Eleven planning lessons from Boston/Cambridge

Dowtown Boston

Downtown Boston from Cambridge

I had the opportunity to visit Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts in mid-March. Here is a list of eleven planning-related lessons I took away from visiting these two dynamic cities.

  • Preserve, protect and celebrate your community’s history.
  • A varied blend of historic structures and new edifices is visually intoxicating.
  • Savor and build upon the benefits derived from being home to institutions of higher education.
  • Cultural diversity and inclusiveness makes a community much more vibrant.
  • Accessible mass transit and bike sharing systems are wonderful things.
  • Denser urban development can be softened by rich and varied public spaces.
  • The removal of an ugly freeway can reawaken once forlorn areas.
  • The heart of the city can be a great place to raise a family.
  • Pedestrians, bicyclists, transit, and cars can successfully and safely coexist.
  • A thriving city requires thriving neighborhoods – you cannot have one without the other.
  • A compact and walkable urban core is far more preferable to a sprawling mess.

Art and architecture of Boston/Cambridge

Here are a few photos of art and architecture from our weekend trip to Boston and Cambridge. Enjoy!


Stata Center by Frank Gehry

Arthur Fielder

Arthur Fielder

At the Boston Pops stage

At the Boston Pops stage – photo by Kathy

Downtown Boston in the distance

Downtown Boston in the distance

Make Room for Ducklings - photo by Kathy

Make Room for Ducklings – photo by Kathy

Cigar store dude

Cigar store dude

Photo by Kathy

Photo by Kathy

General Patton surveying the scene

General Patton surveying the scene

Which way do we go?

Which way do we go?

Twilight ride of Paul Revere

Twilight ride of Paul Revere

A hilarious evening of improv.

A hilarious evening of improv.

Charlestown street

Charlestown streetscene

Sharing the roads is NOT enough!

A year or so ago I wrote about how cyclists are sometimes our own worst enemies. One gist of that post was until the cycling community can come together and agree on ONE course of action regarding advocacy, it will be mired in division which weakens its overall argument. I still believe this is our greatest dilemma, as we have the competing interests between hardened and more-daring riders demanding equal access to the streets versus the rest of us who just want to be and feel safe and thus prefer clearly marked or protected bike lanes (see first photo below) and/or wholly separated bike routes (see second photo below). Sure, there is safety in numbers, but we first have to develop sufficient numbers to actually achieve the safety benefits.

Source: bostinno.streetwise.co

Source: bostinno.streetwise.co

Source: bicycling.com

Source: bicycling.com

Being more inclusive helps grow participation in bicycling and therefore raw numbers. What seasoned riders need to realize is that many women, youngsters, seniors, the disadvantaged, and those of us like me who are uncomfortable amid automobile traffic are not suited to nor capable of riding with traffic on city streets. Authors John Pucher and Ralph Buehler put it this way in the introduction to their excellent book, entitled City Cycling:

“Cycling should be made feasible, convenient, and safe for everyone; for women, as well as men, for all age groups, and for a wide range of physical abilities. The authors of this book take the view that cycling should not be limited to cyclists who are highly trained, fit, and daring enough to do battle with motor vehicles on busy roads. As demonstrated in many chapters, getting children, seniors, and women on bikes requires provision of safer and more comfortable cycling conditions than currently exist in most American, Australian, and British cities.” (page xii)

Source: mitpress.mit.edu/books/city-cycling-0

Source: mitpress.mit.edu/books/

Hallelujah to Mr. Pucher and Mr. Buehler as you have hit proverbial the nail squarely on the head. Numbers (and subsequently safety) will not appreciably increase without more participation from those who are not currently part of the non-motorized community. To advocate for road sharing (or sharrowing) is simply not enough. If the greater bicycling community wants true safety in numbers…numbers that will be noticed by motor vehicle drivers, it must advocate and promote the development of a bicycling infrastructure that accommodates all, especially those with less riding ability. Otherwise, only the hardiest, the bravest, or the most daring will venture onto city streets and roadways, rarely producing the quantity of riders that is necessary to change public perceptions or to build a dynamic and diverse cycling culture.

