Applying my Quaker principles to urban planning


As a liberal Quaker and an urban planner, I am very intrigued by the interrelationship between these two significant aspects of my life. Back on November 6th of 2014, I summarized how the ten (10) principles of my regular yoga practice correlates to the Code of Ethics that we professional urban planners believe, observe, and honor. In this post, I am attempting to do the same in relation to my faith.

For full disclosure, I have spent many of my adult years seeking guidance when it comes to faith. In this search for truth, I have wandered to and through many a denomination, practice, and doctrine, sometimes dismayed by what I have discovered. This, in turn, has led me to wander away from religion and the belief in a higher power altogether on several occasions. Eventually, my circuitous path has led me to the liberal Quaker practice, which has many unexpected similarities of Tibetan Buddhism. It is here, I feel I have found a long-term faith community that is open and welcoming to all.

As Quakers, we do not subscribe to a formal set of creeds. However, a basic belief of the Quaker tradition is that the inner light of God is manifested in each person and therefore every one of us on this planet is of equal importance. Those Quakers, like myself, who also believe that no one spiritual understanding has a monopoly on the truth, would be identified as liberal and/or universalist.  I strongly believe this pluralistic view makes us stronger and unites us with our brothers and sisters across the globe.

Equality and diversity are also of paramount importance as a professional planner, for no one voice in any debate should outweigh any other voice just because they may have more money, power, and influence; nor should they adhere to one set of values versus another. The plurality of my Quaker universalist values also allows for a broader acceptance of alternative ideas/beliefs and helps one avoid being hamstrung by preconceived notions. I strongly believe one is inherently more conscious of the rights of others when we are all seen as being on the same level playing field and of co-equal importance.

Furthermore, I believe (and hope) that I am now even more successful thinking/acting outside the box, outside my silo, and/or outside my comfort zone. This is not to say that non-Quaker planners cannot do the same thing, but I have found my Quaker thinking cap comes in handy.

Similarly, I feel the peace testimony and tradition of Quakers is enormously helpful, as I ply the choppy planning and zoning waters with more ease, grace, and humility than would otherwise be the case. As planners, we all know many land use topics can get rather contentious. In those situations, a calm, thoughtful approach to complex issues can work wonders, even if all sides are not completely satisfied with the end result.

One of my favorite aspects of being a liberal Quaker is the largely silent, unprogrammed meeting format. As we sit in silent meditation awaiting that subtle nudge from within to speak to us, one has the opportunity to cleanse themselves from the daily toils, troubles, stresses, and conflicts. For professional planners, our work responsibilities can be quite stressful. The ability to cleanse from within, much like Tibetan Buddhism, is an awesome mechanism for finding inner peace and strength.

Silent meditation has another benefit in the fact that it teaches us to speak only when necessary and in a respectful manner. As planners, we are often bombarded with questions from the public, developers, officials, commissioners, and others. Responding respectfully, effectively, and succinctly without interrupting others is important in our profession and one of the ethical standards we are held to. Lastly, rising up to speak from the heart in front of your peers in an unprogrammed Quaker meeting (our term for service) is a great way to build confidence for public hearings, charettes, and forums.

Quakerism’s traditional lack of a hierarchical order is another benefit to this urban planner, as it provides an important counter to the often stodgy, ordered, and strictly structured format of many governmental entities. I believe one needs this counterweight to better achieve an open mind and to treat each and every person in a fair and equitable manner. It is one thing to tell someone “no” in regards to a land use or zoning matter. It is entirely another thing to do so in a way which clearly explains the reasons why with both sincerity and empathy. Sometimes, people just want to feel they are being listened to.

Finally, the Quaker testimony of six values, known as the “SPICES” of “simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship” would be worthwhile attributes for every urban planner to embrace in their daily life. This is not to say that only Quakers can be so virtuous. Like all other humans, we are fallible. But, personally, I have found Quakers to be fine examples of how to exemplify these admirable qualities and remain successful in doing so on a continuing basis. These six values closely align with many of the tenets identified in the AICP Code of Ethics and can provide inner strength, guidance, and solace to planners when they are confronted with difficult dilemmas in their profession.

