Currently watching a presentation featuring Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, Jane Grabowski-Miller, Mary Jukuri, and Robert Gibbs, speaking on all aspects of the creation of the Middleton Hills development.
We're 3 minutes in, and they've already mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright.
I'm attending the Congress for the New Urbanism gathering in Madison this week, hoping to bring back some ideas (and energy) for Franklin. If we had train service between Madison and Milwaukee, I could be writing blog entries during my trips back and forth to the CNU 19 gathering; as it is, I'll have to catch up in the evenings.
In the meantime, here are some great regularly updated CNU news pages that will keep you on top of the events in Madison as they happen.
This is exactly the kind of useful content that a community blog should offer. Bonus feature: If you have a Google Calendar account (and/or iCal on a Mac), you can subscribe to Greg's City of Franklin Calendar and have those events integrated into your own calendar and automatically updated.
Clicking "View all Events" sends you to a page with a longer list of city events as well as links to agendas and meeting minutes.
I think, however, the city could stand to emulate Kowalski's use of free Google services so citizens can subscribe, for instance, to meetings covering certain TOPICS and ISSUES as well as gathering of specific commissions and committees.
My post entitled "Enjoy your 'Tax Freeze': Part 1 - A Country Without Libraries" elicited a couple of comments from two local tax freeze advocates (they won't mind me characterizing them that way, I'm sure). Their point seemed to be; "Get into the 21st century - - we have the internet and Kindles now!" I was reminded by both commentors that Ben Franklin would have really dug the Kindle - - after all, he was an inventor.
They miss the point.
To define a library by the technology that delivers words and information is erroneous -- as erroneous as stating (rather elliptically) "Libraries in schools are already being reduced by digital media. That's the demand."
Libraries (and, more dangerously, LIBRARIANS) in schools are NOT being reduced by digital media. They are being reduced by school boards and school budgets that are defining libraries as little more than "warehouses of bound matter." Schools that have cut librarians in favor of part-time "media specialists" suffer the consequences; I see my own children having to turn to me to learn basic research.
In 1998, a Commerce Department study followed that 62 million people are using the Internet, and other estimates put the figure still higher. Most of these… are people who already use the public library less often than their parents did for purposes of obtaining recreational and instructive reading. Now they no longer need to rely on the library even for the sorts of information they can't easily get on National Public Radio or at Barnes & Noble… they may still want to have a library around as an information source of last resort, but they have a number of more convenient options to exhaust before they are driven to use it.
In little more than a decade, Chicago has built 32 neighborhood branch libraries and renovated nine others. the downtown Harold Washington Library Center, opened in 1991, is one of the largest public library buildings in the world. Its green metal roof with huge gargoyle like owls, their wings extravagantly unfurled, make it in unmistakable landmark. 14 more new branches are scheduled to open by 2005. More to the point, the libraries are humming with activity.
In other words, proper attention to public library facilities will make those facilities integral to the community—more than worth the investment made. In an hours-old news clip, you see Illinois continue that commitment:
Sixteen Illinois public libraries will receive construction grants to help pay for essential upgrades planned for this summer.
The grants will go toward projects such as handicapped accessibility, heating, ventilating and air conditioning units, building additions and renovation. Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White says many public libraries lack the funds to perform these improvements without grant money.
And why? These urban and suburban libraries provide huge quality-of-life benefits. Irregardless of whether information is delivered via bound matter or iPad, or Kindle, or microfiche, or computer monitor, etc.
So - a commentor says "literature, research, and study are all evolving."
As further expressed in the book Better Together: A library is no longer a passive repository of books and information or an outpost of culture, quiet, and a calm in a noisy world. The library of today is—should be—an active and responsive part of the community and an agent of change. In addition, the Internet, which was supposed to wipe out its reason for existence, is very often cited as one of the things that brings people to the library.
This may come as a surprise to some of our more sheltered subdivision dwellers, but there is a “digital divide” in this country. Believe it or not, there are people who live within blocks of you who do not have access to the Internet, a computer, and certainly not a Kindle. For them, the library provides a window into a world of information we take for granted in our suburban enclaves. And now that the digital divide extends into our suburban enclaves, library access is more important than ever for people seeking employment, information, networking tools, etc.
There are also people who are new to the world of computers and the Internet. Late bloomers. For them, the Franklin public library provides very inexpensive computer classes. At five dollars per class, they are eminently affordable; at the same time, their immense popularity has created a not insignificant chunk of income for the library, which helps perpetuate these services.
Here in Franklin, our library stands as the only non-retail “third place” in existence. That is, the library is the only place you can go with no barrier to entry; a place where you may meet or happen upon virtually anyone.
What is a “third place”? Ray Oldenburg describes it as a place that is neither work nor home, a place where people can spend time together. The café, the public, the neighborhood tavern, the old-fashioned drugstore with soda fountain are some of the examples he uses. A good third place makes few demands on the people who gather there, beyond requiring them to observe some basic local rules (for instance, that individuals, and especially newcomers, will not dominate the conversation; or that Illinois natives will assert their Bears fandom in moderation while in Wisconsin borders). A third place is a neutral ground where people from different walks of life in the community can meet and get to know one another, having in common perhaps only their desire to frequent this particular place. (More about "third places" here.)
Think of some examples of "third places" in Franklin. It's a very, very short list.
