understandable.

That should be a function of a good city government: Making the complex understandable. Without transparency, conversation and collaboration, government remains distant to most of its citizens.

More can be said about the topic, but that’s enough from me for now. What do you think?