50 ideas for better cities

by Kaid Benfield  on Sustainable Cities Collective

I love these lists.  This one comes from Urban Omnibus, “an online project of the Architectural League to create a new kind of conversation about design and New York City.”  In this case, they have captured 50 slogan-sized, broad ideas that they plan to “market” on posters around the city.

While ostensibly NYC-focused, I think they apply most everywhere.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • #1: Combat climate change by adapting our existing building stock
  • #5: Map everythingIdea #19 (by: Urban Omnibus/Architectural League of NY)
  • #6: Use temporary structures to provide amenities to underserved communities
  • #7: Design for generational diversity
  • #15: Look at the city through the lens of food
  • #19: Use natural systems to support the city’s infrastructure
  • #29: Coordinate like-minded, small-scale initiatives to activate otherwise isolated efforts
  • #34: Design recreational space by watching how people play
  • #41: Let citizens engage in the maintenance of infrastructure
  • #47: Make fire hydrants the anchors of temporary mini-parks

Each one includes a link to a thougtful essay relating to the subject.  For example, click on #7 (generational diversity) and you are taken to an article on “naturally occurring retirement communities” that says, in part:

“First of all, the “naturally occurring” part is intriguing. We’re interested in these sorts of bottom-up dynamics, and have explored them in previous projects.

“But more importantly, we’re interested in NORCS because we like them, and like what they do for the city. Of course, one of the greatest things about New York City is its diversity. New York City is a city that is supposed to tolerate – and maybe even encourage and engender – difference. New York is supposed to be a city where people of different races, classes, and lifestyles coexist, right? Well let’s not forget that generational diversity is an important part of this ideal: just as NYC would be undermined by racial homogeneity, so too would it be undermined by age homogeneity.”

Later, the article, which is also full of illustrations and images, continues:

NORCs in NYC (by: Urban Omnibus/Architectural League of NY)“People grow old, and instead of moving to a purpose-built retirement community in the suburbs or the sunbelt, they stay in the home and the community that they always lived in. “Aging in place,” as some people call it, poses some challenges, but to NORC advocates, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages . . .

“So what we’re working on is an “Advocates Guide” to NORCs. We’re enthusiastic about NORCs, and we would like to see more of them, and so we thought it would be a good idea to develop a book that would make the case for NORCs very clearly, but also supply people with a few items – postcards, maps, advertisements for example – that could help “sell” the NORC.”

So, basically what we have is a web site full of great ideas, stated simply at the top level, and then expanded with deeper perspective for people who are interested.  See the full list of ideas and links here, where you can also submit your own concepts.  Why not submit them below in a comment, too?

The interactive aspect of the process seems similar in some ways to the “Give a Minute” concept launched last year in Chicago to solicit ideas for improving the city and scheduled to be launched in New York this month.  Give a Minute appears to differ, though, in that it is intended more specifically to be a civic engagement tool for city government, more than a repository of broader, more thought-provoking ideas,  Both strike me as terrific, and I am particularly looking forward to digging into this one.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog’s home page

About Kaid Benfield

Amazingly, I have been working for NRDC since 1981, when I fled a job in the US Department of Justice after my bosses were booted from office. Since the mid-1990s I have been working on land development and transportation issues. I’ve written a few publications, co-founded a national coalition (Smart Growth America) and co-founded an effort to define and reward what is smart about smart growth (LEED for Neighborhood Development). I want my writing to further a conversation about the intersections between development, community, and the environment. I believe there is a positive, solution-oriented story to tell about smart, sustainable development, and we in the environmental movement have an obligation to speak up in favor of pragmatic, attractive solutions. You may access my full NRDC blog at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/.

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