“Odessa” – where dreams and nightmares collide

Source: charles-king.net/odessa-genius-a-death.html

Source: charles-king.net/odessa-genius-a-death.html

When I purchased the Kindle e-book Odessa, Genius and Death in a City of Dreams,  I was excited to learn more about the Russian and Ukrainian history pertaining to this famous seaport founded by Catherine the Great. Never did I ever imagine that the dramatic history contained in this fine book by Charles King would become a precursor and essential prerequisite to a better understanding of the tragic events of the past month. As the third largest city in present-day Ukraine, the history of Odessa is a microcosm of that nation’s story – a diverse and sometimes divisive blend of Ottoman, Russian, Greek, Italian, Cossack, Jewish, Orthodox, German, Slavic, Romanian, Soviet, and Ukrainian cultures all rolled into one.

A magnificent seaport city set aside the Black Sea, Odessa is a relatively young city by European standards, but those 220 years are packed with a series of major events that have defined this metropolis. Unfortunately, the unique mix of cultures that set Odessa apart from most of its counterparts in its first century of existence were decimated by a series of nightmarish acts (both internal and external) that have left the city as a hollow shell of its former glory.  Pogroms, epidemics, purges, forced relocation, ethnic cleansing, revolution, warfare, and revisionism have left untold scars upon this once urban beacon of hope, faith, diversity, reluctant acceptance, and economic prosperity.

As strife has yet again returned to the Ukraine, one can only hope and pray that Odessa and the nation as a whole will survive this latest ordeal without undue bloodshed and suffering. Hopefully, this city that once held so much promise as a multicultural beacon can someday return to its rightful position as a leading center of acceptance and shared prosperity. To do otherwise would be a pity and a great loss for humanity as a whole.

Here are selected quotes from this excellent book, some of which are strikingly similar to the ongoing situation there right now:

“Odessa has stood out as a mixed and rambunctious city, an island of difference between sea and steppe, yet a place continually threatened by its own mottled personality.

“From its founding in 1794 all the way to the present, Odessa has struggled to survive somewhere between success and suicide.”

“In the end, Odessa’s experience reveals the creative power as well as the everyday difficulty of being diverse.”

“Visitors don’t arrive in Odessa so much as stumble upon it.”

“But the sea [Black Sea] also offered two things that the Russians in particular desired: ports that were ice-free for most of the winter and potential access to the Mediterranean.”

“Both seaborne and overland commerce made Odessa the centerpiece of an expanding international network that tied the city more to its European counterparts than to the imperial metropolises of St. Petersburg and Moscow.”

“In relatively short order, Odessans became as status conscious as persons in other major cities.”

“A climate of social freedom was readily apparent. Public smoking, fashions that bordered on the scandalous, and public discussion of contentious issues from international affairs to taxes were relatively uncommon privileges in St. Petersburg and Moscow, but they were part of the normal street life in Odessa.”

“Odessa was founded by foreigners in Russian service, and that heritage reproduced itself generation after generation.”

“Odessa’s commercial success lay in its position at the intersection of flatlands and seascape, where the produce of the former could be sent to markets across the latter.”

“The tsar’s secret police began to see the multilingual and cosmopolitan city as a breeding ground for agitators, saboteurs, and terrorists – because in large part it was.”

“Odessa’s civilized core seemed to have withered and blown out to sea.”

“How could a city generally satisfied with its easy cosmopolitanism fall so speedily into communal chaos?

“After the revolution, however, Odessa seemed mainly a place of departure.”

“As a major cultural center, with long-standing times to Western forms of art and music, Odessa was an obvious target for labeling as a den of spies and wreckers.”

“In one of the least-known episodes of the Holocaust, at least 220,000 Jews were killed in or en route to string of ghettos and concentration camps established in portions of Soviet Ukraine and overseen by the Romanian state.”

