Statehouses Project: Arizona

While this may not officially be a cornerstone, it’s as close as I was going to find.

The State Seal.

9 of 50.

Rear of the Capitol Complex.

It may have been a Saturday morning, but downtown Phoenix’s parking surplus was a tad over the top.

Very on brand, Arizona. 

Previous Statehouse visit: Washington


Open House Chicago and career wayfinding for our young neighbors 

Block 37 viewed from the Joffrey Ballet

I had the good fortune to be in Chicago with a free day last week at the same time as the Chicago Architecture Foundation‘s largest event of the year: Open House Chicago. My original plan was to take an architecture pilgrimage of a sort, to the IIT campus (more about that later). 

But with this opportunity I gladly went off in another direction. What better day to see some of the buildings that are usually off limits to the public? Here are photos of a few of the highlights, and I only made it to 20 or so of the 100+ featured sites.

Lobby of the Oriental Theater

An original stairwell in the Carson Pirie Scott Building. The third floor is now home to Gensler, which graciously hosted visitors but did not permit photography. I can verify their revamped offices are lovely.

23rd floor courtyard at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill. A second architecture firm that welcomed us into their space.

I particularly enjoyed that a number of parents had brought their teenage kids to see architecture firms and talk to practitioners face-to-face about this career path. What better opportunity than this event to see the profession up close? And should you have a Chicagoland youth interested in a B.Arch., they can earn one right in the city at IIT!

13th floor of the Inland Steel Building. Available for rent should you be in the market for Loop office space.

Column free since 1956!

It has a pretty decent view of our friends at the MacArthur Foundation in 140 South Dearborn.

I also enjoyed the CAF wrapup blog post on the weekend, and am glad I missed the rain entirely. They were not wrong that the crowds ranged from casual tourists to the intense architecture and urbanism pilgrims. See y’all next year, I hope!

DC’s Rowhouse Neighborhoods

Nice to have a well-spoken and transparent planning department. Here, the DC Office of Planning discusses the “pop-up” rowhouse renovations we are seeing and their impact on available housing stock for families in the city.

APA 2014: Another Reminder Why We Do This

It is time for the APA conference once again. As I have written previously (and more eloquently than this quick blog scribble), each time I attend this conference it is worth asking the value of convening in person. I don’t automatically sign up every year; I could get CE credits with local events back in Washington, DC, or even via online webinars. And I am not currently involved in any committees or leadership, so I would not necessarily be missed if I chose not to be here.

And there are a number of challenges associated with attending, especially for the younger members of our profession. Taking four days away from our jobs is tough. It’s expensive. Our employers* may or may not pay for the trip and the registration fee. The only places that can accommodate 5,000+ people are quite anti-urban hotels and convention centers (this is the most flattering angle I could manage of the typical presentation room).


The Georgia World Congress Center. All that’s missing is you.

But I’m in Atlanta, and glad again I made the decision to attend.

For this year, my focus is on paying it forward, to the students and other folks that are just entering their time as planners. I have been fortunate enough to have a number of people serve as mentors and informal guides to me. This was crucial as I applied to grad school and got it funded, assembled a strategy for job searching, reassessed my strengths and jumped to new positions, and so on. None of us made it to successful points in our careers alone, and that’s why I want to return the favor. APA has been helpfully set up a more formal mentoring program that matches us with students (and I encourage you to participate next year) seeking this kind of help. I will be meeting with two folks on that program.

Regardless of the reason, enjoy your time in Atlanta and the interactions that being present together allow.

* Disclaimer: my employer is not paying for me to be here this time, so I feel the challenge directly.

The Walkable Suburb: A Primer

I just wrapped up a four-day trip to Miami. To be perfectly accurate, the little and lovely suburb of Miami Lakes, which is a few miles northwest of the city proper.

Miami Lakes started as a master-planned community and has since spread west of the Palmetto Expressway to include lots of neighborhoods with conventional tract housing, and the corresponding parks, schools, and roads. My hosts’ home is in the original portion of the town, near the traditionally planned center.

