My future obit 2056 #letsblogoff

For a brief intermission, today isLets Blog Off . A group of design and construction folks blog on one topic. Thanks to a twisted survey (which I believe was stacked by our ringleaderPaul Anater), we are pondering our obits, linkedhere.


Cynthia Henley Frewen Wuellner Moon (

@urbanverse), 100, died at her home on Tolopia, a floating city near the former Maldives Islands. For a quarter century, she designed new towns made entirely of junk for disappearing small island nations. After a rowdy parade through the city, her ashes were cast to the sea by six generations of family and friends. A wild beach party of singing, dancing, and feasting lasted three days.


Earlier in her life, Cindy founded an architecture firm in Kansas City and designed the downtown Davis Park and Civic Center, KC Zoo, Whittaker Courthouse interiors, Police HQ, City Hall Addition, fifty schools and numerous public housing developments. Among her awards, she was the first woman Fellow AIA in the region, first KC Woman Owned Business of the Year, Distinguished Alumna of the University of Kansas, and so on…

Of her ten books, five were listed as New York Times Bestsellers, three in urban futures and two in science fiction. After earning an MS in FS/forecasting from the University of Houston and a doctorate in communication studies from the University of Kansas, Cindy taught students from thirty-three countries, visited the Space Station and cycled across India. She loved puppies but only had one, Lexy, who never barked.   


(re: the

ABC’s of 21st Century Cities, C is for Co-creating will be posted shortly.)


The future of harmony and cities #architecture

During the past month, Venezuelan architect Ana Manzo @anammanzo hosted a series about harmony on her blog The Place of Dreams. Mine was the 14th post. Who knew that architects, designers, contractors, and related folks could find so much richness in one word? You can read the entire series here.    

What is harmony?

My blogging friends defined harmony beautifully onAna’s blog. They found harmony in rock and roll, poetry, nature, relationships, ancient sacred ground, and architecture. Diverse elements cooperate into a completely new sound, different and more complex than the individual notes. Harmony is not a state or condition; it’s a perfect balance achieved by coordinating diversity. Through complexity, we find unity.

Ana said harmony is love. I think that’s right. Love sees us and accepts us as we are. The Greeks agreed. They invented the word – harmonia – to mean joint agreement or accord. It’s compromise, joining, and fitting together. 

My question is: are we becoming more harmonious? And how do we find harmony in cities? First, I want to add one more idea to harmony – rebellion.

Is harmony always good?

Are there times we prefer life beyond accord?  Foucault fretted over harmony, which he saw as oppression, pressure to conform. That’s the rebel’s voice. I would call that pushing limits, testing the edges of conformity. In harmony, the notes desire each other, respect difference, and create a new sound, unlike any single note. They seek a community of notes, joining the most extreme, and all are transformed, transcendent, into a richer, more complex voice.   

We need single notes too. They come first, the ingredients of harmony. And the further they push, the more complex, varied, intriguing harmonies emerge. Individual notes must be celebrated. Sometimes I wantMonk.   

How does harmony work in architecture?

Architects argue about harmony. Christopher Alexander believes that great towns and cities blend the parts into the whole. “When you actually get all those elements correct, at a certain point you begin to feel that they are in harmony.” Peter Eisenman claims that disharmony and harmony exist in the cosmos; we need both. He fights for individual expression.

Is it possible that these opposites are two sides of the same coin? These modern lions fight over the same terms. Disharmony and incongruity aim at order, as does harmony. Some choose to conform and others fight. That is a mindset, the either/or way of 20th century thinking.


Here’s true harmony to me – both/and.

Both compatible buildings and buildings that contrast. Exceptions prove the rule. Are Bilbao’s historical buildings more memorable next to Calatrava’s Zubizuri footbridge?


Do you

feel greater attraction to the Nelson-Atkins Museum thanks to Holl’s ultra-modern addition?


Does the

Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial open your eyes to the heroics of the neo-classical monuments? To me, thats the role of harmony to celebrate difference. And we still need powerful, single notes.

Too much conformity, you get suburbs or Disney-fake, like a one-dimensional painting. Too much clashing, you get single notes competing, Las Vegas-style. If single voices are never heard, if remarkable buildings are never seen, the city goes flat. 

What is harmony in society?

Harmony, you might say, begins inside of us and informs our relationship with the universe. It works through me to we, to things, to nature, to cosmos.

Claire Graves invented a developmental model of humans, societies, even civilization calledSpiral Dynamics. The nine tiers of self-awareness (color -coded) ormemes move towards greater harmony and connectivity – instinctive (beige), animistic (purple), egocentric (red), authoritative (blue), achiever (orange), consensual (green), integral (yellow), holistic (turquoise), next? (coral).