“Odessa was one f the first four Soviet cities – along with Leningrad, Sevastopol, and Stalingrad – to be awarded the title of Gorod-Geroi, or “hero city.”

“But over the last two centuries, Odessa managed to produce a local culture woven from uneasiness, way of living that may hold lessons about the creative and destructive power of being in-between.”

“Her”- Love in an impersonal world

Source: imdb.com


Kathy and I saw the film Her over the weekend. The movie is a poignant fast forward portrayal of our impersonal digital world. Putting irony and emphasis on this portrayal was the fact that as we exited the theater, nearly everyone in the movie megaplex was staring intently into their smartphone, including me.

Source: sfgate.com

Source: sfgate.com

Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Scarlett Johansson were all excellent in this insightful and touching film.Joaquin was particularly good displaying his emotional range in response to his love interests- his human ex-wife and Samantha an advanced computer operating system.

What’s best about Her is its introspective look at where society could be heading if we continue to intertwine or lives with technology and lose our ability for interpersonal communication. To drive this point home even further, Joaquin Phoenix’s character works for a dot com that writes personalized letters for people who no longer have the time or ability to do so.

Go see this movie. It will touch your heart while also raising important societal questions. Kudos to all involved in Her on producing a fine and thought-provoking film.

Confluential cities

Lyon, France – Source: mairie9.lyon.fr

For purposes of this post, a “confluential city” is one that is situated at or near the confluence of two or more important rivers and which has had an influential economic, historic, strategic, cultural, political, and/or social impact on the surrounding region or nation as a whole.  Many of these confluential cities were and often remain starting or re-supply points for pioneer settlement and/or national growth patterns.

Due to their strategic confluential locations for waterborne commerce, Fort Wayne (then Miamitown or Kekionga) was a key strategic confluential location for Native Americans, the French, and later the Americans. Similarly, Sunbury, PA (previously Shamokin) was a very important Native American community at the confluence of the two branches of the Susquehanna River.

Montreal was the principal fur trade and supply center for most of French North America, while Albany, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City (Independence), and Omaha  were significant supply and departure points in the westward expansion of the United States.

Even if the rivers were not always navigable, their valleys were often useful routes for as trails or for canals. For example, Albany was the gateway to the Erie Canal, which shadowed the Mohawk River for many miles on its way to Lake Erie; the Mormon Trail followed the Platte River in Nebraska much in the same way that Interstate 80 and the Union Pacific Railroad do today; and Independence, Missouri was the starting point for several important cross-country trails including the Oregon Trail.

The same factor is true for Winnipeg’s role in Canada’s westward expansion. The Assiniboine River was a key western migration route.Part of Winnipeg’s importance lies in its position south of Lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Winnipegosis, all of which hinder more northerly cross-Canadian transportation routes. That also explains why Winnipeg is the most important rail center in Canada, as the primary node for both CP Rail and CN Rail.

To the west, places like Sacramento and Portland served as starting points for those who migrated to the interior after sailing to the West Coast or as endpoints for those who survived the difficult and dangerous crossing the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.

Ironclads off Cairo, IL - Source: en.wikipedia.org

Ironclads off Cairo, IL – Source: en.wikipedia.org

Several of the cities listed below are considerably smaller than the others. I have never quite figured out why Cairo, Illinois never grew to the extent one would expect with its pre-eminent location. During the U.S. Civil War, Cairo was the equivalent of Norfolk or San Diego as a large armada of ironclads were stationed there for battles along major waterways. Visiting Cairo today is particularly  disheartening as the city is mired in an elongated depression. Even the state park at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers was a derelict, trash-strewn, graffiti-filled disappointment place to visit when I was there seven years ago.

Cairo, Illinois - Source: NASA via twistedsifter.com

Cairo, Illinois – Source: NASA via twistedsifter.com

Meanwhile, fifty miles or so to the east, Paducah, Kentucky has seen an economic resurrection from its economic malaise as a great and growing artisan center. Kudos to the citizens of that fair confluential city for turning its fortunes around so successfully.

Here is the non-comprehensive list of influential confluential cities.

