Morgantown’s People Mover

Transportation is one of my favorite topics here at The New Localization. It’s so basic and yet it’s such an economic, environmental, social, and political heavyweight. It has everything to do with the design of our cities. As late as the 1970s, we Americans were still dreaming of new and innovative ways to move people from Point A to Point B, but fresh ideas today seem a bit harder to come by.

That’s why I was pretty excited to discover this radical transportation mode operating in Morgantown, West, Virginia: Continue reading

Formula Business Restrictions & The Fight Against Cookie Cutter Places

imageWhen Paula and I travel, one of our favorite things to do is to search out unique places of character. Now there are many factors that go into making a place unique and special, but the one most immediately obvious to us is the clustering of small, one-of-a-kind locally owned businesses within a walkable area. Here in Central Texas, towns such as Fredericksburg and Wimberley are so successful with this design that they are consistently listed as top day-trip tourist destinations, well worth the hour long trip it takes us in Austin to get there and linger for a day. These places offer a stark contrast to the collections of chain stores and big box developments which, by their very nature, turn any location into an Anywhere, USA. Continue reading

Why Did the Streetcar Disappear?

imageA few weeks ago I penned what I considered a clever narrative about the rise of the automobile to the point of our present-day near complete dependence upon it. In that post, I made the assumption that the automobile earned its preferred status by out-competing all other modes of transportation in the hearts and minds of the American people and our policymakers. Well today I take up my (virtual) pen once again to tell you that in making this seemingly safe assumption, I mistakenly left out of this narrative a chapter of our public transportation history so dripping with drama and intrigue that when I found out about it this past week I could hardly sleep soundly at night. It is the story of the humble electric streetcar (also known as the trolley, tram, or urban rail), the undisputed king of public transportation in the early part of the twentieth century. Continue reading

The Body & Soul of Great Places

family in Downtown LittletonOne of the most interesting things I ever picked up in a theology class is that ghosts and zombies are opposites. As human beings, we are made up of body (the physical form that makes us visible to the world) and soul (the essence that animates and moves us). So united are these natures that the idea of separating them is actually frightening; zombie movies illustrate the effects of animating corpses without souls, and ghost movies reflect what happens when our spirit or essence floats around without the body.  Neither result is appealing. That’s because these two natures are interconnected in ways that we can’t even imagine. In a similar way, we can think about cities as having a body (the physical form and built environment) and a soul (the people and actions that give a city its life and energy).  Just as in the case of human beings, each part is necessary and it is the combination of the two that creates a great place. Continue reading

The Economic Cost of Auto-Dependence

Two CarsRecently, Paula and I started talking about the possibility of turning our two-car family into a one-car family. In many ways, this kind of downsizing makes a lot of sense. Both of us love riding bikes and having only one car would give us the extra incentive to use them for our short trips around the neighborhood, building exercise right into our daily routine. Financially, we’d save a fairly significant amount of money on gas, maintenance, and insurance. And while it’s not always at the forefront of our minds, it’s worth noting that with automobile accidents as the leading cause of death among those between the ages of 5 to 44 getting out from behind the wheel could make us safer as well.  Yet still we hesitate. We cannot escape the fact that in a world where everything is so spread out, not having access to a car feels like living on an island without a boat. Sure we could swim to the mainland every time we need a pint of milk but frankly it’s a burden.  A hundred years ago, we lived in a compact and connected world in which the automobile was a luxury and a convenience. Today, even having just one car seems impractical. So how did we end up this way? Continue reading

A Place for the Bicycle

imageFor my birthday a few months ago my wife gave me a pannier – a bag that attaches to my bike. It was a simple gift that unexpectedly opened up my world. I had always liked the idea of biking to work but it just wasn’t very enjoyable with a heavy backpack weighing me down in intense Texas heat. Now, I’m riding to the office at least three days a week and looking forward to my commute, what used to be the worst part of my day. I’m using less gas, avoiding the stress of rush hour, and getting in some regular exercise without cutting into the precious hours I have with my son between work and bedtime. It has been a great thing for me and I think in general more bikers and fewer drivers is a great thing for any place. So how do we get more citizens on two wheels instead of four? Well here are a few things I’ve noticed in the past few months that I think greatly improve a place’s bike-ability: Continue reading

A Place for the Child Explorer

Montessori BedThis week my wife and I disassembled our six-month-old’s crib in favor of a Montessori bed, which is basically a mattress on the floor in the corner of the room next to a mirror. The idea seems strange at first, but as our son becomes more mobile he will be able to wake up, explore his room and play with his toys, discovering his own independence as he is able to do all of these things without our help. That’s an independence we want to continue to develop as he gets older. It may be just his room that he is exploring now, but there’s a whole world out there and we want him to discover it for himself. But in a society where you’re more likely to get the cops called on you than win parent of the year by letting your child roam, is this dream of ours possible? Continue reading

Accounting for Great Places

imageReading Wendell Berry’s The Gift of Good Land, I was struck by the simplest thought: that “local” is more than a philosophy; it’s a physical attachment to a particular piece of earth. In fact, that very attachment is what makes us “local” and distinguishes us from national organizations that don’t have the same allegiance. Those businesses untethered to place are generally more interested in financial gain than the long-term health of the community. If the location no longer serves their interests these parties can simply pick up and leave, to the further detriment of the city. Continue reading

A Place Worth Coming Home To

imageIn my last post I made the argument that in order to build a legacy, LeBron James needed to root himself deeply in community, to become as closely associated with Cleveland as Michael Jordan was with Chicago. Cleveland is LeBron’s home, and I think most of us were thrilled to hear that he will be returning this coming year. He explained his decision by reflecting on his deep ties to Northeast Ohio – ties so strong that four successful years with the Miami Heat weren’t enough to make him forget. LeBron is coming home.

LeBron’s story is a great example of the kind of migration that hometowns across the nation are experiencing. Continue reading