With more people, interconnectivity expands – or needs to. So we learn and adopt better models. It’s also what gives us hope – belief in a better future. With environmental problems and planet limits, our technological and social developments are barely staying ahead of our need to live together, our urge for harmony. Sometimes we fail catastrophically.

Plus you never forget those former memes; you incorporate them and add more parts, more skills and choices. You become more fully human. As societies, we are more connected than we possibly imagined. In short, we continually strive for greater harmony.


What is greater harmony in cities?

We started with caves and we ended in suburbs? Be still my heart! Surely we can improve on that. These one-note communities were just a stop on the way, an orange meme. Sometimes we really blow it, given too much power too soon, a baby with matches. And then we are forced to fix our errors, where the hardest part may be admitting it.

Jane Jacobs claimed, “Designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination.”

Here’s how I see these memes in cities. Beige – caves. Purple – primitive tribal villages. Red – Ancient Greece, Rome. Blue – fortressed cities, castles, cathedrals. Orange – industrialization, skyscrapers, suburbs. Green – new urbanism, sustainable design, revitalization. Yellow – living cities, restorative. Turquoise – adaptive, co-creating, biomimicry. Coral – too soon to know; biogenetics, nano, neurotech, transhumanism, singularity?


Harmony Tattoos

We are re-calculating, re-examining our lifestyles. How to become more harmonious, to live with seven, eight, or nine billion people? How to be in balance with the planet, to replenish resources rather than deplete them? And how to cultivate quality.

How do you love life? How do your clothes, home, city, your tattoos express that and feed your spirit?

The moderns (not in design, but in thinking) believe in an oppositional blue/orange mindset. My way or no way. Green thinkers want to cooperate, create communities, and build sustainably. Yellows adapt on the fly, see wholes and parts, and are comfortable with constant change, in other words, harmony. Different notes combine to express entirely new sounds while still celebrating you. 

Our cities need to be that way. I’d say the first harmonious cities will be yellow.  

Harmony is love and we grow towards it. Not harmony all sugar and sweet, pastoral utopias, but with all the tangs and twists of human nature wound together as separate strands for resilience. It’s the tattooed city, visibly expressing who we are and who we want to be.

  • What color is your city? What’s harmony to you?

Images, videos:  Thelonious MonkRound About Midnight; CalatravaZubizuri Foot Bridge, Bilbao, Spain; HollNelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, USA; Maya LinVietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington DC.


Where do you find happiness? Holl’s Museum Add’n in Kansas City, guest post for @Antony_DiMase #architecture

Antony DiMase of DiMase Architects  in North Fitzroy, Australia invited me to sharea place that makes me happy. Their blog series  Places That Make Me Happy was inspired by my Hilarious Cities essay. His firm does beautiful work, check them out. They constantly explore ways to help people see architecture differently and be a bit braver about design. You can find my original post here.


For decades, I grumbled about the complete lack of world class modern architecture in Kansas City. Great places make us better humans. When we see it and experience it every day, we become more creative, even visionary. Excellence breeds more excellence.  Call it the reverse of the “broken window theory.”

When the Board of Trustees for the 1933 Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art initiated an international competition to select the architect for the new Bloch addition, I leaped for joy. Of the six star architects, only Steven Holl defied the committee’s instructions to connect with the broad Beaux Arts entrance façade. Instead, his addition attached to the short eastern end of the building. Even more compelling, instead of an above-grade structure that would diminish the park-like setting, Holl buried the addition and mounted five channel glass “lenses” on the roof for daylight. His radical originality springs from these two acts of rebellion.

Those five lenses are among the most ingenious inventions of the last decade. Holl defines their counterpoint with the existing building as the stone and the feather. The massive heft of the original limestone structure sits solidly on the ground while the white channel-glass boxes seem to dance lightly down the sloped landscape. Their glow at night is pure architecture magic.

My favorite space, the Naguchi Gallery near the extreme end of the building, opens directly onto the main lawn. After experiencing a series ramps and underground galleries, a panorama of the original building bursts into your view, framed by an expansive window panel. The effect is sublime; it always brings tingles to my skin.

When I seek inspiration, I skip to the Nelson and visit Holl’s masterpiece. I am happy now.

  • What places make you happy?  

Images: interior, south lawn, distance shot Steven Holl Architects; connection detail Goldberger inThe New Yorker; at night w/ trees Washington Post. 

Giving thanks for imagination, creative genius, and flow. #letsblogoff #architecture

In tribute to November’s annual eat-fest, the Let’s Blog Off  gang asks: What makes us thankful? You can read my blogging friends’ thoughts on Thanksgiving here . They will make you laugh, cry, remember, relate, and even get organized. I am thankful for people who dare to imagine and push boundaries. Maybe people like you?  