  • Albany, NY, USA – Mohawk and Hudson Rivers
  • Alton, Illinois – Illinois and Mississippi Rivers
  • Asuncion, Paraguay – Pilcomayo and Paraguay Rivers
  • Belgrade, Serbia – Sava and Danube Rivers
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina – Uruguay and Parana Rivers
  • Cairo, Illinois – Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
  • Chongqing – Jialing and Yangtze Rivers
  • Cincinnati, OH-KY, USA – Licking, Great Miami, Whitewater, and Ohio Rivers
  • Columbia, South Carolina – Broad and Saluda forming the Congaree River
  • Corrientes, Argentina – Paraguay and Parana Rivers
  • Duisburg, Germany – Ruhr and Rhine Rivers
  • Fort Wayne, IN, USA – St. Joseph, St. Mary’s and Maumee Rivers
  • Geneva, Switzerland – Arve and Rhone Rivers
  • Kansas City/Independence, MO-KA, USA – Kansas and Missouri Rivers
  • Khartoum, Sudan – White Nile and Blue Nile Rivers
  • Koblenz, Germany – Mosel and Rhine Rivers
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Gomback and Klang Rivers
  • Lyon, France – Saone and Rhone Rivers
  • Mainz, Germany – Main and Rhine Rivers
  • Manaus, Brazil – Negro and Amazon Rivers
  • Montreal, QB, Canada – Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers
  • Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA – Platte and Missouri Rivers
  • Paducah, KY-IL, USA – Tennessee and Ohio Rivers
  • Parana, Argentina – Parana and Paraguay Rivers
  • Passau, Germany – Ilz, Inn, and Danube Rivers
  • Philadelphia, PA-NJ, USA – Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers
  • Pittsburgh, PA, USA – Allegheny and Monogahela forming the Ohio River
  • Portland, OR-WA, USA – Willamette and Columbia Rivers
  • Prince Albert, SK, Canada – North and South Saskatchewan Rivers
  • Richland/Pasco/Kennewick, WA, USA – Snake and Columbia Rivers
  • Rock Island, Illinois – Rock and Mississippi Rivers
  • Sacramento, CA, USA – American and Sacramento Rivers
  • St. Louis, MO-IL, USA – Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers
  • Santa Fe, Argentina  - Salado and Parana Rivers
  • Santarem, Brazil – Tapajos and Amazon Rivers
  • Winnipeg, MB, Canada – Assiniboine and Red Rivers


This is what great planning is all about!

Source: visitchicagosouthland.com


Anyone remotely interested in urban planning, revitalization, hiking, kayaking, bicycling, history, civics, urban design, community spirit, canals, economic development, the environment, or cities in general should download and listen to the November 19, 2013 podcast and powerpoint presentation of Tuesdays at APA from Chicago. Despite its elongated title of ”Plants, Paddles, and People: Creating Community through Green Infrastructure and Riverfront Development in Blue Island, Illinois,” the presentation by Jason Berry, AICP and Abby Crisostomo is a succinct, interesting, very useful, thought-provoking, and enjoyable podcast. Though many of these podcasts have been good, this one is easily the best one I have listened to date.

Source: landsat.com

Source: landsat.com

The cooperative planning efforts and actions taken thus far are quite impressive, as are forthcoming endeavors that were articulated. In particular, I love the idea of TOD being re-coined as “trail-oriented development,” the collegiate rowing center (something I had suggested here for the Grand River in downtown Greater Lansing, Michigan a while back), and the concept of changing the message from negative site signage and references to accentuating the positive. Furthermore, it is obvious that Daniel Burnham’s call to “make no small plans” was a built into the equation. Given the success thus far, I have every confidence that Blue Island will succeed in accomplishing all of its goals and objectives.

Source: blueisland.org

Source: blueisland.org

Blue Island, Illinois is fortunate to have so many legacy assets from which to build a strong future upon and is also a blessed with participating stakeholders who care about their community.  Not every community in this country can say the same thing, as petty squabbles, rivalries, egos, and turf wars fracture civility and cooperation more often than many of us would like to admit.

