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VOL. 126 | NO. 181 | Friday, September 16, 2011

Dan Conaway

Dan Conaway

Good Old Brand-New

By Dan Conaway

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NEW URBANISM MAKES GOOD, OLD COMMON SENSE. As Chooch Pickard, executive director of the Memphis Regional Design Center, rolled through his PowerPoint, I was struck by a powerful, hopeful, sense of déjà vu.

Before everybody had a car, or several of them, neighborhoods and their support systems were designed to be walked, biked, shared. Before cars dictated lifestyle, people did. Before how big, how wide, how new and how much mattered nearly as much, how you got along with your neighbors did. When driving everywhere for everything – one to a car, a great big car – wasn’t feasible, we had to make neighborhoods work. When building ever larger, ever faster, ever further with seemingly endless resources wasn’t driving us, we drove less, visited more and lived at a more sustainable pace.

It was a simpler time whose time has come again. While you can’t live in the past, you can learn from it, and combine the best of what used to work with the best of modern design principles and thoughtful planning to make our neighborhoods – our city – work again.

Here, then, courtesy of Chooch’s PowerPoint (and my editorial embellishment), are the “10 Principles of New Urbanism.” See if you don’t feel like you’ve been there before, and liked the place:

1. Walkability. You know, like, walkable. Things close. Buildings and people close to the street, on porches, in doorways. Things you want to see out front, stuff you don’t in the back. Tree-lined, slow-speed streets. Benches, flowers, folks engaged. 2. Connectivity. A street grid that makes sense, a hierarchy of narrow streets, boulevards and alleys dispersing traffic and returning neighborhoods to people. 3. Mixed-Use and Diversity. A mix of shops, offices, apartments and homes – within neighborhoods, within blocks, within buildings. A mix of everybody – ages, income levels, cultures and races. 4. Mixed Housing. A range of type, size and price in closer proximity 5. Quality Architecture and Urban Design. Please. And hurry. An emphasis on the beautiful use of space on a human scale, creating a sense of place. 6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure. A discernible edge and center, and plenty going on in the center for everybody within a 10-minute stroll. 7. Increased Density. Where you live and what you need, physically and spiritually, closer together to create a more convenient, enjoyable place for your life. 8. Smart Transportation. While we need quality public, dependable transportation, we must recognize bicycles, rollerblades, scooters – and walking – as transportation and encourage and accommodate their use. 9. Sustainability. Low-impact development, eco-friendly technology, energy efficiency – and maybe fewer cretins throwing whatever they’re through with out the window, and more of us picking it up when they do. 10. Quality of Life. Something well worth living, in concert with each other, enriched and inspired by daily experience.

Think about it, it simply makes sense. It did for Central Gardens at the beginning of the 20th century, for Harbor Town almost a century later, and for the promise of tomorrow.

I’m a Memphian, and it’s time we got back in touch with each other.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.

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