One of my very closest friends knew a lot about imagination. You could say

 Gordon was a creativity guru or a midwife to ideation. He used metaphoric stories to reveal the mysteries of originality and release the visions you hold deep inside.

For instance, a cow chewing its cud for hours performs the miracle of making milk. Creativity is like that. The imagination needs freedom to gestate. You can’t measure it, you can’t see it, and you sure as hell can’t sell it until the idea is ready. That peculiar work of invention frustrates bean counters no end. Yet new ideas depend on wandering, experimenting, failing, and recreating, on linking thoughts and images in strange wondrous ways and allowing explosions.

I live for the moments of feeling that rush of ideas, the joy of inspiration, being in the flow. It’s an out of body time where I may not notice food or drink and surely not time passing. I’m the cow in the field imagining a world that does not yet exist.

Every day someone is creating something so startling that you can hardly breathe when you see it. Your body reacts, prickles on the neck, tears of pure awe. You feel their genius. Yet few seeds of brilliance ever escape the womb of the imagination. We forget them before we can draw or write. The sketch doesn’t fulfill the vision. Others throw up roadblocks; it’s too large, too small, too bizarre, too too too many lines. Who knows, someone says it’s just too… And it will never be built.

Revelations 2010

This year,ultra towers,kinetic structures,new towns,urban agriculture, andflying security robots transformed our images of 21st century cities. A few are absolute revelations. I am thankful for the spectacular ideas and courageous acts of imagination and fortitude that survived the maze of barriers and naysayers. 


1. The Seed Cathedral reframes architecture as sustainable and ephemeral – a new paradigm beyond theCrystal Palace and theblur building. 60,000 shimmering filaments carry Millennium seeds that will give birth to a future bio-diverse forest. 



2. In the aftermath of the catastrophic Haiti earthquake,Architecture for Humanity bypassed the usual routes of bureaucracy and organized working communities of Haitians toenvision a vibrant future, starting with new housing and schools. 

3. Living City Design Competition recognizes cities that are making extraordinary efforts to envision a socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative civilization. Can your city meet the challenge? Submissions due in February.



4. The secretive

Underbelly Project flaunts the work of street artists on subterranean walls of an abandoned New York subway station. Watch an inspiring short video via the NY Times. 



5. Outside Mexico City,

Container City adapts lowly shipping containers into a miraculous mixed use village. Imagine what we can do with junk.



6. Non-Sign II near the Canadian border conveys a simple message of… air.

7. Of the hundred-odd books I devoured, a few absolutely blew my mind. Do not miss:The Original Green by Steven Mouzon (drawn from deep knowledge, a manifesto on society, sustainability, and architecture),Cartographies of Time by Rosenberg and Grafton (stunning images of ancient to contemporary timelines reveal belief systems through the ages), andThe Watchman’s Rattle by Rebecca Costa (has innovation outpaced our brains?)


What sparks your imagination?

Do you look for people with purple hair, unexpected shoes, carrying a tube or drawing tools, or walking with a different gait? They hold some particular energy, the bodacious ideas churning in their gut, planning to capture the thing before it disappears. Perhaps that person is you.

It’s a bit of madness, by some standards. We all have it. We may camouflage it, forget it, fail to cultivate it, but we surely flung it around as children. Back when we wore fuscia boots, finger painted, and skipped. Someone somewhere told us our drawing, singing, dancing were not good enough and bang!  The imagination snapped inwards, afraid of further castigation. Is yours still hiding, damaged by thoughtless words, snooty looks?   

Gordon’s final lesson: you have a masterpiece inside you. If you go to your grave without painting it, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you. 

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the ideas that you share and the miracles you create. 

What makes you thankful?

    • Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.

      You might say, “The world outside is vast and intricate.

      There are wheatfields and mountain passes,

      And orchards in bloom.

      You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up

      In the dark with eyes closed.

      Listen to the answer.

      There is no “other world.”

      I only know what I’ve experienced.

      You must be hallucinating.  –Rumi

Images:Imagination Allows by Gaping Void Hugh McLeod; Lead Pencil StudioNon-Sign II, Blaine, WA;Container City, Mexico;Seed Cathedral at Shanghai Expo by Thomas Heatherwick;The Underbelly Project, New York City;Boatanic Floating Farms, Amsterdam 

Big Lessons for Working from Home – Guest Post on Building Moxie


You’ve finally wrangled a few days of work-at-home from the boss. Or you’re now the boss and the grunt too. Like 47% of the population who want to work from home, you’ve found your freedom and now you’re faced with your first workday at home.

The freedom is terrifying.