Source: illinois.sierraclub.org

Source: illinois.sierraclub.org

As an avid hiker, bicyclist, and kayaker who loves American canal-era history, I cannot wait to travel to Blue Island for pedaling the Cal-Sag Trail (weblink to the Cal-Sag Trail Plan) and kayaking the Calumet Water Trail. My guess is that is exactly what the planners and community leaders were hoping for. Many kudos to the two presenters, Jason and Abby, as well as to David Morley from American Planning Association for a job very well done! Folks – this is exactly what great planning is all about!

International cities of refuge

Source: internationalpaper.com

Source: internationalpaper.com

You may never have heard of ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network), but it has a very noble purpose:

“ICORN Cities offer persecuted writers a safe haven where they can live and work without fear of being censored or silenced.”

Source: eurozine.com

Source: eurozine.com

The network operates as follows:

“The International Cities of Refuge Network is an association of cities around the world dedicated to the value of Freedom of Expression. Writers have consistently been targets of politically motivated threats and persecution, and the network believes it is necessary for the international community to formulate and implement an appropriate response.”

“Each ICORN city focuses on one writer at a time, each writer representing the countless others in hiding, in prison or silenced forever. By providing a Guest Writer with a safe place to stay and economic security for a standard term of two years, ICORN cities make an important, practical contribution to the promotion of Freedom of Expression.”

To qualify for ICORN refugee status:

“A. The applicant must be a writer. The term ‘writer’ is to include novelists, non-fiction writers, playwrights, poets, editors, translators, publishers, journalists and cartoonists.

B. The applicant must be either:”

  1. “At risk as a direct consequence of his/her writing—whether the writer is in danger of being killed, abducted, physically attacked or “disappearing”. In a case where a writer is threatened with any of the above, an appraisal as to likelihood of such a threat being carried out will be made on an individual case/country basis by the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN.”
  2. “Sentenced to (or at risk of being sentenced to) a prison term by the authorities in his/her country as a direct consequence of his/her writing. (This excludes cases in which writers have been charged or are at risk of being charged with inciting hatred or violence through their writing unless it can be ascertained that the charges against them have been fabricated.)”
  3. “Unable to express themselves freely through his/her writing for fear of persecution due to the probable actions of the government or other non-government entities of the country in which he/she habitually resides. In such cases the writer may be able to return to his/her own country after a period of working freely abroad.”

“ICORN’s decisions regarding which writers will be taken into the network will be based on information from the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. The Writers in Prison Committee will make an evaluation regarding the authenticity of the declared danger to the individual writer and/or provide an informed assessment of the likelihood that any threatened persecution will be carried out.”

At the end of this post is a list of those cities which are either hosting a writer now, or have committed to receiving a writer within the next year. Sadly, only one American city, Miami, in our self-declared land of the free, is a current participant in ICORN. In addition, there are no ICORN cities located in Africa, Asia, Oceania, or South America. Those are abysmal statistics for it nearly being 2014.

Below of those countries that contain more than one ICORN city:

  • Norway = 12
  • Sweden = 9
  • Denmark = 4
  • Italy = 3
  • Spain = 3
  • Mexico = 2
  • The Netherlands = 2

Congratulations to each participating city and especially to those nations with multiple participants. More cities and nations should seriously consider becoming a part of this important network. Here is the complete list of cities:

  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Århus, Denmark
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Bergen, Norway
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Bø, Norway
  • Chiusi and the Region of Toscana, Italy
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Drøbak, Norway
  • Fanø, Denmark
  • Frankfurt, Germany
  • Girona, Spain
  • Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Hannover, Germany
  • Haugesund, Norway
  • Jönköping, Sweden
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Kristiansand, Norway
  • Lillehammer, Norway
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Malmö, Sweden
  • Mexico City, Mexico (2)
  • Miami, USA
  • Molde, Norway
  • Norwich, United Kingdom
  • Odense, Denmark
  • Oslo, Norway
  • Palma de Mallorca, Spain
  • Paris, France
  • Potenza, Italy
  • Reykjavik , Iceland
  • Sigtuna , Sweden
  • Skien, Norway
  • Skelleftea, Sweden
  • Skåne, Sweden
  • Stavanger, Norway
  • Stockholm , Sweden
  • Tilburg, The Netherlands
  • Tromsø, Norway
  • Trondheim, Norway
  • Tuscany, Italy
  • Uppsala, Sweden
  • Växjö, Sweden

