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Making the Garden by Christopher Alexander | Articles | First Things

The architect who developed a humane approach to architecture and city planning based on observed patterns of health and flourishing writes on the connection between an apprehension of God and beauty in our built environment:

"We will only see God in the world around us if the quality of the architecture is right--an almost unattainable condition in today's world. Why is it almost impossible? Because in an epoch when God was not acknowledged, it became virtually impossible for people to build the kinds of buildings where God appears. The whole purpose of the work I have done is to show that the presence of God in a matter-­configuration is an objectively existing condition, and that there are specific paths and methods and habits of thought through which we may create buildings where the presence of God can be seen and felt. ..."

"That new vision can become a new source of inspiration and motivation. I call it new not because it is at root genuinely new. Of course it is not--it is ancient. But it is entirely new in our era to take such a thing with full seriousness, and to be able to derive from it well-fashioned, scientifically endowed conceptions of what is needed to heal a given place. It will not be governed by money or profit; it will not be governed by social politics; it will be governed simply by the desire and firm intention to make beauty (which is to say, true life) around us.

"Perhaps that sounds as though it is not solid enough for sober and enlightened action. Quite the opposite is true. The vision of God we hold in our inner eye, which we draw from the hills and mountains, from the cities, towers, and bridges, from the great oak trees, and the small and tender arbors, from the stones and tiles that have been carefully laid, it is that which is God, and which we encounter as we try to find a vision of God in the world. It guides us, as if with a certain hand, towards a future which is yet more beautiful.

"The capacity to make each brick, each path, each baluster, each windowsill a reflection of God lies in the heart of every man and every woman. It is stark in its simplicity. A world so shaped will lead us back to a sense of right and wrong and a feeling of well-being. This vision of the world--a real, solid physical world--will restore a vision of God. Future generations will be grateful to us if we do this work properly."

The Art of Being a Red State Liberal -- Strong Towns

"When you're in the minority, success is measured in inches.  It's not for the faint of heart. You have to be able to care and fight and lose, and somehow summon the hope to continue caring and fighting and losing, over and over again.  Until, eventually, maybe you win, just a little bit.

"But you'll never win if you don't respect the people who disagree with you."

Good advice for conservatives, too. And yes, Sarah Kobos is as gracious in conversation as she comes across in this essay.

Philadelphia's Placing a $500 Million Bet on Play - Next City

My first reaction to the headline was, "No city should be putting a half-billion-dollar bet on anything!" But the headline of this article doesn't reflect its contents. It's really about a lot of things: How rec centers can build community in a neighborhood, the importance of passionate volunteers from the neighborhood to make that happen, how to ensure that city grant money is effectively deployed, how to keep long-time rec center supporters engaged while making newcomers welcome in the decision-making process. There are many encouraging stories packed into this story, which is really about urban husbandry, and how to deploy a big pot of money strategically, and in small doses, to nurture signs of life around the city.

Photo essay: Detroit as I knew it

Photographer Herman Krieger, born in Detroit in 1926, documents with then-and-now photographs the places he lived, studied, and worked before leaving the city in 1951. "The houses in Detroit, in which I lived, are all gone. They have either been razed or covered over by a highway."

Mr. Krieger has lived an interesting life: Moving to San Francisco as a photographer, then becoming a computer programmer in 1956 and working all over Europe, and then coming back to America in 1990, earning a Bachelor's in Fine Arts at the University of Oregon, and working since that time as a photographer. One of his photographs is part of an exhibit of landscape photography at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, running through December 2, 2017.

A Story of Slavery in Modern America - The Atlantic

Alex Tizon, who came to America with his family from the Philippines in 1964, tells the story of the woman who was closer to him and his siblings than their own mother, who lived out her final years with his wife and children, and who finally had the chance to return home.

"Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine--my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn't kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I'd spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry, her fingers clutching a garment she was in the middle of folding."