I hope this post was informative and helpful. Please feel free to provide any thoughts or feedback. Peace!

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The Motor City soars to new heights



Yesterday, it was announced that Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans will be constructing the tallest building in the State of Michigan on the site of the former Hudson’s Department store in downtown Detroit. The tower is proposed to contain 52 floors and reach 734 feet into the sky.

For those of you who wrote of the Motor City years ago, this magnificent project is the culmination of years of hard work in Detroit to turn the narrative from negative to positive. Some of these have been enumerated here on Panethos, but not nearly all of them.


Shinola Hotel – Source:

Other more recent projects include the Little Caesars Arena (under construction), the M-1 Q-line Light Rail (under construction), refurbishing and reopening Belle Isle as a state park, the development of a Shinola Hotel (under construction), an indoor cycling velodrome, numerous building renovations that are completed, underway, or proposed; several thousand housing units in various stages of development in downtown and midtown; a newly opened second Meijer store in the city limits; Microsoft opening offices in downtown; and development of a tiny house community in the city.

Metropolitan Building - Source:

Metropolitan Building being renovated into the Element Detroit Hotel  – Source:

Are improvements still needed in the city? Of course, but you have to start somewhere. Congratulations to everyone in Detroit on a job well done and best wishes on your continued efforts. Namaste!

Posted in adaptive reuse, architecture, cities, downtown, economic development, entertainment, fun, geography, historic preservation, history, Housing, infrastructure, land use, new urbanism, placemaking, planning, revitalization, skylines, skyscrapers, spatial design, third places, urban planning, zoning | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The MOST important urban planning book of our time



I realize that the title of this post is a bold and perhaps controversial statement to make, but I truly believe that the definitive and thought-provoking publication by Salvatore Settis entitled, If Venice Dies, is the most important urban planning book published to date in the 21st Century.

Salvatore Settis - Source:

Salvatore Settis – Source:

Why do I think this? For one, like several other definitive planning books (think Silent Spring by  Rachel Carson and The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs), it is NOT written by a planner, but instead by someone from outside the profession looking inward — Mr. Settis is an archaeologist and an art historian. Secondly, the topic is timely and universal — Venice’s current situation is a microcosm of issues, problems, difficulties, and debates taking place in historical and destination cities around the globe. The advantage of utilizing Venice as the focal point is that nearly everyone has either heard of the city or has a mental image of the city, even if they have never been there.

Thirdly, the book does not address a single problematic topic, but numerous interrelated ones that largely come down to one fundamental cause — money; whether that means the power of money, the lack of money, or the influence of money. The hellbent accumulation of money drives too many equations when it comes to urban planning, leaving the real and most important issues that affect the average Joe and Josephine largely on the sidelines. A city should never be treated as a commodity. Instead, it is living, breathing entity. 

Within If Venice Dies, Mr. Settis pulls no punches and clearly articulates the grotesqueness of many proposals which could literally convert the City of Venice from a global cultural treasure into a virtual comical sideshow of its former self. These range from a ring of skyscrapers, to amusement parks, to mega-cruise ship overload, to a myriad of other fanciful ideas. Meanwhile, the real world problems that need to be addressed, such as the literal depopulation of the city’s historic center do to ever-escalating real estate prices and rents, remain unaddressed and unchecked. It’s as if the leaders are trying to fix systemic problems with masking tape.

The simple premise Mr. Settis articulates throughout his outstanding book is, “Why not focus on what made Venice great in the first place instead of trying to re-invent it or recreate it?” Don’t kill a city’s soul by turning it into something it was never meant to be. Not every city is meant to be a Las Vegas, an Orlando, or a Macao. This is a point that city leaders worldwide should be reminding themselves of constantly.

As a professional urban planner who has been working in the trenches for nearly 30 years, If Venice Dies spoke to me like few other planning books ever have — to my heart. It will remain a permanent part of my personal library and I highly recommend it be included in yours too. Ciao!

