A Place with “The Wright Stuff” – Ten Planning Lessons from Oak Park, Illinois


Heurtley House in Oak Park (1902)

We had the privilege of visiting lovely Oak Park, Illinois over the Veterans Day weekend. As a planner, I was awestruck by this community and by the architectural masterpieces of it’s famous former resident, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Throughout the Oak Park, I felt I was walking amidst the Promised Land for architects and urban planners. Every corner held a new wonder, a new inspiration, or a new visual and architectural delight.

Frank Lloyd Wright home (1889) and studio (1898)

Is Oak Park perfect? Of course not. Every community has areas for improvement. But, what Oak Park does have is a forthright sense of itself, warts and all. And, the city (village) is willing to tackle the tough issues head-on. That attribute is admirable, as most places try to avoid difficult and complex issues like the plague.

Lake Theatre (1936)

Here are my thoughts on the ten planning lessons learned from this inspiring pilgrimage to Oak Park. They are presented in no particular order of importance.

  • Unlike so many suburbs, there is an actual “there” there, in Oak Park!
  • First ring inner suburbs contain charming, walkable neighborhoods that are hard, if not impossible, to match in newer suburbs.
  • A vibrant traditional downtown movie theatre is a terrific placemaking feature and community focal point.
  • Architectural, cultural, and historical walking/biking tours are a superb way to enhance community pride. They also help remind us of the importance of human-scale development.
  • Great and grand architecture never goes out of style.
  • As planners, we should be striving every day to make our communities this beautiful.
  • Preserving and protecting the homes/sites of famous citizens/events is critical to maintaining the integrity and continuity of place. In Oak Park, they have done a fine job of doing just that with the many sites pertaining to Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway.
  • Oak Park’s groundbreaking efforts to champion diversity and integration have had mixed results over the decades, but the fact they are continually trying to do so should be celebrated.
  • The amount of inspiration one can visualize and experience in 4.7 square miles of city (village) is quite exhilarating.
  • When a community has “The Wright Stuff,” you can sense it immediately.

Sunday morning on Lake Street

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Ten Planning Lessons from Detroit’s Eastern Market


Chrome art sculpture outside of Shed 5

Anyone fortunate enough to visit engaging Detroit’s Eastern Market knows exactly what I am talking about in this post. Enjoy the list below!

Flower Day at the Eastern Market – Source: lifeinmichigan.com

  • Great third places like Detroit’s Eastern Market can and will survive and thrive through both good and bad times.
  • Every city needs accessible and affordable places to obtain fresh and nutritious food.
  • A city/farm market can also be an entertainment venue and social gathering place.
  • Detroit’s Eastern Market is a critical focal point for investment and reinvestment in the heart of the city.
  • City/farm markets promote healthy lifestyles not only through their food options, but also by their walkable nature.
  • A city/farm market can be an excellent economic gardening catalyst for supporting small family businesses/farms.
  • A city/farm market is a an important component in establishing and maintaining a comprehensive and sustainable urban food system.
  • Detroit’s Eastern Market and similar facilities provide a direct link between area farmers and local consumers.
  • Purchases made at a city/farm market recirculate capital locally.
  • A city/farm market of the stature of Detroit’s Eastern Market can come to epitomize the heart and soul of an entire city.

Pre-dawn preparation – Source: dptv.com

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After Hours at Detroit’s Eastern Market


Chrome sculpture outside of Shed 5

Concrete, steel, and glass

Wedding reception in Shed 5

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“Instrumental” Towns


Source: gr8traveltips.com

A little fun for the start of the work week with city/town names that include the name of an instrument in their name. If you know of others we missed, please feel free to pass them along for inclusion.

  • Bass, Victoria, Australia
  • Bass Lake, Wisconsin
  • Big Horn, Wyoming
  • Drumheller, Alberta
  • Horn, Germany
  • Horn Lake, Mississippi
  • Horntown, Oklahoma
  • Kalamazoo (kazoo), Michigan
  • Morgan City (organ), Louisiana
  • Morganton (organ), North Carolina
  • Morgantown (organ), West Virginia and Pennsylvania
  • Organ, New Mexico
  • Viola, Illinois, Arkansas, and Tennessee
  • Sharpsburg (harp), Pennsylvania and Maryland
  • Thorn (horn), Netherlands
  • Thorne (horn), United Kingdom
  • Thornton (horn), Colorado
  • Thorntown (horn), Indiana
  • Whistler, British Columbia
    Sources: personal knowledge and en.wikipedia.org
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“AAARTH” – An Amazing Album Reaches Tremendous Heights!


The Joy Formidable – Source: thejoyformidable.com

Please let me chew on the words of a recent blogpost for a moment….(munch, munch, munch).  Thank you.