To get you past that first Monday morning scream, you might want a few tips. Because at this point I’ve done it all. I’ve drudged through waiting tables, selling soap, sewing uniforms, and cubicle work; and I’ve owned the office. Now I gleefully occupy a corner of my house, having conquered the fears of the liberty-challenged.

  1. Setting the Pace. You are the boss and the employee. We all know at the office, one or the other can be stupid but never both. Figure out when you hit your stride during the day and dedicate those hours to employee jobs, the real productivity, the “big rock” projects. The rest of the time, you can be the boss.
  2. Home Alone. You are working alone. That is, unless you count the dog, fish, or couch. To kick my collaboration addictions, I create journal conversations, draw diagrams, take long runs and walks, post trial ideas on my blog, check the twitter clan, and have built a network of worthy reviewers and co-conspirators. You really are not alone. You just work alone far more than before.
  3. Imaginary Time. You no longer participate in daily rituals like rush hour, water cooler chats, lunches with the gang, commutes, or even normal dress-up routines. All told, that’s easily four hours of saved time per day, right? That’s like going to Macy’s sale of 30% off, spending $100, and expecting $30 cash. Not in your wallet, is it? Same deal: that four hours a day is gone, poof! You will never know where it went. There is no savings; there’s only convenience.
  4. Power Door. You are going to need a door. Or a crystal clear sign. I have an upstairs room with no external connections where I seriously work. Then I have a downstairs desk where I do everything else and quasi-connect to family life. So I see both situations. The door solves everything. If you don’t have your separate space, make a truly obnoxious sign that says: “Do Not Interrupt the Interrupter in Chief.”
  5. Double Used Home. You’ll be buying more groceries, toilet paper, and electricity. Call these purchases work-at-home expenses. It also means that your house gets a little dirtier with more dishes to wash. Unless of course, you never notice dust bunnies anyway. Then it’s just normal. Will a future buyer ask: has this house been driven hard or been a ‘Sunday drive’ kind of house? Mine’s 24/7 now, so is my neighborhood; it’s like meeting a whole new place.
  6. Real Clothes Wednesday. More laundry, less dry cleaning. More tennies, fewer hard heels. More pony tails, fewer blow dries. As I sit here in my running shorts and hoodie, I remember when I thought I would always wear suits to work, even at home. *laugh* Trips are bundled to minimize days in full regalia. Hey, I’ll be in real clothes on Wednesday; lunch then?
  7. No is Beautiful. I guard my time like I never did when I was working in a team. Saying no to a project was tantamount to putting people out hungry. We aimed for yes. Yes to that new police station, school renovation, downtown planning project, the neighborhood group, design juries, and various boards or committees. Now I monitor promises because I’m it. You’ll learn yes-with-limits and, sometimes painfully, no.
  8. Structure or Not. We skipped the apprenticeship program for at-home work, didn’t we? You are making it up. What time to start, stop, and take breaks? When is something ready to go? In project teams and schedules, the rhythm set the office mood. Now the rhythm is my rhythm. At the same time, the family has a different drum beat. Two tips: put your major due dates and meetings on the family calendar. And don’t start the laundry on a work day. It will wait.
  9. Not-Spent Money. Live-work at home is cheaper. Lunch at home, slouch clothes, minimal dry cleaning, less gas, parking, wear-and-tear on the car (or dump the car) will soon offset the added desk, computer, power, and groceries. Shall you splurge? The first check: scan it, frame the copy, and then go back to work. The first $100,000: nice dinner, then back to work. And start figuring out when you should sell the business – 2 years, 10 years, longer? Make a plan; build your assets. Even if you keep it longer, do it by choice. Invest in freedom.

Every day that you get up and work in your hoodie and tennis shoes is a good one. When you pick up your kids from school or stop for an hour to shoot a game of hoops or take a run, be happy.

Working from home just shrank your ecological footprint dramatically. No office waiting for you all night, no house sitting empty all day. It’s full occupancy.

Work in a team telecommuting from home or work alone gives life new balance and, if you love your work, new meaning. You are the boss. And you are the grunt. Relish it.


Hilarious Cities: Do You Live In One? #letsblogoff

This week’s lets blog off  creators want to know:  What Makes You Laugh?  A troop of brilliant blogging buddies aim to make you giggle today. You can link to all of our posts here. and I posted the most recent list at the end of this post – a laugh-fest! 

Do you see funny things around your city? How often do you smile or even laugh out loud in your daily travels? A chuckle here, a smile there means you get it: yeah, that’s funny!! 

Does your city make you laugh? 


This little cherub on the Country Club Plaza always makes me chuckle. Bet he’s made more people laugh than most comedians!


And the parking structure for the downtown Kansas City Public Library is a row of … gigantic books! Surely the architects wanted to make us laugh?