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The Venice Effect: Destination cities imperiled by mass tourism

Source: princess

Source: princess

Mass tourism can be roughly defined as thousands of people going to the same destination, often at the same time of the year, and often arriving in large, consecutive human waves. Examples of these human waves of tourism include, but are not limited to those times when enormous cruise ships dock and disembark or when weekly turnover occurs at area wide lodging and vacation rentals.

In his authoritative book, If Venice Dies, author Salvatore Settis notes the following about Venice’s pending demise as a real city:

“The plurality of functions once performed by Venice’s historic city center has now died and been supplanted by a tourist monoculture.” (page 11)

Similar accounts of Venice’s plight in the media have estimated that the city’s historic core could actually be void of any and all actual Venetians (long-term or full-time residents) by the year 2030! What has led to this potential calamity in Venice and some of the world’s foremost travel destination cities? In short, mass tourism. Based on data presented in Mr. Settis’ book, “tourists outnumber Venetians 140 to 1.” (page 10 – bold emphasis added) I refer to this problem of mass tourism altering a city’s very being as “The Venice Effect.” Essentially, it is a problem of loving a place (or city) too much.

Aerial image of the historic center of Venice - Source:

Aerial image of the historic center of Venice – Source:

Venice is not alone in this perilous situation, as Barcelona, Spain; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Lisbon, Portugal; Phuket, Thailand and many other destination cities of varying sizes being literally crushed by repeated waves of tourists. I have observed it living here in Traverse City as each successive wave of weekly rentals arrive during the summer and when 500,000 visitors converge on the city during the National Cherry Festival in July, as well as in Bar Harbor (population 5,235) and Ketchikan (population 13,477) when cruise ships packed full of excited tourists arrive in these small port cities. In fact, before my wife and I traveled to Bar Harbor in August 2016, we were advised to stay out of the downtown area on the days that cruise ships were in town to avoid the crowds.

Cruise ships docked off Bar Harbor - Source:

Cruise ships docked off Bar Harbor – Source:

Among the factors that have accelerated the impacts of mass tourism in recent years are:

  • Airbnb, VRBO, and similar websites which allow for homeowners to easily rent rooms or dwellings – this can balloon the number of visitors well beyond traditional lodging
  • Larger and more numerous cruise ships (for oceanfront locations)
  • Advent of deep discount and no-frill airlines making air travel more affordable
  • Second, third, or fourth vacation homes for the wealthy
  • Investor-scale buying of residential properties and converting them into vacation rentals

Mr. Settis dramatizes this phenomenon with the following summary in his book:

“While the city [Venice] steadily empties out, the rich and famous continue to flock to it, ready to pay any price to purchase a house–which becomes a status symbol they tend to use for only five days a year. This influx has dramatically distorted the market in a manner that drives Venetians out of their own city, making it a capital of second-home owners, who briefly appear with great pomp and flash before vanishing into ether for months at a time.” (pages 9-10)

As highlighted, all of these factors combine to drive up property values/rents beyond what is affordable to year-round residents, thus pushing locals from the historic city center and into the suburbs or elsewhere. In the worse case scenarios, what’s left behind could be best described as a pseudo-fake, Disney Main Street theme park, facsimile of its former self. In other words, waves of cruise-ship crowds and landlubbing vacationers wandering the historic streets (or canals), all the while being blitzed with a monotonous array of tourist traps, high prices, and kitschy schlock. Walt would be quite proud. The rest of us…not so much.

Source: Record-Eagle/Jan-Michael Stump - Crowds pack Union Street for Sunday's National Cherry Festival Old Town Classic Car Show and Arts and Crafts Fair in Traverse City.

Source: Record-Eagle/Jan-Michael Stump – Crowds pack Union Street for Sunday’s National Cherry Festival Old Town Classic Car Show and Arts and Crafts Fair in Traverse City.

For a city to be true to itself and therefore be a truthful representation of what tourists want to see, destination cities must remain culturally vibrant, economically active and diverse, and faithfully honor those virtues that made the city unique in the first place. That does not mean the city should be shackled in some sort of protracted stasis, like a museum piece put on display in an enormous showcase.  The destination city must be allowed to renew, reinvent, and regenerate itself as necessary–otherwise it will gradually wither away.

