50 Ideas for Better Cities

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The Architectural League of New York has come up with 50 catchy ideas for improving New York City—and a website that actually succeeds at explaining them

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I love these lists. This one comes from Urban Omnibus, "an online project of the Architectural League to create a new kind of conversation about design and New York City." In this case, they have captured 50 slogan-sized, broad ideas that they plan to "market" on posters around the city.

While ostensibly NYC-focused, they also, I think, apply most everywhere. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • #1: Combat climate change by adapting our existing building stock
  • #5: Map everything
  • #6: Use temporary structures to provide amenities to underserved communities
  • #7: Design for generational diversity
  • #15: Look at the city through the lens of food
  • #19: Use natural systems to support the city's infrastructure
  • #29: Coordinate like-minded, small-scale initiatives to activate otherwise isolated efforts
  • #34: Design recreational space by watching how people play
  • #41: Let citizens engage in the maintenance of infrastructure
  • #47: Make fire hydrants the anchors of temporary mini-parks

Each one includes a link to a thoughtful essay relating to the subject. For example, click on #7 (generational diversity) and you are taken to an article on "naturally occurring retirement communities" (NORCS) that says, in part:

First of all, the "naturally occurring" part is intriguing. We're interested in these sorts of bottom-up dynamics, and have explored them in previous projects.

But more importantly, we're interested in NORCS because we like them, and like what they do for the city. Of course, one of the greatest things about New York City is its diversity. New York City is a city that is supposed to tolerate - and maybe even encourage and engender - difference. New York is supposed to be a city where people of different races, classes, and lifestyles coexist, right? Well let's not forget that generational diversity is an important part of this ideal: just as NYC would be undermined by racial homogeneity, so too would it be undermined by age homogeneity.

Later, the article, which is also full of illustrations and images, continues:

People grow old, and instead of moving to a purpose-built retirement community in the suburbs or the sunbelt, they stay in the home and the community that they always lived in. "Aging in place," as some people call it, poses some challenges, but to NORC advocates, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages . . .

So what we're working on is an "Advocates Guide" to NORCs. We're enthusiastic about NORCs, and we would like to see more of them, and so we thought it would be a good idea to develop a book that would make the case for NORCs very clearly, but also supply people with a few items - postcards, maps, advertisements for example - that could help "sell" the NORC.

So what we have is a website full of great ideas, stated simply at the top level, and then expanded with deeper perspective for people who are interested. See the full list of ideas and links here, where you can also submit your own concepts. Why not submit them below in a comment, too?

The interactive aspect of the process seems similar in some ways to the "Give a Minute" concept launched last year in Chicago to solicit ideas for improving the city and scheduled to be launched in New York this month. Give a Minute appears to differ, though, in that it is intended more specifically to be a civic engagement tool for city government, rather than a repository of broader, more thought-provoking ideas. Both strike me as terrific, and I am particularly looking forward to digging into this one.



This post also appears at NRDC's Switchboard.
Image: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

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Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.
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