This was Tizon's final story. He died in his sleep in March. "The Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Alex Tizon built an exemplary career by listening to certain types of people--forgotten people, people on the margins, people who had never before been asked for their stories. Alex's wife, Melissa Tizon, told me recently that her husband was always impatient with small talk, because he believed that all people had within them an epic story, and he wanted to hear those epic stories--and then help tell them to the world. 'Somewhere in the tangle of the subject's burden and the subject's desire is your story,' he liked to say."

Nolli map as a tool for small developers | CNU

"A Nolli Map is a two-dimensional plan drawing used to understand and document the accessibility and flow of space within a city. The first Nolli ever was drawn by the Italian architect from where the map derives its name from, Giovanni Battista Nolli. For purposes of dividing the city into wards and planning future public works, in 1736 Pope Benedict XIV commissioned Nolli to create the most accurate plan drawing of Rome ever made. Giovanni documented every building within the city and consequently every space. Unique to the Nolli Drawing is the representation of public space inside buildings, as part of the urban realm. There is no distinction between inside and out; only space and mass. The Nolli Map of Rome presented the Eternal City in a way that deepened the comprehension of its neighborhood fabric....

"As I enter into the realm of small scale incremental development myself, I can't help but recall the time I spent documenting Seaside. The level of comprehension I gained about this place, from walking and drawing every inch of it, was almost intimate. A key factor distinguishing small developers from the large developer is a deep and authentic understanding of a neighborhood. This is where the Nolli Map has its advantages and offers tremendous value to small scale developer."

Blight Inc. -- Indianapolis Star

The sale of abandoned homes for just enough to pay the outstanding tax bill has created a perverse incentive for investors who buy these homes to walk away from them, abandoning them once again, and further blighting the neighborhood, according to a detailed investigative report.

"Frank Alexander, a professor at Emory Law School who has studied tax sales across the country, was not surprised to hear that investors like Mt. Helix were leaving houses empty.

"'Indiana has a broken system,' he said. 'It actually creates incentives for passive investors.'

"He said government tax sales don't function like normal markets. They're designed only to collect taxes, not necessarily to seek a fair market price for the property. As long as the taxes come in, the government doesn't mind giving up the homes for less than they are worth.

"People often can pay $2,000 to buy a property that's worth $10,000, said Alexander, co-founder of the Center for Community Progress, a blight advisory group. 'Well, all I have to do is sell it for $6,000,' he said. 'Then I get a 300 percent rate of return.'"

LOVELAND - National parcel data, property ownership search and GIS made easy

An attempt to collect all info about parcel ownership and value in the USA into one consistent, publicly accessible database.

Enough With the 'Enough with Jane Jacobs' Already! | Planetizen: The independent resource for people passionate about planning and related fields

Roberta Brandes Gratz shoots back at detractors of Jane Jacobs and citizen involvement in the planning process.

"My favorite assumption, put forth by several commentators, is that Jane's belief in the importance of public process and the need to involve the citizens who will experience the greatest impact of a proposed change has given birth to NIMBYISM. This argument comes from people who seem to want to advance whatever official plan is on the table and who resist acknowledging the wisdom often found in citizen critiques of official plans. Most citizen objectors to official plans care deeply about their place and are not against change per se nor, most absurdly, against 'any change whatsoever in the urban landscape,' as one commentator said. Mostly, the objectors resist the configuration of the change being offered, not change itself, and, in most cases, have offered alternative proposals the impact of which would be less overwhelming to the targeted area.

"As Jane said: 'If you take the time to listen to people at public hearings, you will understand their fears.' She did not argue that those fears should STOP change but should, instead, help SHAPE change. Instead, today, especially in New York, we have a pretend public process. Significant, large-scale, Moses-style projects run through a state approval process that overrides city review and throws communities crumbs, called Community Benefit Packages, while advancing the original, usually over-scaled, neighborhood replacement plan. Projects that get delayed by lawsuits do so because they are promulgated by developers with no public input and approved by the City Planning Commission with an occasional minor tweaking.

"Invariably, citizen fears about traffic congestion and parking - and why shouldn't they fear such problems? - usually come to pass, causing predicted problems for everyone."