How to accomplish such an equilibrium is no small task. Here are some thoughts and ideas:

  • Develop clear goals and objective within the master plan which promote a vibrant, diverse, and healthy community.
  • Advocate for practicing the ten principles of responsible tourism.
  • Establish and support a downtown development authority.
  • Protect what is truly special, but do not overly restrict innovation in the process.
  • Regulate short-term rentals and establish a registration or licensing process.
  • Enforce your zoning code if it prohibits short-term rentals. Otherwise, you must accept the fact that there will be consequences.
  • Limit cruise dockings and/or the size of ships allowed to berth.
  • Impose minimum affordable or workforce housing quotas as a condition in special land use permits.
  • Increase housing opportunities by allowing tiny houses, bungalow courts, accessory dwelling units, and cottage clusters.
  • Incentivize local ownership of businesses and property.
  • Work with non-profits to acquire properties and/or protect local ownership.
  • Promote buy or shop local programs.
  • Seek grants and other opportunities to enhance those attributes which make the city special.
  • Continually assess the situation and adjust goals, rules, ordinances, and incentives as is deemed necessary.
  • Continually think and plan outside the box.

Being a tourist destination city can be a positive attribute in many instances, as vacationers help fuel the local economy and job market. It can also be enjoyable for residents, as we are afforded more culture, entertainment, and/or recreation opportunities than residents of other cities of a comparable size. However,  too much of a good thing can be detrimental.

For popular destination cities, too much of a good thing can literally be a matter of civic life and death. As a result, it is imperative to find that happy medium between the needs of the year-round residents and of the shorter-term visitors. Not doing so can and will imperial the very essence of the city, as has been demonstrated in Venice. Hopefully, Venice and the other destination cities facing the problems associated with mass tourism will find a suitable equilibrium before it is too late. Few things could be more sad than seeing an unique and lovely city lose its heart and soul right before your eyes, especially when it was preventable.  Namaste!


In addition to the aforementioned book, If Venice Dies, here are some additional suggested readings on this subject.

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Metro areas most impacted by the new immigration ban


Interesting data from the Brookings Institutionis provided below which is related to existing immigrant residents in the United States from the recently banned seven (7) Muslim nations.  The data in the first chart shows those cities where these immigrant populations constitute the largest percentage of the overall metropolitan population. A wide variety of communities situated in parts of 16 states are represented in the chart. These new neighbors from Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Somalia, and Libya are and have been peacefully coexisting with their fellow metropolitan area residents.


Metro area Total population Total from banned countries Number from banned countries per 1,000 population
Detroit, MI 4,296,400 64,300 15.0
Modesto, CA 527,400 7,800 14.9
Los Angeles, CA 13,154,500 160,800 12.2
San Diego, CA 3,223,100 38,900 12.1
Rochester, MN 211,300 2,400 11.4
St. Cloud, MN 191,800 1,800 9.6
San Jose, CA 1,925,700 16,600 8.6
Fargo, ND-MN 223,400 1,800 8.2
Harrisonburg, VA 129,200 900 7.2
Lincoln, NE 315,100 2,100 6.8
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI 3,458,800 23,500 6.8
Columbus, OH 1,972,400 12,200 6.2
Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV 5,949,400 36,000 6.0
Iowa City, IA 161,500 900 5.6
Portland, ME 520,900 2,900 5.6
Grand Island, NE 84,000 400 5.3
Nashville, TN 1,761,800 8,800 5.0
Seattle, WA 3,614,400 17,900 5.0
San Francisco-Oakland, CA 4,528,900 22,000 4.8
Ann Arbor, MI 354,100 1,700 4.8

Note: Data for Libya, one of the seven nations affected by the order, were not available.
Source: Brookings analysis of 2011-2015 5-year American Community Survey data. Observations rounded to nearest 100.

Similarly, this second chart from the Brookings Institution provides a breakdown showing the number of immigrants from each of the seven (7) banned nations for the 20 metropolitan areas  with the largest combined population of these immigrants. Twenty (20) states are represented in this chart. Nearly three-fourths (3/4’s) of all immigrants from these seven nations live in the 20 metropolitan areas listed below.


