“Words on the Street” highlights the best writing on urbanism we’ve encountered this week. Post tips at @NewUrbs.
One More Inglorious Pile on the Mall | Edward Rothstein, Wall Street Journal
The news that the Eisenhower family has dropped objections to a modified version of Frank Gehry’s vision for a $150 million proposed memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower on the Mall in Washington means that in a few years we will probably be subjected to something only marginally less kitschy and overblown than Mr. Gehry’s earlier vision: a four-acre extravaganza featuring three statues of Eisenhower—as Kansas farm boy, Supreme Allied Commander and president—with a 477-foot-wide woven-metal tapestry depicting Abilene, Kan., suspended from eight-story-tall limestone columns.
The architect will now alter the tapestry’s subject and may skim off some bloat, but enough of the original idea will surely remain to allow it to fit right in with the many other mediocre monuments that have been crowding the Mall and other public sites during the past 25 years.
Want Affordable Housing? Legalize Main Street | Jonathan Coppage, Washington Post
In a sign that market solutions for the United States’ growing housing affordability crisis are beginning to earn bipartisan support, the White House this week unveiled its “Housing Development Toolkit,” which encourages state and local policymakers to undertake a number of long-overdue reforms.
The tool kit draws on some of the best and most up-to-date research on housing affordability and cites such respected researchers as Harvard University economist Ed Glaeser. But for such reforms to benefit smaller and distressed communities, Washington needs to undo its own role in distorting the housing market. In short, the Federal Housing Administration has to relegalize Main Street.
Lean Streets, Small Blocks: the ‘Good Bones’ of Strong Communities | Robert Steuteville, Public Square
A body without good bones will fall apart. And as many of us have come to realize, streets are the bones of communities. A community that lacks good streets will suffer—in its economy, its social well-being, and its health.
When people who study cities and towns say that a place “has good bones,” they mean that it has a connected network of small blocks and “lean” (not overly wide) streets. The blocks probably hold at least a few fine old buildings, though some of them may have been neglected, since the last half of the 20th Century was often unkind to old places. Urban renewal and parking policies led to the loss of many buildings.
The urban fabric may be tattered. Traffic engineers may have widened the travel lanes, converted many streets to one-way, and cut down trees. Nonetheless, in good bones there is the potential for renaissance. The essential elements—lean streets and small blocks, a characteristic praised by Jane Jacobs—are resilient.
Is There Too Much Parking? | Nate Berg, The Guardian
“As parking regulations were put into zoning codes, most of the downtowns in many cities were just completely decimated,” says Michael Kodransky, global research manager for the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy. “What the cities got, in effect, was great parking. But nobody goes to a city because it has great parking.”
Increasingly, cities are rethinking this approach. As cities across the world begin to prioritise walkable urban development and the type of city living that does not require a car for every trip, city officials are beginning to move away from blanket policies of providing abundant parking. Many are adjusting zoning rules that require certain minimum amounts of parking for specific types of development. Others are tweaking prices to discourage driving as a default when other options are available. Some are even actively preventing new parking spaces from being built.
Urbanism, Texas-Style | Joel Kotkin et. al., City Journal
Of the cities I’ve called home, Austin has the most aspirational culture. People move to Washington, for example, to change the world, and often do so—for the worse. People come to Austin to build something new, earn their success, and have fun. Visit any one of the city’s coffeehouses, and new rounds of funding and pitches are in the air. Drive or bike anywhere on a weekend, and you’ll likely run into a festival that you had no idea was happening. Our zip code has more bars per capita than any other in the nation. Many are indoor-outdoor, which gives Austin a festive, public feel. Voices, music, and faces are all integral to the urban landscape here.