A lot of public art cracks me up. This fellow eating a shoe with eyes and ears covered stands blatantly in front of the (believe it or not!) the KC Communication Center.


The Shuttlecocks make the venerable Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art their badminton net. Fantastic art/architecture joke.

Let’s face it, cities are hilarious! And not in just one way; we have a whole toolbox of humor.

Funny words and pictures

A rare few city forefathers invented some rib-cracking names – down the road from me is Peculiar, Missouri, and a little further is Versailles, named for its proud French ancestor. Now that’s not so funny, except we call it “Ver-say-alls.” (Apologies to France!) What if you were from Accident, Tightwad, or Middelfart?


Some sign

-makers have a terrific sense of humor.




And some graffiti is silly funny….



Architecture humor

If architecture is the mother art… who is the dad?? Heh.

If at first you don’t leap over tall buildings in a single bound… build shorter buildings.

Ok, did I mention I can’t tell a joke? Ill just stick to images!

I love those hotdog stands shaped like a hotdog. Guess what the owners of this building, the Longaberger Company, sell?



This serious building, the Ontario College of Art and Design, looks a bit like a game board.



Road fun

Maybe the most fun is on the road. You can watch for riotous vehicles like low riders, Model Ts, and trucks with longhorns or funny bumper stickers. I found a hummer converted to a horse drawn carriage – that’s imaginative!! Or there’s accidental humor…


And finally, the best laugh goes to lunatic driving. The rowdiest 10 secs of driving you’ll ever see.

Cities – Why be funny?

Now that you think about it, arent cities funny? No doubt, cities are very serious places. But sometimes, you just got to have some fun.

Humor makes cities more human, more relatable, and sparks everyday life. Kids in a park, dogs chasing birds, monkeys in the zoo, a cherub statue peeing, or a big book building make me laugh. Pink flamingos make me cringe-laugh, thanks to an oldJohn Waters film. Still some folks find them joyful. Laughter shakes off our troubles, lightens the load.

Who wants cities full of dark and gloom? That says someone didnt care enough to make us laugh, to charm us, to brighten life. A city with humor opens communication and creates moments for sharing something good – laughter.

Come on Cities, show us some heart. Dare to make us smile or even laugh out loud. Thats the gift of common ground, a shared moment among strangers. We can’t be angry when we’re laughing. We can’t hurt anyone, or rob a store.

Ok, we might have a bike or car accident if we laugh too hard. Watch out!!

Can a city add a laugh track?

You bet.

  • What cities, fountains, places, buildings make you laugh?

Enjoy many more witty blog posts, and some quite serious, from the extraordinary ”lets blog off” community.  

Blogger Twitter Blog Post Link
Veronika Miller @modenus Modenus Community
Paul Anater @paul_anater Kitchen and Residential Design
Rufus Dogg @dogwalkblog
Becky Shankle @ecomod Eco-Modernism
Bob Borson @bobborson Life of an Architect
Tamara Dalton @tammyjdalton Tamara Dalton Design Studios
Sean Lintow, Sr. @SLSconstruction
Amy Good @Splintergirl Thoughts of a Splinter Girl
Tim Bogan @TimBogan Windbag International
Steve Mouzon @stevemouzon Original Green
Madame Sunday @ModernSauce Modern Sauce
Saxon Henry @saxonhenry Roaming by Design
Jane Frederick @JaneFredArch Low Country Architect
Andrea Wolper @AndreaWolper Spin the Wheel
Denese Bottrell @Denese_Bottrell Thoughtful Content
Betsy De Maio @egrgirl Egrgirl’s Blog
Allison A. Bailes III @EnergyVanguard Energy Vanguard Blog
Ami @beckami Multifarious Miscellany
Christian McLean @chirn9980
Barry and jb @BMoxieBMore Building Moxie


Calf at Bike Rack; Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto by Wil Alsop,Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto by Wil Alsop,Hummer Coach,Longaberger Company Home Office, Newark Ohio,Bird Sign and Portapotty;Bristol graffiti ;gargoyles at Notre Dame Cathedral, Modern Communications” by Terry Allen, Nelson AtkinsShuttlecocks by Oldenburg and van Bruggen,Book Parking Garage at KC Central Library;town signs.

21st Century Cities and Architecture Need Possibilianism #sustainability #poptech


Have you heard of PopTech? Some say it’s TED for brainiacs, arguably more cutting edge, always looking for emerging thinkers. Andrew Zolli, lead curator, attended the same Futures Studies masters program in Houston I did (and where I teach), although our paths unfortunately never crossed.

PopTech is posting the best videos now; here’s one worth watching.   


Cowboy up or geek out?