A bolder thesis from Boulder

Source: amazon.com

Source: amazon.com

I finished reading an excellent economic development planning and entrepreneurship book a week or so ago. It is entitled Startup Communities by entrepreneur and author Brad Feld. In the book, Mr. Feld adeptly describes how the Boulder, Colorado startup community began, thrives, and maintains itself. In doing so, he articulates what has become to be known as “The Boulder Thesis” - those factors that every startup community must have to succeed. Here are the  four key components of his thesis:

“Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.

The leaders [of the startup community] must have a long-term commitment.

The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.

The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack” [first-time entrepreneurs, experience entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, employees of startups, etc.]. 

In addition, here are some other important quotes from this excellent book:

“In Boulder, people are willing to work harder and devote a greater amount of time to help startups succeed with no expectations for reward.”

“The biggest observation I can offer from having a front row seat to seeing Boulder becoming one of the hottest startup markets in the United States over the last decade is that there was no strategic plan. Government had little to do with it and there weren’t committees wading in bureaucratic quicksand wasting hundreds of hours of people’s time strategizing about how to create more startups. Boulder caught fire because a few dozen entrepreneurs believed in their hearts that a rising tide lifts all boasts and they derived great pleasure from making this happen.” – Mark Solon

“Economic geographers, however, observe the opposite effect. Evidence suggests that location, rather than being irrelevant, is more important than ever.”

“Startup communities have to take a very long-term view. A great startup community such as Silicon Valley (1950-today) has a long trajectory. Although they have booms and busts, they continued to grow, develop, and expand throughout this period.”

“Building a startup community is not a zero-sum game in which there are winners and losers; if everyone engages, they and the entire community can all be winners.”

“Although a university presence is valuable to a startup community, I reject the premise that a startup community is dependent on the university.”

“Students are by far the most important contribution of a university to a startup community.”

“The best startup communities have porous boundaries. It’s acceptable for people to flow from one company to another.”

“The Boulder startup community embraces weirdness.”

“Trying to be the next Silicon Valley is a fool’s errand.”

The need for greed and more shit

Source: last.fm

Source: last.fm

Once again, retailers across the land will be expanding their hours on Thanksgiving Day in order to fill their need for more corporate greed and for the American public to satisfy its gluttonous need to accumulate more shit.  How sad it is that on this day we are supposed to pause and give thanks for all our blessings, so many have become hung up on acquiring more shit!

George Carlin documented our insatiable need to gather stuff (or shit) in this hilarious stand-up comedy routine (see below). “Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?”  Classic!

Thanksgiving has become a hollow icon of what it once was – a day for family and friends to gather, chat, laugh, reflect, and spend quality time together. Nowadays, instead of gathering around the dinner table for a feast, far too many Americans are gathering around cash registers, as the rabid consumerists among us buy more shit. This forces those who work in retailing to be away from their family and friends on this most revered holiday.

Some conservatives claim there is a War on Christmas. I believe that they have it completely backwards, as the commercialized monstrosity formerly known as Christmas is instead killing the quiet reflection and sanctity of Thanksgiving Day.  Funny how they don’t complain about the commercialization of Christmas or Thanksgiving, when that is the real threat to the integrity of both.

Both Charles Schultz and Dr. Seuss accurately predicted and depicted such irrational commercialized greediness in their classic cartoons, Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s too bad that so many of us missed (or forgot) the moral to these childhood tales and have instead decided to worship the almighty dollar/peso/euro/pound instead, while we accumulate more stuff…or shit.