Required Reading: Green Metropolis

Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability, by David Owen, should be required reading for anyone working or providing input in the transportation, city planning and energy – specifically, sustainability – spaces.

After finishing the book earlier this year, I wrote the author the email below to express my appreciation. I’m including my email here because it serves as a nice nice introduction and summary of my key takeaways.

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Doing Business in China

Photo journal from two weeks in the PRC

For my last class of my MBA experience, I enrolled in a two-week international elective – called Doing Business In China – through Arizona State University and Peking University. The course featured stops in Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, with a mix of lectures from Peking University professors, company visits, sight-seeing tours, cultural activities and lots and lots of great food.

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Fixing Phoenix

Burned Palm Tree

“We have a way to make successes out of the unsuccessful. But first we have to be frank about a subject that we would all too often rather ignore.” — Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers

A city’s reputation depends largely on two factors: the airport and downtown. — Jeff Speck (paraphrased), City Planner and author of Walkable City, speaking at the Urban Tactics Symposium as part of Phoenix Urban Design Week

When I finished the book, Walkable City by Jeff Speck, my head spun with ideas after his last chapter encouraged us to pick the winners in our cities: finding places where the least money can make the most difference.

Speck advises to focus on improving streets already formed by buildings, with the potential to attract and sustain street life. In essence, low-hanging fruit.

For example, we could put Central Avenue on a road diet and add bike lanes.* Maybe the missing teeth in the Roosevelt Row area could be filled with more art, community gardens, shaded meeting spaces, and fitness structures like pull-up bars. Or, perhaps Downtown could finally get an easily accessible grocery store. Combine that with more market-rate housing and you’ve got yourself some nice building blocks.

Originally, I intended this article to focus and elaborate on those ideas. I was going to pick a few areas in the city that were almost there, and explain the little projects that could be done to make them sustain street life. But not so fast.

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Book Review: Walkable City

Walkable City

In the past decade I’ve studied in the Spanish beach town of Alicante; backpacked through Dublin, Aberdeen, London, Amsterdam and Prague; crashed on a couch for two months in Boulder; taught English in Koga, Japan – on the outskirts of Tokyo; freelanced in Santiago, Chile; and visited friends and family in San Diego, New York and San Francisco.

What’s the common denominator?

The void I feel every time I come back to Phoenix.

That sounds harsh, but don’t take it personally.

The Valley is my home and has many assets – my family and friends are here, I have a great job, the weather is nice, cost of living is pretty manageable, Spring Training and convenient outdoor recreation – but Phoenix still pales in comparison to the excitement I find in many of those other cities.

Often, I struggled to grasp why I felt such a void in Phoenix. I even felt guilty for always getting the travel bug, and not being able to find the excitement, culture and lifestyle I had enjoyed elsewhere.

Why should things be so different back home? Am I being lazy? Maybe the familiar setting is making too comfortable?

I worried that I was being unfair or jaded toward my hometown.

But then, I heard city planner Jeff Speck interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air, talking about his book “Walkable City” and, specifically, the four factors that make a city walkable: to be favored, a walk must be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting.

  • Useful: Most aspects of daily life are located nearby and organized in a way that walking serves them well.
  • Safe: Streets are designed so pedestrians are protected from being hit by automobiles.
    • (“pedestrian vs automobile” is a recurring and important theme; if you want to be dramatic, we can call it “man vs machine”)
  • Comfortable: Buildings and landscapes shape urban streets into well-defined, cozy outdoor living rooms, rather than wide-open spaces.
  • Interesting: Sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces. Signs of humanity abound.

I bought the book and tore through it – taking notes, nodding my head and exclaiming “A ha!” (silently, to myself) at many points along the way.

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