Friday, August 20, 2010

Fleming calls it "placemaking."

John Fleming, Manager of Implementation Planning, City of London, Ontario, was interviewed by The London Free Press reporter Randy Richmond back in 2006. It is interesting to look at a development that was featured in the paper as an example of New Urbanism in London and discover what we find today.

A porch in the New Urbanism development.
First, Fleming does not like the term New Urbanism according to Richmond's story. Fleming prefers "placemaking" as the term for developments where the cookie-cutter approach is out. Where porches wrap around the homes so that the street "gets a view of something architecturally interesting."

Richmond tells us that there are dozens of ways of turning subdivisions into more walkable, pleasant neighbourhoods.

I hate to break this to Fleming and Richmond but my neighbourhood, despite its crescents and cul-de-sacs, has sidewalks teaming with folk. They are out walking their dogs or simply strolling for the sheer pleasure of it. We don't need a special trail for strolling. No one does!

Heck, on my court the strollers don't even need a sidewalk.

And in my neighbourhood we don't need wrap-around porches to enjoy our paper, a coffee, and a chat with a neighbour. All the porches need to be is large enough for a chair or two. That's it.

In fact, the perfect porch may be the simplest porch. With no railings to rot and no roof to maintain, simple porches will not grow old, deteriorate and be demolished rather than repaired.

When I was a photographer with the paper I was surprised to learn how many older homes I visited for the Homes section originally had rather grand porches. Now, those porches only exist in pictures.

Personally, I like the cookie-cutter look. It is too bad that Richmond and Fleming don't. I like the condos that are part of the development The Free Press featured as an example of New Urbanism. I'm not disappointed but I wonder how Richmond and Fleming feel. Betrayed?

One feature of the New Urbanism development that didn't get deep sixed is the walking and jogging trail - an example of placemaking in action. It runs behind some homes and condos. A recent visit showed the trail was well used but not well maintained. The asphalt was cracked and blistered with plants pushing their way up and pushing the asphalt apart. Who is supposed to maintain this trail? The city?

John Fleming calls it "placemaking" rather than smart growth. I now know why. Smart growth could refer to weeds and not to the proposed developments that turn subdivisions into more walkable, pleasant neighbourhoods with the ultimate goal of a little more soul, a sense of place.

You know, I can't even write those words and keep a straight face.

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