The “town center”* of Miami Lakes has been completely built out over some years (I don’t know how many), so in theory it is an excellent place to complete your daily routine by walking. Which we as planners tend to smugly tell people should be desirable, and in theory it is.  And we have strong evidence that walkable neighborhoods also correlate with higher property values.  In the case of Miami Lakes, there are two banks, a grocery store, police station, two churches, several restaurants, medical offices and a pharmacy, a multiplex, and a few more tiny businesses I’m forgetting in a fairly compact center, all within less than a quarter-mile square. Hundreds of detached houses and apartments are arranged in concentric circles around that, and there is unusually good sidewalk coverage for a community in Florida. And the weather was pretty darn nice throughout my visit.

Yet almost no one was walking, and most people here never walk from home to nearby destinations on foot. Why?

Miami Lakes has the same issue that most master-planned developments like this suffer from: they are of course much too small to contain the job sites and schools that their residents need, and it’s not as though all of my hosts’ family and social circles lives in the same bubble. Being connected to the rest of the area is a necessity. Thus it isn’t practical to live there without a car, and when the rest of the city around you is car-dependent, so are you. The older folks that can’t drive are largely dependent on others to drive them, save the occasional walk out to the Publix.

My impression from several visits there? The folks that live in Miami Lakes and similar master-planned centers like the proximity of all the stuff, but because it comes with parking and most folks own cars anyway, walking just doesn’t occur as an option. All in all they still drive very short distances compared to neighbors in the newer neighborhoods to the west, so the master planning wasn’t for naught. But the differences from places that are organically walkable are clear: the presence of transit, fewer parking spaces and fewer car owners, a greater density of all needs (especially schools and job sites) to make “alternative” transportation the best choice.

* I have to admit I hate that term. And my company was founded by a guy that built “town centers” for a living.


Happy New Year from Plannerthon

Happy New Year from Plannerthon

Improving the communities where we live is what planning is all about. I spend a lot of my time, both in the day job and outside of it, honing best practices in planning and trying to improve them. I look forward to another year of sharing thoughts about how we can best do that, and hope you will continue to engage with me here.

Pictured: the entrance to the Dwan Light Sanctuary at the United World College-USA, Montezuma, New Mexico

After 15 weeks, a check-in on my Twitter experiment

As I mentioned in my last post, I set out at the end of the summer to attempt a new focus for my Twitter account. I liked the idea overall, but I altered it in two ways. First, I didn’t exclusively post about the three focal cities. There is far too much news of all types and content from across the country and beyond that I wanted to and did tweet about. So some of the tweeting that only scratched the surface of a place or an issue remains on my account, as it probably always will.  But I feel I supplemented that effectively with content on the three places I wanted to learn more about.

plannerthon on ABQSecond, and most importantly, I chose to keep the experiment running much longer than originally anticipated. There was one important reason for the latter decision: there’s a lot to learn and a lot to read and broadcast about even one major city, let alone three. So I spent the end of the summer and into the fall finding and sharing content about Albuquerque, Detroit, and Seattle.

plannerthon on DTWAnd I’ve learned a great deal, fulfilling one of my original objectives. I read about primary candidates for Albuquerque City Council. I followed the ups and downs of the General Motors boardroom as the company divested itself of the federal government’s “bailout” rescue funds, then named its first female CEO, then announced significant investments in existing plants all within two weeks. More closely related to Detroiters’ everyday life, I discovered how some of the most challenged neighborhoods, including Brightmoor, are leveraging philanthropic money to help attract new residents. I learned how many mega-developments can be supported by a strong (possibly overheated) real estate market like Seattle.

plannerthon on SEAThere’s a great deal more to be learned, too. While I haven’t yet found a large number of tweeters in those respective cities, I’ll continue looking.

For now, I’m choosing to move on. Starting in January, I will choose my next three geographic foci and continue the experiment. And while much of my approach will be the same as the first round, I also plan to approach this somewhat differently. I intend to find more locals in those places to interact with and ask questions of, and I hope to delve more deeply into the demographics, the infrastructure needs, and the governance of these places.

I hope you will continue to follow along.