I really thought nothing could possibly equal Metric’s Art of Doubt when it came to new Alternative Rock music in 2018. Well, The Joy Formidable has done just that with their new release entitled AAARTH (‘Arth’ mean ‘Bear’ in Welsh). As rock band best known for its deep-booming and sonic guitar-riffing anthems, they have released an amazing new album.

AAARTH is The Joy Formidable’s stirring musical exploration and experimentation into sounds not heard on their previous releases. What fun it must have been to venture into these new realms, but at the same time must have been a little scary to wander outside the band’s traditional comfort zone. Other bands, including Metric, have tried the same with varying degrees of success. Thankfully, in this case, The Joy Formidable totally succeeded in expanding their artistic range and musical chops.

I love the variety of music that emanates from the record, but I also love how the band remained loyal to its roots. Too often, bands can become typecast in a certain sound or style of music. The Joy Formidable has broken those restrictive bonds to give us a triumphant new album.

While I don’t relish as many tracks on this album (8 of 11) as I do on Metric’s new release (10 of 12), the uniqueness, range, and innovativeness of AAARTH offsets the difference. My only wish is that The Joy Formidable had also included the acoustic version of “The Better Me” on the new album (see video above) – it is a beautiful song whose lyrics fully resonate when you hear it acoustically. Nevertheless, thank you Ritzy, Rhydian, and Matthew for some terrific new music!

Here’s my list of favorite tracks from AAARTH.

  • “The Better Me”
  • “Absence”
  • “All in All”
  • “What For”
  • “You Can’t Give Me”
  • “The Wrong Side”
  • “Cicada (Land on Your Back)”
  • “Y Bluen Eira”

Here’s the more rocking version of their track “The Better Me.”

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Top Eleven Planning Lessons from Lisbon, Portugal


Below are my top eleven (11) planning lessons from a delightful week-long trip to Lisboa (Lisbon), Portugal in late September. Many more could be added this list, but for brevity’s sake we’ll stay with these eleven (11) for now. They are not presented in any order of importance other than the first lesson listed. Obrigado!

  • Outstanding urban design can take place after a cataclysmic disaster and also serve to lift a city’s collective psyche and self worth.
  • Sidewalks inlaid with artistic patterns are very inspirational and a terrific placemaking feature.
  • Contrasting urban forms within the same city can work very well in unison.
  • When pedestrians are treated like royalty, cities teem with life.
  • A complex multi-modal and interconnected transportation system can be both efficient and effective.
  • Narrower streets are safer streets.
  • A glorious topographic setting is hard to beat.
  • Maintaining classic forms of transit such as trams, urban elevators, and funiculars offers a rich variety of transportation options, as well as greater public sentimentality and support.
  • Diversity and inclusiveness are the secret sauces that allows innovation to flourish.
  • Cuisine/food is an art form that can symbolize a city or country just as much as the visual or performing arts.
  • Lisbon is living proof that the historic and the modern can coexist in harmony without the modern overpowering the historic.
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The Beauty of the Contrasting-Chaotic City Form


Lisbon’s Praca do Comercio from the Tejo (Tagus) River

As urban planners we have a tendency to emphasize the importance and efficiency of the traditional grid street pattern. Compared to the disconnected neighborhoods and subdivisions constructed over the past 75 years, the traditional street grid is far and away the most effective and efficient form of city layout, allowing traffic to be dispersed more uniformly and quickly, while also providing non-motorized refuges from congestion and clutter. But, in our adoption of the grid pattern and the choice du jour, are we overly restricting ourselves in an all-or-nothing quest for an efficient form? And in doing so, are we relegating the modern city to a boring and uninspiring future?

I wish to make the argument that the traditional urban grid pattern alone may not be the best city form, but instead a hybridized design incorporating the regimented grid and a whimsical and/or chaotic intersecting street pattern is a better form. In making this assertion, I would like to point to two (2) classic cities who have successfully developed in such a contrasting manner – Lisbon, Portugal and Edinburgh, Scotland.

Lisbon (Lisboa):

For Lisbon, Portugal it was a cataclysmic natural disaster that led to its hybridized street pattern. In 1755, an estimated 8.5-9.5 earthquake shattered the city on November 1st (All Saints Day). The date is significant because many residents were in church at the time and there were candles lit throughout – the earthquake led to many fires throughout the damaged or destroyed many parts of the city. If these two (2) disasters weren’t enough, they were followed by a tsunami which inundated and devastated many of the lower-lying portions of Lisbon. Only the hilly neighborhoods, like the Alfama and Bairro Alta, with their winding, narrow streets, were left largely unscathed by the tsunami. The staggering estimates of casualties in Lisbon range from 10,000 to 90,000 dead.

