Wednesday, April 3, 2013

April Fool’s Day

Between the Petaluma Station Area plan and the Red Barn project, it’s been a focused few weeks for blog writing.  I’m not complaining.  The Chinese saying “May you live in interesting times” has been described as a curse.  Personally, I’ve always understood it as hope.  I’d find it disappointing to live my years in boring times.  But I’ve avoided that fate.  These are indeed interesting times for urbanism.

However the last few weeks have been so interesting that the fun stuff has been shoved aside.  Such as April Fool’s Day.  I knew April 1 fell earlier this week, but decided that civic responsibility required me to finish with Red Barn before frivolity.

Today, I’ll return to the frivolous.

For those new to this blog, I first did an April Fool’s post a year ago.  My focus wasn’t practical jokes, but the odd and quirky stuff that accumulates around urbanism.  The kind of links that, most days, don’t make this blog.

After that first post, I realized that there are too many eccentric urbanism bits and pieces floating around the internet to wait a full year for another installment.  So I began Quarterly Fun posts to supplement April Fool’s Day.

But April 1, or its reasonable proximity, remains the real thing.  I hope the following provide a few smiles of amusement before we return to the day-to-day task of promoting urbanism.

Urbanism Field of 32: As most readers hopefully understand, urbanism isn’t about a small handful of solutions, such as a downtown location or wide sidewalks.  Instead, it’s a broad panoply of tools and concepts that can be tailored to specific situations.

In recognition of this reality, and of the ongoing NCAA basketball tournaments, Atlantic Cities assembled their top thirty-two urbanism concepts, seeded them into a single-elimination tournament, and opened the door to popular voting.

There were a few upsets in the first round of the tournament, but most favorites still advanced.  However, by the time the Final Four was selected, there was a true Cinderella, with Congestion Pricing beating out #1 seed Car Share.  Is Congestion Pricing the Wichita State of urbanism?

Residential over Retail: Most urbanists love the idea of mixed-use, with residential over retail being a particular favorite.  However, it’s hard to understand how a Chinese developer thought that single-family homes on top of a shopping mall would be a good idea.  Apparently the writers of the zoning code concurred.  The city hasn’t yet allowed the homes to be occupied.

Bicycles from Car Parts: In a metaphor for the future of urban transportation, a skilled craftsman built a functioning bicycle out of used car parts.

Fenestration Compilation: A young New Yorker found himself intrigued by the range of window design, so began collecting images and transforming them into images highlighting the fenestration details.

Making Utility Structures Go Away: Faced with an unsightly concrete utility box marring an otherwise attractive neighborhood, an artist used photo-realistic art to make it disappear.

The Urban Economics of the Kardashians: Richard Florida used the encampment of a pair of Kardashians in a Miami suburb as an opportunity to muse on economic externalities and economics of efficient solutions.

Jay Z Rides the Subway: It was presumably a gimmick for Jay Z to ride the subway enroute to a concert that he’d be headlining.  But it highlighted the use of transit.  And it resulted in an adorable scene in which he had to introduce himself to an elderly woman.

The Railroad Bridge Wins Every Time: Those who have worked in land use know that railroads have extraordinary rights for the retention of their lands and improvements.  It’s a carry-over from the 19th century when the railroads were granted those rights as the bringers of economic prosperity.

The railroad powers include the right to own a bridge that results in a substandard clearance over a city street.  Combined with the poor reading comprehension of too many drivers, a Durham, North Carolina exacts an ongoing toll on rubber-tired vehicles.  (Note: The soundtrack is corny.  If you’re at work, you may want to turn off your speakers.)

I hope this was a fun tour of the more off-beat areas of urbanism.  The next post will taken us back into more serious topics.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

(Note: The photo above is from the Atlantic Cities article on windows.)

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