Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Streetsblog.net

The Value of “Good Enough Urbanism”

In the urbanist blogosphere, there's a lot of discussion about "getting density right" -- the art and science of designing good urban space and codifying those qualities in zoning.

false

Today at Strong Towns blog, Andrew Burleson has something interesting to add. Burleson says many of our cities have been so profoundly weakened that, short of bulldozing and starting over, they will never be "perfect." A zoning code that attempts to produce a perfect urban environment may not be the right path forward in such a case. What really matters, according to Burleson, is whether a space attracts people. Sometimes places that draw people in are less than perfect from an urban design perspective, Burleson says, and that's OK:

The most important thing for the 21st Century is that our places be highly productive -- meaning they've got to generate private sector and public sector cash flow that makes them economically sustainable. The building [above right] probably does OK for public sector cash flow, but it is not good enough because it doesn't create vitality that will radiate to the adjacent properties and power a chain of transformation.

What creates private-sector vitality -- i.e. valuable property that can generate high rents? Well, property value is driven by the ability of a place to attract people (it's net attraction). How do we attract people to a place? Jane Jacobs and William Whyte taught us this one a long time ago: people are attracted to other people.

Burleson compares two places: a Milwaukee gas station "hidden" by a corner building that has design qualities espoused by urbanists, which is still surrounded by a terrible walking environment; and a Houston restaurant that is lacking from a design perspective but is still very successful as an urban place. Burleson says we can apply these ideas to our imperfect cities to help promote real change:

Good enough urbanism is the next step after tactical urbanism. It's reclaiming everything we can from the spaces we have, and doing everything possible to put people on the street. It's just a little bit more durable and longer-lived than a "paint and traffic cones" intervention. But the amazing thing is, this is the kind of stuff that can change the culture of a place -- and THAT is the real battle we're fighting.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Bicycle Alliance of Washington prepares for a big vote that could slow traffic considerably on neighborhood streets around the state. Portland Transport reports that the city is preparing to vote on new, impressively low parking minimums. And NRDC Switchboard explains why the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the "most important law you've never heard of."

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Wednesday’s Headlines Are in a Good Place

How should we react to public indifference about the danger cars pose to society? Perhaps a sitcom has something to teach us.

July 24, 2024

Opinion: Is Kamala Harris ‘The Climate President We’ve Been Waiting For’?

Kamala Harris fought hard for a better transportation plan in the San Diego region despite big political risks. If elected president, will she do the same for the country?

July 24, 2024

America is Setting Micromobility Records — But That Boom Could Go Bust Without Public Funding

Shared bike and scooter trips soared 20 percent in a single year. So why are so many U.S. systems shutting down — and what will it take to keep the revolution rolling?

July 24, 2024

Get on the bus! Advocates Urge Mayor Johnson to Save Chicago Greyhound Terminal

According to the letter, rehabbing the station would cost less that $40M, a small fraction of the price tag of many other local transportation projects.

July 23, 2024

Tuesday’s Headlines Are Running Hard

More political news: Today's top stories delve into Kamala Harris' record on climate change and Republicans' plans for the Trump administration if he returns to power.

July 23, 2024
See all posts