Centro Lisboa’s varied topography – Source: lisboa.topographia.jpg

Following this triple catastrophe, the lower-lying areas of the central city situated between the hills were rebuilt in a grid pattern. Today, the mix of old and new urban patterns is simply breathtaking. One cannot adequately describe the sense of awe instilled by Lisbon when visiting the city, as I did late last month. As an urban planner, I have never been more impressed by a city and among those key features that impressed me most were the contrasting city forms found between the lower city and hilly districts.

Santos’ Pombaline Plan for Centro Lisbon, Portugal – Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Neighborhoods felt like real neighborhoods, where each has its own unique flavor, identity, and composition. The pedestrian is paramount, as the narrow, hilly, and winding streets of the old city naturally slow vehicles down. Stairways, elevators, electric trams, and funiculars enhance the sense of a place for people. You see people chatting, socializing, or just going about their daily business throughout.

National Theater in the Baixa district’s Rossio Square

Even in the busy central business district and along commercial corridors, the pedestrian is treated with respect, as a number of streets/lanes are vehicle-free, filled with shops, outdoor restaurants, and performing artists. The patterned ceramic and intricately stone-laid sidewalks are wide, busy, and jaw-dropping. For vehicular traffic, the speed limits are kept low, while the varied mix of vehicles contributes to the lower speeds.

Tram 28 winding through Lisbon’s Alfama district

Furthermore, the chaotic street pattern of the old districts creates unique and unparalleled vistas, fun and whimsical building designs, shaded courtyards, hidden gardens, and a true sense of place on the micro-level. The more regimented pattern of the post-1755 Lisbon city design found in the Centro district of Baixa (Lower Town) and parts of Chiado not only allows for commerce, but also great placemaking on a grandiose scale with plazas, squares, patterned pavements, boulevards, monuments, public edifices, elegant Pombaline-style architecture, and other public gathering spaces.

The magnificent Elevador de Santa Justa (1902)

Knitting together the chaotic contrasting forms of Lisbon is an amazing array of public and private transit options, including its underground Metro subway, commuter rail, electric trams, buses, taxis, tuk-tuks, bike-sharing, stairways, ferries, funiculars, and outdoor urban elevators. And it all works!

Edinburgh:

In Edinburgh, the mix of city forms didn’t arise from a disaster, but from the desire to relieve overcrowding in Old Town and to modernize the city. As a result, when you visit Edinburgh, as I did in 2009, you soon become aware of the differences between Old Town and New Town. One would not think they would compliment each other, but the dichotomy works, and works well – so well, in fact that New Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

While Edinburgh doesn’t have quite the variety of public/private transportation options that Lisbon enjoys, the contrast between the efficient grid pattern of New Town and the intersecting and interconnecting chaos of Old Town creates many of the same benefits for residents and visitors alike. Here again, the pedestrian is treated as royalty rather than a nuisance.

Central Edinburgh, Scotland – Source: en.wikipedia.org

Elsewhere:

There are certainly other examples of cities around the world with contrasting forms that mix chaos with regimentation. Here in the United States, probably the closest example for a large city is Pittsburgh. Other cities here contain aspects of chaos, but not enough to instill the sense of wonder and awe shared by Lisbon and Edinburgh.

1859 map of Pittsburgh – Source: mapsofpa.com

One recommendation I would like to emphasize is if your city is fortunate enough to have an area, neighborhood, or district that is laid out in an intersecting, yet whimsical or seemingly chaotic manner, preserve it at all cost. This area, neighborhood, or district can be the focal point of great urban planning, as its uniqueness can serve as the vanguard of great things to come.

Ralston’s Plan for Indianapolis – Source: historicindianapolis.com

My birthplace of Indianapolis had a certain amount chaotic whimsy when Alexander Ralston laid out the diagonal streets in the original Mile Square. Sadly, one (1) of these four (4) street corridors has been largely lost by mega-projects (Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center). But, the other three (3) corridors that largely remain intact with Massachusetts Avenue (Mass Ave) and Virginia Avenue seeing some of the best and brightest revitalization efforts in the city.

Woodward’s 1807 Plan for Detroit – Source: detroiturbanism.blogspot.com

One reason I love Woodward’s inspired plan for downtown Detroit is the arcing/radiating streets that allow today’s remnants to provide unique opportunities for vistas and building designs. Similar to Lisbon, the plan resulted from a disaster – the 1805 Fire. Likewise, but on a smaller scale, the chaotic placement of Monroe Street and Lewis Street at a 45 degree angle to much of the city’s street overall pattern makes downtown Grand Rapids so much more fun than 90 degree angles every at block.

Conclusion:

Too often when I look at maps of modern North American cities, they are simply a surveyor’s dream of Utopia, with nothing but square blocks for as far as the eye can see. Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Oklahoma City are all fine examples. But where’s the whimsy in that? Where’s the fun? The inspiration? The desire to create a human-friendly land form?