The annual PopTech event was held in Camden, Maine last week. Neuroscientist and fiction writer David Eagleman gave one of those rare “don’t miss” talks about a notion he’s devised called: Possibilianism. Rather than simply “anything goes,” he says that science allows for any possibility that can be proven using the scientific method. In other words, we need to think of many alternative hypotheses and then apply the tools.

Approach ideas with an open mind. Rather than firmly committing to a single answer or “cowboy up” with a certain solution, we engage in active exploration. For the largest questions in the universe like dark matter and how the brain works, we don’t even have any good answers yet. So we need to “geek-out” until we have the needed data. Be comfortable to multiple possibilities. That’s what he means by possibilianism.

In short: Praise uncertainty.

I think it’s very clear that we made mistakes on cities and building design. We use too much energy, overheated the planet, and created cities of haves and have-nots where some parts are nearly unlivable and others are sadly ugly, lacking beauty or lovability. Plus sitting all day at work and in cars makes us unhealthy. That’s not to say all cities or all parts of cities fit this image but let’s face it, it’s enough that we need to make some serious changes.

Think about it: What else could we have done?

We need a heavy dose of possibilianism.


Here’s a wild thought: What would happen if tomorrow you woke up and your car was gone? Your neighbors’ cars and the pickup trucks were missing too. There were no taxis, only large-haul trucks and delivery vehicles too busy to carry passengers. Boom, you were caught with your feet and an old bike as transportation. What would you do?

I bet you would call into work and say you couldn’t make it. You would cancel all other appointments and walk your kids to school. Soon you would be taking the bus or rail and walking or riding your bike for shorter trips. Delivery trucks would replenish your kitchen pantry.

Over time, you would become physically fit, your wallet would be a little thicker with cash, and you would know people that share your routes. Plus, since transportation emits 28% of greenhouse gases, cities would immediately experience an impressive leap in sustainability. 

Cars are so deeply embedded it’s truly a challenge to imagine car-free lives, isn’t it?!

Car-fee cities


We don’t start completely from scratch. Several urban theories and their flagship examples lead the way on car restrictions, specifically,

CarFree Cities, New urbanism, Eco-towns in UK, and to some degree, the Slow City Movement

Many sections of cities and islands, most famously Venice Italy, are fully pedestrian.

  • Freiburg Germany (pictured) reclaimed the center of the city for pedestrian uses.
  • Curitiba Brazil created one of the most efficient networks of buses (BRT) in the world.
  • Bogota Colombia employed a combination of BRT, bike paths, and pedestrians-first policies.

A few new towns will be zero carbon, reduced-car developments for environmental purposes.


No doubt, we will not go gently into that good night of car-free cities. Too much has been invested, particularly in America and in perimeter development globally, China being the most eager recent adopter. Cars have the obvious benefits of convenience and security, and have long been status symbols (now not having a car shows status among some groups).

Plus, honestly, given an open road, cars are a blast! Dont all addictions begin with pleasure?

Two options – with and without cars – is bogus!

If we’ve learned one thing from the crazy world we live in, it’s that choices are not black and white, either/or; they are both/and. An entire constellation of possibilities waits for our imagination to ignite.

My car-free fantasy is a game of “what if,” a thought experiment played to its extreme. Imagine the possibilities, what would that option solve and what would it destroy?

That’s where possibilianism leaps in.

If you were designing a brand new city for you and your loved ones or making radical changes to your city, what would you choose? How would you create vibrant, thrilling, beautiful places to live? What would be your criteria? How many options can you imagine?

How would that new place be better than how you live now? How do you envision your better life? And how can you bring some of those possibilities into your real life?

Think about it: Are you a possibilian?


Related lists: “Green cities: Where to travel green” compiles 6 lists of top green cities.

Images:EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector;Freiburg Germany;Tongzhou China,Tjibaou Cultural Center in Noumea, New Caladonia by Renzo Piano Workshop


Balancing Optimism, Waste, and the Newly Improved American Dream #letsblogoff

The current #letsblogoff asks: Is there a reason to be optimistic?

I have heard it said: be personally optimistic and globally pessimistic. I get that. My best life is still ahead of me and my familys working through these tough times. That makes me personally optimistic.


Global situations strike me as less rosy. In the mid 1970s, Linus Pauling told me and my eager college-mates ten ways people might destroy the planet. Whoa, we were shocked! He started with nuclear weapons. Then I recall over-population, hunger, water, trash – really? Death by waste?

I had never thought like this. It sounded epic. And I took it to heart. From that day forward, I understood the fact that we live in catastrophic times. Disasters seem to occur with increasing frequency.  

How to stay optimistic despite constant threats? To me, that’s the heart of it.

