Finding Planning Inspiration on a Cold Winter Night

Much of the country has been in a brutal cold weather vice grip these past weeks with no signs of warmth breaking though soon. These are the times I like to grab a good book, a cup of hot tea and find someplace warm to hunker down. Luckily there are some great reads out there to cure the winter blues, most notably the new release by F. Kaid Benfield, “People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think about Greener, Healthier Cities.” The book, a collection of 25 essays from one of America’s best urban thinkers, combines wit, pop culture, idealism and technical insights to create a thought-provoking, soul-searching and inspiring look at environmental urbanism, smart growth, urban design and architecture. If you are not a follower of Kaid’s regular urban blog on NRDC’s Switchboard, this is your chance to read a compilation of his work that is both familiar yet fresh and perhaps his most personal.

The first page pulled me in with the wonderful notion of cities of the imagination. Growing up on a farm in rural Minnesota, I also dreamed of The City – what it must feel like, look like and what promise must lie there. Rarely does reality live up to a person’s fantasy, and yet as planners, architects and engineers this is what we are daily asked to do … to help make the dream and then implement it. Reading Kaid’s book you see where we’ve fallen short, but also where we as practitioners and a profession could go if our ideals and vision are strong enough. This book was a great follow-up to Charles Montgomery’s “Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design” which came out earlier last year.

“When revitalization of our distressed neighborhoods is done well, it is almost unrivaled in its ability to advance simultaneously the ‘triple bottom line’ goals of sustainability …. we must first understand why cities, once seen as a source of environmental problems, can be better understood as a source of environmental solutions.” – F. Kaid Benfield

ITDP's TOD Standard 2.0 offers visually compelling technical guidance for transit development practitioners and advocates.

ITDP's TOD Standard 2.0 offers visually compelling technical guidance for transit development practitioners and advocates.

For those preferring a more technical read, two excellent publications also came out earlier this month. Just as Hollywood likes to dust off and update a great original hit, both are revised versions of earlier technical guides. The first publication, “TOD Standard 2.0,” was released by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). I love this publication for its ability to present specific, detailed technical information (including a set of terrific TOD Principles and Performance Measures) in a visually stunning, easy to utilize format. It’s targeted for international audiences working to coordinate development around bus or rail transit, but useful for those of us working in the US as well. Be ready to see some great TOD examples from around the globe!

The second publication, The Innovative DOT, is an update by Smart Growth America and the State Smart Transportation Initiative. If you didn’t read the original, this is your chance! Chapters focus on specific innovative practices used by state departments of transportation in the areas of planning, pricing, road design standards, system operations, and financing. This year’s update has a strong emphasis on utilizing revenues to maximize public return on investment.

“Faced with tight budgets, transportation agencies are taking new approaches to managing our nation’s transportation infrastructure. The resources in The Innovative DOT encourage smarter investments and a more strategic approach to help deliver the best possible performance given our current fiscal situation.” - Roger Millar, Vice President of Smart Growth America.

Hopefully you’ll have a chance to pick up one of these books, or maybe suggest another that has inspired you. As the great urbanist Dr. Seuss once wrote, “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” In this case, hopefully it’s the more great places we’ll make!