Looking at paleo-urbanism

There’s plenty of talk about New Urbanism in city planning circles nowadays. But Eric Jacobsen (pictured), author of the great book “Sidewalks in the Kingdom,” makes a valid point about how the impact of New Urbanism may remain isolated.

After a discussion and critique of the New Urbanist town of Seaside, Florida, Jacobsen turns his attention to where the rest of us live:

Only a small percentage of the North American populace falls in the category of new home buyer. Furthermore, many North Americans are living in apartments or homes in older established parts of town. For most of these people whether the percentage of new home starts shifts towards New Urbanism and away from suburban will have very little impact on the quality of their lives.

Thus the wonderful term “paleo-urbanist” — what we used to call actual cities. The trick is, can we apply the principles of good cities and neighborhoods to places that are already built?

Many of these neighborhoods are in need of private capital investment, improved infrastructure, and better schools. But they have “good bones” from an urbanist perspective. The success of New Urbanism will be measured not by how many new developments they can start in any particular year, but by how the momentum generated in these developments spills over into the existing urban fabric of North America.

Making sure we don’t built more bland suburbs is one thing. But reforming the neighborhoods we have is another.

You can read his article here at Comment magazine.

Related slideshow at Slate: The model town of Seaside, 25 years later.

It’s time for Christians to get over it and celebrate Halloween already

This is a repost from my own blog at www.jonswerens.com.

Soon after my wife and I became Christians, the first holiday out the window was Halloween. It was obviously devilish, and we wanted our children to have nothing to do with it.

Back in the ’80s and early ’90s, Satanism scaremongers like the now-discredited Mike Warnke saw nothing but evil in the celebration of Halloween. American Christians, steeped in the belief that the end times were upon us, were all too eager to believe the worst about any subject.

As my wife and I grew to understand more fully the sovereignty of God, our views on Halloween relaxed. But we were never completely comfortable with the idea.

Until a few years ago, when one well-written article dismantled all manner of faulty prejudices.

You must read the whole article. For one thing, it’s short. Well, kinda short. For another, it’s rare to find someone with this opinion of what is so commonly believed to be a Satanic holiday co-opted by the church. The truth may very well be the opposite:

(M)any articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias are written by secular humanists or even the pop-pagans of the so-called “New Age” movement. … These people actively suppress the Christian associations of historic customs, and try to magnify the pagan associations. They do this to try and make paganism acceptable and to downplay Christianity. Thus, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc., are said to have pagan origins. Not true.

Oddly, some fundamentalists have been influenced by these slanted views of history. These fundamentalists do not accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of Western history, American history, and science, but sometimes they do accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of the origins of Halloween and Christmas, the Christmas tree, etc. We can hope that in time these brethren will reexamine these matters as well. We ought not to let the pagans do our thinking for us.

Read the entire article here.

Now, if you still have serious moral reservations about Halloween, then don’t you dare celebrate it. As the Bible says, if you think it’s a sin, then to you, it is a sin.

But if all you’ve had is some sort of vague unease, then you can relax. Halloween is one of the few holidays left that are natural times to get to know your neighbors. Pass out candy (full-size Hershey bars — no apples or tracts, please) and talk to the wandering kids and their parents. Be friendly and be real.

On October 31st, the world is quite literally at your doorstep.

BONUS: Carve your own online pumpkin.

Can it be this simple?

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

More from the Project for Public Spaces’s transportation program:

“The power of this simple idea is that it reflects basic truths that are rarely acknowledged. One such truth is that more traffic and road capacity are not the inevitable result of growth. They are in fact the product of very deliberate choices that we have made to shape our communities around the private automobile. We as a society have the ability to make different choices — starting with the decision to design our streets as comfortable places for people.”

A few thoughts on Renaissance Point

dscn6502.jpgToday I toured the model houses of Renaissance Point on John Street. You can see my photos here, though the other Scott has a better camera and his photos are available here.

Overall, I’ve been impressed with this whole development. For far too long there has been very little or nil investment in this part of town. Indeed, as I sat in the dining room of a Lancia home and talked at length with Rachel, I heard from almost everybody who came through that this is long overdo and that “it’s about time!” The overwhelming majority seems in favor of this.

However, Ms. Dowdell just happened to come into the house where Rachel and I were talking, and she said, when I asked her what she thought of all this, that she doesn’t like it because it’s displacement. Hmmm… Displacement. What’s she talking about, I wondered? She didn’t stay long enough to explain, but I was intrigued, and so I came home and Googled the words “gentrification and displacement”. Wow! A lot there.

So though I’m generally impressed with what’s being done, I have to admit I wonder about this issue. The prices of these new houses, while being less expensive than those being built elsewhere, are fairly affordable. And tons of incentives exist. But still, they are significantly more than anything else in that neighborhood. Who’s going to buy them? What will it mean for the low income, long term residents?

From “Gentrification, Integration, or Displacement: the Seattle Story”,

In 2006 former Seattle mayor Norm Rice, the city’s only African American to hold that position, summarized his frustration over the paradox of gentrification at a community forum in Seattle’s Central District. “I’m concerned and I am frustrated because I don’t know what the alternatives [to gentrification] are. [This process] clearly isn’t racist, it’s economic. The real question you have to ask yourself is: Is this good or bad?”

The questions are good ones, even if I’m not quite sure of the answers.