American Dreamers!

What times were worse than the Great Depression? Financial woes at all levels, joblessness, shanty towns, even the weather pitched in with the Dust Bowl. That’s when we invented the idea of the American Dream. We needed a strong dose of optimism.


Actually, the American Dream contains two parts, moral and material. We believe that all men are created equal, our moral thread of egalitarianism. And we believe that anyone can win big, from rags to riches, the Horatio Algiers story. We love the underdog, success through hard work and thrift, the puritan work ethic.

The American Dream embraces opportunity and reshaped America as a nation of hopes and dreams. It is after all, the first country to make “the pursuit of happiness” a constitutional right.

Most importantly, the American Dream seeded the largest middle class in history. After nearly 80 years, it’s essentially a national motto.

American Nightmares 

Over decades of growth and prosperity, we narrowed the definition to “keeping up with the Jones.” A new home, new car, new tech, trips to Disney World. More things, more consumer debt, boom. The Dream becomes Buy Stuff. No Way.


Now the American Dream has been boiled down into one thing: owning a home.

If you narrow your definition to just one idea, and then it becomes more difficult, the entire idea is destroyed. In other words, the house becomes the dream becomes the country. Lose your house and you lose your sense of identity.

The American Dream is not merely home ownership. That’s a total rip-off. We lose the gist, the heart and soul of it. We are stuck on materialism without the moral thread, the hope and optimism. That’s not the dream, that’s imbalanced, a nightmare.

American Dream ReShaped

Long before the idea of the A.D., Americans deeply understood hope and equality. We had imagination. And we had confidence. I’m not willing to live without those.

So let’s imagine: What do you do with the highest GDP in the world?


You educate everyone, you feed, clothe and house us all, and make damn sure we have health care and are not overloaded with debt. You wipe out poverty, declare a war on crime and make peace with the rest of the world.

More than that, you leave a better place for future generations, a clean and vigorous environment with bright green, livable cities. And invest continually in new ideas, inventions, innovations that improve quality of life and feeds commerce and jobs. That’s the path to long-term prosperity and opportunities.

Our dream needs to emphasize social and environmental goodover materialism and hope over hate and fear. And assume responsibility for our neighbors. We are in this together. Not just in the US, but the global community. 

It’s not just an American Dream; it’s a World Dream.


Mahatma Gandhi said: “Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.”

To me, that’s optimism, the belief you can make dreams into reality. 

What’s optimism for you? How do you make your dreams become reality?

Here’s some of my favorite people’s thoughts on optimism for #letsblogoff.

Images: Music video: Balance by Aceyalone; House on Milwaukee Apt Finders/Prowess R/E blog; “God Bless America” by Seward Johnson; urban farming on Time Magazine; India children by Vincent Desjardin on Flickr cc; trash by Darch Norman on Flickr cc 


Blog Action Day 2010: Water Is Life #water

October 15th is blog action day and this year, the topic is water.

In developing countries, water problems are linked to survival. The numbers are staggering. One billion without clean water, 1.4 million children die each year of water born diseases. Their daily lives revolve around water access. Through the efforts of many, their water opportunities are improving, although the work remains still monumental.


On the other hand, developed countries problems are worsening.

In cities, water is almost always poorly managed. Enormous pipe systems and hard pavements move water as fast as possible, causing overflow and failures during huge rains. Meantime water supply pipes bring water right back to the same places. Terribly inefficient.

Water needs to be treated as a cycle from rain to collection to use.  

  1. Say you have peak rains of 4 or 6 or even 10 inches. Imagine how you could retain that much rain for 24 hours with rain gardens, ponds, barrels, and tanks.
  2. Encourage cities to use swales and ponds to retain water and collect it slowly rather than move it fast to piped systems.
  3. Paved surfaces need to be minimized and permeable with frequent openings, not the mindless swaths of pavement for parking. That lets the water seep into the ground slowly rather than speed to piped systems.
  4. Think of potable and gray water differently.Separately pipe gray water from clothes washing, sinks, tubs, and rainwater and use for irrigation.
  5. Plant drought resistant landscaping and crops. Only irrigate from stored rainwater.
  6. Conserve water use.  

For years, islands have managed to exist with rainwater alone; we all need to learn from them. However, they do not feed the world.

How to think about water

Water is a cycle and in terms of our use and management, it’s a system. When we change our use and collection patterns, it changes entire ecologies including water tables and lake and river levels. That in turn affects crop irrigation, transporting goods, and recreational uses. In other words, nations and regions with adequate rain, temperate climates, and arable soil have a huge competitive advantage. They can feed their people.