The gridiron city form of Phoenix – Source: amazon.com

That’s why I strongly believe that a contrasting-chaotic city land form is the best compromise between free-form (chaos) and function (regimentation). The era of the cul-de-sac, the gated community, and disconnected neighborhoods should be put to rest, hopefully never to be revived. But, that does not mean cities must be strictly regimented into straight lines and 90 degree angles. The whimsy, fun, and inspiration contained in a chaotic, yet intersecting street pattern lends itself to good urban planning. Mixing these in a contrast of styles and purpose allows a city to grow in a manner that both benefits the needs of the people and those of commerce, without sacrificing one for the other. Far too often in today’s North America, the car is king, when it is the pedestrian who bring life to the city and who should be treated as royalty.

As noted earlier, if your city is fortunate enough to have an area, neighborhood, or district that contains a whimsical or chaotic urban form, preserve it and enhance it at all cost. With nurturing and protection, this can become a focal point for great placemaking; for artistic inspiration; and for enhancing community identification and pride.

Sources:

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Lisboa, Glorious Lisboa


Posted in air travel, architecture, art, bridges, Cities, commerce, culture, downtown, entertainment, Europe, fun, geography, historic preservation, history, humanity, inclusiveness, infrastructure, land use, landscape architecture, pictures, placemaking, planning, Portugal, rail, sailing, skylines, spatial design, topography, tourism, transit, Transportation, Travel, Uncategorized, urban planning, walking | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Images of Art Prize 2018 in Grand Rapids


Some of the approximately 1,200 works of art currently on display in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Thank you, METRIC for a Rock n’ Roll Masterpiece


Source: stereogum.com

Every once in a while you hear an album that completely knocks your socks off the very first time your listen to it. Today was one of those days.

NPR was kind enough to provide a “First Listen” to METRIC’s seventh album entitled Art of Doubt on its website. I ordered the album several weeks ago and have been eagerly anticipating its arrival.

Source: ilovemetric.com

First of all, thank you to both METRIC and NPR for providing this sneak peek into the new album that’s being formally released on September 21st. Second – thank you METRIC for sharing 12 top-notch songs – a full album like the days of yore (the 1970s). There’s no filler whatsoever in this album – it will knock your socks off from the first note until the last. If fact, the album gets stronger with each tune. Art of Doubt is outstanding – and if it doesn’t win Album of the Year, I will forever refuse watch the Grammy’s!

Source: dosd.com

METRIC had already released three (3) of the songs from Art of Doubt as singles and all three (Dark Saturday; Dressed to Suppress; and Now or Never Now) hinted at the greatest to come, but nothing prepared me for how breathtakingly gorgeous and fulfilling this album would be. It instantly became my favorite METRIC album to date and far surpasses anything else released by any other artist this year.

My personal favorite songs on the album after a few listens are the following tunes (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Anticipate – Emily’s gorgeous voice is in full command
  • Art of Doubt – reminds one of the band’s early music
  • Dark Saturday – check out their fun acoustic in park performance of this
  • Die Happy – in this dystopia…
  • Dressed to Suppress – one awesome song and video
  • Holding Out – hypnotic guitars, drums, and vocals
  • No Lights on the Horizon – what a terrific concluding track!
  • Now or Never Now – so heartfelt and introspective
  • Risk
  • Seven Rules – a beautiful song
  • Underline the Black – Jimmy and Joules are rock’n the house

I first became a fan of METRIC when I heard Gold Guns Girls being played on MSU’s student radio station. Since then, they have consistently moved up my personal favorite musician(s) chart to become #1, particularly after seeing them rock the Fillmore in Detroit back in 2012. The band has been together now for 20 years, providing some of the best guitar-oriented rock n’ roll on the planet, mixed with thought-provoking lyrics, mesmerizing vocals, riveting bass, superior keyboards, and head-banging percussion – exactly what ever rock n’ roll lover craves. But, Art of Doubt goes well beyond that, it literally delves into your heart, your mind, and your soul and touches each of them in a way that few albums do – the music becomes symbiotic with the listener.

Source: ilovemetric.com

I also want to thank Canada for sharing METRIC with us – thank you for METRIC’s endearing gift, from our loving northern neighbor. My sincerest apologies for the orange moron residing in DC – he doesn’t speak for the majority of us, as we love Canada dearly.

Lastly, I want to express my thanks individually to Emily, James (Jimmy), Joshua, and Joules for the magic each of you bring to music and for sharing it with the world. Now, if the National Cherry Festival or the Interlochen Center for the Arts would please bring you to Traverse City for a concert, then Feng shui and Karma would be properly aligned.

Peace and love from Michigan.

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