Words on the Street highlights the best writing on the built environment we’ve encountered recently at New Urbs. Post tips at @NewUrbs.

Looking Around: Horizontal Space

If there is one truth about the second half of the 20th Century it is that, by all accounts, we started moving out rather than up; horizontal rather than vertical. Not only through the process of suburbanization, the building of massive highways, and the rapid capital flight from cities, but also in how we designed everything from our homes to our workplaces. It could be said that, since the development of major highways, America has flattened—much in the same way that the invention of both the elevator and air conditioning brought skyscrapers to every major city in the first half of the 20th century. [Read more… ]

—Kate Wagner, McMansion Hell

Why Walkability Is Not a Luxury

Nobody would say that health is a luxury. To the extent that walkable neighborhoods contribute to health, it follows they are not a luxury good. Similar cases can be made for walkability and safety (fewer automobile deaths and injuries), pollution (reduced tailpipe emissions), and time (fewer hours spent commuting). Walkable neighborhoods add value and utility to lives of people of all classes. They are willing to pay for that value. Walkable neighborhoods also enable a lifestyle that has the potential to reduce overall costs while providing health and welfare benefits. [Read more…]

—Robert Steuteville, CNU Public Square

Are We Still Bowling Alone?

A lot of the focus in Rust Belt and rural communities is on the economy, and rightly so. There are economic challenges that do need to be addressed. But in many cases the real problems are more than economic. They are social and perhaps even spiritual in a broad sense, a despair that has destroyed so many lives…. The America of the 1970s and 1980s is dead and gone. It can’t be recreated. But America must find a way to rebuild its social capital if it hopes to change the trajectory of so many struggling people and places. Economic development is not enough. [Read more…]

—Aaron Renn, Governing

What Is Blight?

Vacant buildings can attract criminal activity like drug use. They sometimes pose safety hazards. Getting rid of them is overwhelmingly framed as positive by local governments that often leverage hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to do demolition work (often through state or federal grants). And yet, there’s something darker that lurks beneath the surface when we talk about “blight.” The word completely disregards the past of a place. When you label something blight, you utterly negate any purpose it may have had and any hope of saving it. It is mere garbage to be discarded. And it’s not just individual buildings that are labeled as such. Whole blocks and neighborhoods can receive this designation, either officially or by association. Once the label has been applied, it can be a natural progression to start thinking that the people, businesses and institutions that are still alive in these neighborhoods are also blight. [ Read more… ]

—Rachel Quednau, Strong Towns

Yes In My Backyard

At a time when states and cities are often at odds over hotly contested social and economic issues, land use reform to expand housing choice and opportunity can constitute common ground. State and local collaboration on housing can create a lower cost of doing business, a more efficient real estate market, and a wider array of options for buyers and renters across the income spectrum. [Read more…]

—Stockton Williams, Lisa Sturtevant, and Rosemarie Hepner, Urban Land Institute