Daniel Nairn’s Discovering Urbanism has quickly become a “must-read” for me, and I recommend you to spend some time at his site, too. He writes about transportation, transit, growth, growth politics, smart growth (not necessarily “smart” growth, but smart growth – as in, intelligent, thoughtful, considered growth), new urbanism, human settlement patterns … all of which contribute to my insatiable need to learn about everything relating to real estate.
I frequently find myself referring to his posts, most recently:
Michael Pollan is known for writing about food, but his first book still stands as a classic gardening autobiography. One of the enduring premises of Second Nature (and an earlier NYT feature) is his eloquent description of the strangeness and pervasiveness of American lawn culture: those sheer-cut acres of the same Kentucky Bluegrass layering the ground from coast to coast. Today, there are burgeoning lawn reform movements among gardeners to question the convention.
Research has measured the total acreage of lawns in the U.S to be about 40 million (and growing), making turf grass the number one irrigated crop in the country. Although yards may literally be green, there is very little environmental benefit to them. The compacted soil functions as an impervious surface for stormwater run-off, and grass under six inches does little good for erosion control. The species monoculture of most lawns creates habitat dead space. A large chunk of household water use goes to lawn upkeep. Although they may sequester some carbon, the methane released by trashed grass clippings cancels a lot of this out. And the big one is the pesticides and fertilizers applied and washed into surrounding waterways.
Pollan asks: Why do we still do this?
The customer interface in an urban environment has the ability to be more prolonged and textured. The proverbial window shopping experience piques the imagination of customers by putting actual products right in front of them. The window display can be changed, so the experience changes with time. The chalk board announces the special of the day. Perhaps there are smells wafting out from the bakery, or the familiar clanging of glasses alerting the customer to the bustle of a restaurant inside. The retail environment can spill out onto the public realm and beckon passers-by to ease themselves in, something William H. Whyte called the “sensory street.” Most importantly, the customers themselves are on display, either siting outside at cafe tables or browsing the goods in the window. People are attracted to the hub-bub.
There may been no shortage of monday morning quarterbacking over the housing crash, but University of Virginia planning professor Bill Lucy sits in a unique position to offer a more comprehensive analysis of how the recession may be reshaping our communities. Having studied for over thirty years the spatial ebbs and flows of the housing market, and publishing in 2006 with colleague David Phillips Tomorrow’s Cities, Tomorrow’s Suburbs, he is prepared to fit this event into the longer view and wider frame of the contemporary situation. His recently released book Foreclosing the Dream tells this story.
Last week’s numbers from the National Association of Realtors reveal that home values have turned downward again, dampening hopes that the economy may be out of the woods. We’ve already heard all of the blame being poured onto predatory lenders, credulous homebuyers, negligent oversight agencies, and maybe a corrupt politician or two, but we’re left with the feeling that there must be some deeper undercurrent to all of this. Do we really think a few tweaks in the financial system and legal structure will patch things up for good? Bill Lucy suggests that the “American Dream” itself, or at least how it’s currently visualized, will have to be adjusted to thrive in a new economy.
“We are at the threshold of some sort of reversal,” Lucy writes. There’s evidence of a reversal of the conventional flight to the suburbs, according to a variety of indicators.