9.13.2007

Great Places

I just came back from Urban Land Institute's conference in Toronto on
placemaking. I dig this organization, but this was my first ULI
conference. I wasn't disappointed. These guys know a lot of stuff,
from the ultra squishy - man is a walking creature and a herding
creature, so we have to reclaim public spaces that encourage walking
and herding - to the super quantitative - parking ratios and cap rates
and what not.

As I've written about in this space before, in urban settings, more is
more. That is, people are attracted to other people. So great public
spaces are about giving people ample opportunity to people-watch. I
guess the suburban equivalent is the mall, but such spaces tend to be
so sterile, so same.

Great urban spaces, on the other hand, are authentic to that place,
literally alive with human activity. I saw some great examples
walking around Toronto with my family: public squares with fountains
and Times Square-like billboards, parks with funky sculptures and
eternal flames, and waterfront space super conducive to promenading.

I moderated a panel on transit oriented development, and since one of
the four original speakers had to cancel at the last minute, we had a
goodly chunk of time for Q&A. Although in my mind, we could've gone
way over, there was so much interesting ground to cover. I personally
left with a richer sense of the ways in which great places have
universal characteristics because humans are the same worldwide in
spite of different cultures and climates, and yet such developments
can and do have unique features about them, which play authentically
to those different cultures and climates.

All in all, it was a great time in a great place, and great times
learning about great places. Well done, ULI; and well done, City of
Toronto. In both cases, we'll be back.

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