The replacement of local shops by chain stores and implementation of single-use zoning that puts housing, workplaces, and retail establishments in segregated areas have effectively eliminated the “corner drugstores” and the coffee shops where people met one another and found out what was going on in town and in the neighborhood. Television keeps us at home in the evening, when in the past we would've sought one another's company in a third place. The authors of the blog comments which I am addressing here have first-hand knowledge of the political and ideological polarization that is threatening us locally. I attribute a great deal of the blame for the lack of community in suburbs like Franklin to the simple fact that our built environment has made it impossible for those serendipitous chance encounters between persons who have ideological differences that lead to constructive debate and collegial jousting. Instead, we are treated to “bloggers” and anonymous commenters who insult one another's ideas—and assault one another personally—in away they never would if they had actual, real-world interaction with persons outside of their ideological spectrum.
Look at the crowds at Starbucks and other cafés. They attest to the continuing need that people feel for third places. However, those third places have a barrier to entry; that being the fact that you are ostensibly there to purchase three-dollar coffee and maybe a muffin. If you bring a backpack full of notebooks and pencils to Starbucks and simply loiter, you are not living up to your side of the bargain. The demographic is narrowed thusly.
Yes, Benjamin Franklin would have loved the Kindle. But he would be horrified to learn that citizens of his beloved republic are, in the dawning of the 21st century, cocooning themselves in rec rooms and pulling up their McMansion drawbridges against interaction with other people and other ideas. He would be sickened to hear that we are now celebrating "tax freezes" at the expense of those social institutions that have helped us grow as a country over previous generations; the institutions built by our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents to serve us and that were paid for by their taxes, though they knew they would see no personal, immediate benefit.
Can you even imagine that forward-looking ethic today?
Our tax rate is at its lowest in four generations, and yet we whine about contributing to educate our children, plow our roads, keep our infrastructure together, and provide community amenities. Where we used to invest in future generations, we now look to secure our own purses, tomorrow be damned.
Still, one cannot deny that Ben Franklin would have loved the Kindle...
What does a "property tax freeze" get you, besides votes? Well, if you actually follow through and spare the average suburban home owner a tax hike that approximates the cost of a single night out in a restaurant, you can begin to kiss public amenities like libraries goodbye:
All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak.“The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.
Onward toward total isolation and homogeneity. On the plus side, you saved $120 this year!
So says Christopher B. Leinberger, an urban land use expert, in a recent essay in The Atlantic Monthly. While that dark vision is not shared by all observers, it's clear to most that "change or die" is still the operative phrase.
Outlying suburban homes in many parts of the U.S. are now worth less than the materials that went into building them. The cycle is that homeowners have no incentive to invest in their homes and banks won’t finance renovations anyway. Homeowners with a choice move away, leaving behind those who can’t afford to live anywhere else. Crime and decay isn’t far behind.
The answer: Make communities, not subdivisions. Create walkable cities, which appeal to up-and-coming homebuyers:
On the flip side, the trend to walkable urbanism is driven by those in their 20s and 30s, who don’t want to spend their disposable income on cars and crave high-density and fast-paced downtown living. A whole lot of experts — perhaps Richard Florida best known among them — say for cities to thrive, they have to cater to young, creative workers who are sought after by the employees of the knowledge economy.
But baby boomers, singles, childless couples and empty nesters are also looking for interesting urban living in droves. And their proportion of the population is rising.
This is the challenge that the city of Franklin faces right now. How will local leadership respond?
They will present key urban design principles, prototypical techniques, in-depth case studies, and regulatory frameworks for implementation, followed by discussion of the frontiers of innovation for suburban retrofits.
Today’s American suburbs have an overabundance of everything — infrastructure, national chains, big boxes, fast-food drive-throughs — but when overabundance starts to fail, high quantity becomes a liability. Re-using and adapting the existing suburban types to incubate new possibilities will help gradually complete the rest of sprawl’s incomplete fabric and make it more livable and sustainable in the long run.
If you live in Franklin, the photo below is familiar. However, these crapulent cardboard constructions may be on their way out sooner rather than later -- the question is, will local plan commissions and developers rise to the opportunity and prepare for the next wave?
There is some evidence that urban townhomes and infill housing are more popular, as rising gas prices increase the cost of commuting. Higher energy costs also affect heating and air conditioning, which may have the effect of discouraging homebuyers from purchasing large houses with soaring entryways and expansive family rooms. While the evidence is fragmentary—the current reduction in average new house sizes has more to do with the preponderance of first-time buyers than an overall shift in demand—it is clear that the long recessionary cold-shower will dampen the exuberance that characterized the boom years of 2000 to 2005. That will mean smaller houses closer together on smaller lots in inner suburbs, fewer McMansions, and fewer planned communities in the distant hinterland. An alternative scenario is that American optimism will prevail and it will be business as usual, as happened during the boom of the 1950s following the Great Depression, or during the period following the Energy Crisis of 1973, when car buyers, after a brief flirtation with Japanese compact cars, embraced minivans and SUVs. But I wouldn't count on it.
Every city election should have a Candidate Forum, and this year should certain be no exception. That's why newly-formed Citizens for Community Development (CCD) will be hosting a Candidate Forum at the Franklin Public Library on Wednesday, March 16th beginning at 6:30pm. This forum will feature the candidates for the 3rd and 4th Aldermanic Districts, and is sure to be informative for all in attendance. This year's moderator will be Author, Plan Commissioner and Community Writer John Michlig, who also is an Advisor to CCD. See additional information in the flyer at the link below: