Our intentions for what citymakers should start - and stop - doing in 2019!
Last week, we asked you lovely Citymakers about your place-based resolutions for 2019 and provided a handy actionable guide for how to ensure you actually get them DONE! So this week, we’re sharing our very own intentions for what we hope to see more - and less of - in the citymaking space in 2019 and beyond!
Stop worrying about gentrification. Proactively plan to prevent displacement.
Yup, you read that right! We’ll be devoting a longer (deserved) piece to this later in the new year, but we wanted to highlight this right now, front and center, to set the tone for 2019. As our friend and colleague, CEO of Smart Growth America, Calvin Gladney puts it, “What we need to combat is not gentrification; it’s the displacement that's caused by gentrification.” When we demo the State of Place software to citymakers, some express concern regarding our forecasting analysis, which shows how increasing walkability and quality of place impacts real estate premiums and ROI — “but isn’t this causing gentrification?” This thinking is (unintentionally) fundamentally myopic, counterproductive, and borderline condescending. De facto, improving a neighborhood, making it more attractive, making it more livable - that’s going to raise its value. You can’t counter that. It’s unavoidable. The only way to stop it is to do nothing. And although some “naysayers” may be a-ok with that, that’s clearly not a tenable solution for true citymakers who care about communities - residents of distressed neighborhoods deserve a better built environment. So the key to ensure that those existing residents actually get to benefit from those improvements is to plan for the inevitable rise in value that come with revitalization and put policies and programs in place - ahead of the physical transformations (or as Calvin puts it, before the guy with the beard in the plaid shirt opens a coffee shop) - that will mitigate and help prevent unwanted displacement.
Stop giving away $$$ of incentives to ginormous, billionaire corporations (ahem no more Amazon HQ2-like competitions)
Speaking of gentrification…the whole Bachelor-esq cities vying for a rose by the name of Amazon game, while perhaps a bit of a “guilty-pleasure,” shed light on the age-old economic development problem of relying on incentives and subsidies to lure big corporations to cities. In the case of Amazon, not only did cities spend significant amounts of money just responding the the RFP itself, many seemed willing to give up the likes of their first born child to secure their “love.” Not only does this highlight the fundamentally broken RFP process (which we wrote about last year), Amazon’s eventual picks - DC and NYC - show that ultimately, a place-based approach to economic development - that is, investing all that cash they were willing to give away to Amazon into actually creating awesome places people - inherently - love - is the most effective way of winning over would-be Amazon-like suitors, in 2019 and beyond!
No more tech giant urban planners
Can we please, pretty please, all join forces to make the likes of Elon Musk just stop trying to play citymaker? Not only did 2018 reveal that perhaps Musk has become a bit unhinged, his over-the-top, futile proposals for citymaking, namely his famed tunnel, fell short - literally - at the end of 2018. I can’t quite put it better than Slate’s, Henry Grabar: “Like a car but without the freedom of movement, like a train without capacity, Musk’s creation is the transportation hybrid from hell.” While the engineering advances inherent to the tunneling itself might indeed help significantly curb the cost of creating new rail lines, let’s draw the line there. As we noted before with the FIU bridge collapse and the Uber autonomous vehicle fatality, tech itself must be a means to an end, not an end itself. Let’s not be so distracted by the shiny objects. We’ve gone down that rabbit hole before and it gave us 1000s of auto-dominated, unsustainable communities we’re all desperately trying to redevelop today.
Stop OBSESSING with what worked in other communities
While best practices can certainly serve as a source of inspiration - especially before and after pictures (I mean, who can resist those!) - citymakers must resist the temptation to copy/paste what other communities have done to improve walkability, livability, sustainability - insert whatever other “bility” you want here. Context matters. What worked in another city may not be appropriate in your city. Resident make-ups, wants, desires, priorities may differ. Economic realities may not line up. Resources and capacities may vary widely. And starting points are likely to be quite different. Remember, even though we unabashedly, unapologetically geekily advocate for a more data-driven approach to citymaking, there is no formula for great places. That’s why our software ALWAYS starts with understanding the existing assets and needs of a place, then evaluating priorities, customizing recommendations, and forecasting what that means for - your - community! Citymakers, you be you in 2019!
Once and for all, let’s stop victim blaming
Collisions are not accidents. Period. Full stop. End of story. Calling them that makes it seem like collisions are unavoidable, natural “side-effects” of everyday city life. But we know better. Better urban design can prevent collisions. Better urban design saves lives. Further, cars don’t cause collisions (autonomous vehicles aside), people do. Drivers do. Refusing to say a driver struck a pedestrian - and instead saying a car struck a pedestrian - annonomizes the person behind the wheel, the person controlling the car, and minimizes or even removes blame off of the driver. Finally, can we just start to accept that streets are for people!? and it’s driving that’s a privilege, not being a pedestrian or a bicyclist!? If we refocus our thinking in this way, not only will the lexicon we use to describe traffic, collisions, and cities in general change, the way we design places will be inherently more safe, inclusive, loveable - people-first! In 2019, let’s design for people, first, and the rest will follow!
More of This!
Let’s Design for our Lives!
In 2018, we made a concerted effort to dig deeper into the Vision Zero movement, and launched a blog series called Design for Our Lives, aimed at understanding what was working - and what wasn’t - with respect to the movement. Not only did we find that design was decidedly not a central part of most cities’ strategic plans to “get to zero,” we ultimately quantified the fact that yes, design is indeed a matter of life and death. Specifically, on average, a one point increase in State of Place reduced the odds of a collision by 12.3% on average!! Bottom line, Vision Zero programs - formally or otherwise - absolutely must think more holistically about their strategies - and that absolutely must include a central focus on design!
More car-free streets
So speaking of safer streets, we absolutely LOVE that 2018 was the year in which so many cities ultimately pushed back and did put people first. And we want MORE of that in 2019! The city center is a natural place to experiment and ultimately adopt car-free approaches, as Paris, Oslo, Madrid, and other cities have shown. Let’s do MORE of this in 2019 - and as Andy, our CTO has urged, let’s start thinking beyond the city center (although that in and of itself is a great aspiration and a wonderful way to start - even if it’s just experimenting with car-free days). So once you realize the world doesn’t end just because you ban cars from a street or two, cities should start thinking about how they can create ways to get across a city without being on a street with cars. Combinations of car-free streets, tram-only streets, parks, and shortcut paths are a great way to get started. Start thinking of car-free as a network in the city with big car-free hubs. Everyone will want to live on them and travel along them, just like transit lines.
More women-led citymaking
2018 finally began to not only shed light on the problems with the predominantly patriarchal nature of citymaking (i.e. most cities have been shaped and design by men, and it shows), it was the year where a big leap was made toward correcting the gender imbalance of the planning and development world. Woohoo! As a decidedly women-led startup ourselves, we couldn’t be more stoked to see the launch of the women-led cities initiative, spearheaded by urban anthropologist, Katrina Johnston Zimmerman, and we cannot wait to see what it has in store for 2019! As our resident “mommy,” COO, Michelle Woodhouse has touched upon how different her (and other) neighborhood(s) would - and should be - had it/they been design(ed) by a woman. We happen to think these would totally score higher on State of Place too! But separately, I’m also eager to see more women leaders in the citymaking movement - I’m so tired of being one of very few female speakers (or sometimes the only token woman) at conferences! Let’s infuse citymaking with more estrogen and elevate women’s voices! P.S. I LOVE how the women-led cities website is unapologetically - PINK! :)
We absolutely LOVE our ELGL partners - not just because they’re unapologetically nerdy, all things Leslie Knope approach rivals our unabashedly datageek, placeloving ethos, but because they have been crushing it, showcasing the importance of local governments across all facets of citymaking, in a fun, engaging, and spirited way. They are highlighting local leaders efforts to spearhead change, embrace innovation, and challenge the status quo (especially in their awesome podcast, GovLove!) - and we hope that this helps inspire all local government players to think outside the box in 2019!
More placemaking across the globe!
I recently had the honor of joining a convening of the world’s top placemakers in Wuhan, China, hosted by Project for Public Spaces and UNHabitat. It was the 18th international placemaking event in 2018 alone, marking, as Ethan Kent, one of its long-time leaders proclaims, the year that placemaking began to self-organize! We can’t wait not only to see what’s in store for the movement and how it begins to take shape globally across such varied contexts, but to become even more engaged in the movement, especially in terms of providing more metrics and evidence-based tools and guidance! Placelovers and Datageeks, unite!
More data! ;)
Sorry, had to add just one more bonus intention. I mean, it’s no secret we’re datageeks, so this list wouldn’t be genuine if we didn’t push for more data-driven approaches to Citymaking in 2019!! We believe with all of our hearts, souls, and yes, lefty-brains, that data-driven citymaking will help change the world! Why? One, it will make your life easier. How? Um, do we have to remind you how many nos you have to face, and how much time, money, and energy you then put into turning those Nays into Yays? And how you really really wished you had more than just a beautiful picture or plan to backup your vision? Sorry to tell you but those naysayers you’re trying to convince aren’t going to change. So you have to! Let us help you back up your amazing plans with the data that shows why you actually do know what you’re talking about - together we can translate your vision into their language!
And two, more fundamentally, let’s stop relying on just intuition and gut to make decisions. There’s like 30-40+ years of evidence that already shows what works and what doesn’t. I know it’s been a pain in the past to access that data and translate it into tangible guidance - which is why I have spent my life’s work doing that, and the last several years creating algorithms and forecast models, and coding that into our software (OK, Andy did the actual coding but you know what I mean!). We did all the hard work compiling this evidence so you don’t have to - instead, you get to like actually play Sim-City in real life, and spend less time convincing folks, less money doing studies, use your money more effectively - and even boost ROI - and spend your time getting awesome places people love - DONE! Let’s make it a win-win for 2019! Wanna know more? Schedule a time to chat with us and run through a demo, or get in there and get started today for free with your State of Place trial! :)
Also, we’d LOVE to know what your intentions are for 2019. Please share in the comments below!!