Metro area Iran Iraq Somalia Sudan Syria Yemen Total
Los Angeles, CA 136,000 8,500 500 600 14,900 100 160,800
Detroit, MI 1,600 46,800 0 200 4,300 11,300 64,300
New York, NY-NJ-PA 21,700 3,300 300 1,900 10,900 11,100 49,100
San Diego, CA 10,700 24,400 2,400 300 1,100 100 38,900
Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV 21,500 5,600 2,900 3,500 2,000 500 36,000
Chicago, IL 6,700 13,100 900 700 5,700 1,400 28,400
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI 1,400 800 19,900 1,100 100 100 23,500
San Francisco-Oakland, CA 16,300 1,400 0 300 900 3,000 22,000
Houston, TX 10,300 4,700 900 900 1,700 100 18,500
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX 8,700 4,800 1,400 1,900 1,100 100 18,000
Seattle, WA 5,900 2,600 7,500 800 600 400 17,900
Phoenix, AZ 5,100 8,600 1,300 1,400 900 100 17,300
San Jose, CA 14,200 1,500 300 200 400 0 16,600
Atlanta, GA 5,300 1,900 2,600 1,300 900 100 12,200
Columbus, OH 1,100 1,400 8,900 200 500 0 12,200
Boston, MA-NH 4,200 1,500 2,200 600 1,900 0 10,400
Riverside-San Bernardino, CA 5,100 1,500 100 0 2,600 100 9,400
Nashville, TN 1,700 3,900 1,600 1,200 200 200 8,800
Sacramento, CA 6,100 1,400 200 100 500 100 8,400
Modesto, CA 4,300 3,100 0 0 100 300 7,800
Total for 20 metro areas 288,000 140,800 53,900 17,200 51,300 29,100 580,500
All other metro areas 76,900 49,400 25,500 22,000 23,800 10,300 208,000

Note: Data for Libya, one of the seven nations affected by the order, were not available.
Source: Brookings analysis of 2011-2015 5-year American Community Survey data. Observations rounded to nearest 100.

Just like all the immigrant populations that have preceded them, nearly all of the folks represented in the charts above are good, law-abiding residents (and/or citizens) who contribute daily to the diverse social, economic, religious, and cultural fabric of our nation. To categorize them otherwise, or to lump them all together is not only unfair, but does everyone, including ourselves, a great disservice.

I, for one, am truly grateful for my Muslim friends, and for those from all manner of beliefs and tenets. For our nation to truly thrive to its fullest and in the manner expressed in our founding documents, we must remain inclusive to all and turn our backs on those forces, both internal and external, that prey upon our fears and our differences.

Peace and Namaste!

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Protest at Cherry Capital Airport in TC

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Rad quotes from “The Minimalists”

Source: the

Source: the

In case you have never heard of The Minimalists, they are two gentlemen, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who have jettisoned rampant consumptive consumerism and adopted a lifestyle of minimalism. In other words, they have rejected the continuous accumulation of more and now adhere to living a lifestyle with less. As a result, they have discovered the truly meaningful things in life, including relationships, family, friendships, happiness, self-worth, and contentment.

Their engrossing memoir, Everything That Remains, contains many excellent quotes,  but I thought I would include a few favorite gems here.

“Our memories are not in our things. Our memories are within us.” (page 33)

“Desire always begets more desire.” (page 40)

“There is more joy and fulfillment in pursuing less than can be found in pursuing more.” (page 54)

“Truthfully, though, most organizing is nothing more than well-planned hoarding.” (page 69)

“Those assholes the Joneses are impossible to keep up with.” (page 105)

“Sometimes the best teacher is our most recent failure.” (page 158)

“The present day is the most exciting time in history to be an author.” (page 193)

“Any man who thinks he is going to work less after getting a promotion is setting himself up with a poor expectation, one that will lead to pain and disappointment in the long run.” (page 206)

“Discontent sets in when you start living life for everyone else.” (page 213)

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