Depleted water tables and subsidence are among the worst problems facing cities. I worked on a Houston stormwater management project where they struggle to assess grade elevations because of subsidence, with the land dropping over a foot in areas. We are all familiar with sink holes and busted water mains; it’s a problem that will only get worse with our aging infrastructure and water abuses.

Farmers in trouble

Kansas, my home state, is part of the Ogallala Watershed, as are eight other states. It is the largest and most at-risk watershed in the world. After the infamous Depression-era Dust Bowl of the 1930s, farmers installed massive irrigation systems that fed off the deep layer Ogallala aquifer. They did it for survival. In the 1970s, warnings were dismissed regarding the hazards of continued irrigation.

What were the farmers to do? Sell their farms? Quit farming? They continue to this day to remove water at an unsustainable rate, knowing their future is finite.

The depletion of this aquifer is estimated to begin in the lower reaches – west Texas – in the next decade and continue into Oklahoma, Kansas and eventually the northern states. Consequently, current wheat farms live with a short life line. Their only hope is discovering crops that can live on virtually desert land.

Fighting for every last drop

Every nation moves water through infrastructure, including massive dams that re-configure entire watersheds. Future water wars may take to the sky. Geo-engineering enables changes in precipitation patterns through cloud seeding (primary tech for now, so what’s next?), generating claims of “rain stealing.”

In the western United States, water wars erupted a century ago and continue to threaten neighborliness between states. Countries suffer even greater strains due to fewer shared benefits and dependencies. Passions between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida over the Chattahoochee River basin are not likely to ignite a war; disputes in east Africa between Kenya and Ethiopia might.  

Privatized water only worsens the problem, bringing corporations into direct battle with sovereign nations and private citizens. 

What is the future?

The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas develops drought tolerant grains that self-seed much like the prairie once did. They offer one of the few glimmers of hope for these farmers and for the global populations that rely on their grains.

When we rebuild or add infrastructure, and when we develop land, we need to stop building massive stormwater systems and huge parking lots. Instead we need to think sustainably. How can we minimize run-off? How can we retain the water? How can we use water where it lands?

Most importantly, how can we use less water?

Water brings all people into a single ecosystem, perhaps the most fragile. Our behaviors in cities are linked directly to the farmers ability to grow crops. Water ignores political boundaries. Rain does not recognize urban versus rural.

The amount of fresh water doesn’t change; only our appreciation of water and behaviors do.


Images: Ogallala Aquifer center-pivot irrigation systems in Water Encyclopedia; Ogallala Watershed Map in; Land Institute deep root prairie in National Geographic; Grey Water Retention and Use; Water landscape for World Water Day at Wayne State University; Bioswale from EPA Green Infrastructure.


An Extraordinary Year of Blogging: an Architect’s View #letsblogoff

This week, Let’s Blog Off asks: “Are blogs as important as bloggers think they are?” I think my colleagues have answered the basic question. Paul Anatar gives statistics. Veronika Miller and Saxon Henry merge blogging, travel and design. Architects Steve Mouzon and Bob Borson talk about the importance of blogging; Steve to build sustainably, and Bob for insights as a residential architect. All agree: blogging is important, especially for designers.

So let me rephrase it: “Why blog?” More specifically, why should architects, designers, engineers, contractors, or anyone in the construction industry blog? and what I’ve learned from blogging.

Why Blog?

Seth Godin and Tom Peters, blogging and publishing giants, praise the life changing effects of blogging. Blogging makes us think. And, it’s FREE!

I have blogged for about a year. It’s my 50/50/50 milestone. Over 50 blogs in 50 weeks for over 50,000 people. I didn’t have a clue what to expect, and I humbly say, thanks to all that read and comment! The best moments are when you leave some pithy remark, exuberant cheers, tell me I’m full of crap, or extend the ideas.

One thing I assure you is: it’s not free. It takes time. It takes effort, commitment, ideas, organization, focus, and consistency. It’s a substantial investment, both personally and professionally. And it pays dividends. You sort through ideas, you take risks, engage with people. And you learn enormously.

Yet, blogging takes courage.

Not the kind of courage that makes you charge in battle, pull a child from a burning building, or climb Mount Everest. Yet still utterly risky.

Exposing your ideas shows you have gumption, plenty of it.

No one forces you blog, or even asks you to. You blog because you have an urge to contribute beyond your normal duties. You have more to say, something to share. You want to engage people and influence memes. Blogging builds ideas and stretches our thinking, our beliefs. It’s creative, experimental, at times uncomfortable and even a bit crazy.

But when you write a blog,  it’s your choice, your creation. The entire burden rests on your shoulders. That’s brave. and also thrilling.

Frankly I have at least as many posts in my “void” file as those posted. They’re incubating for future use. I learned from every one of them. These posts are not yet ready for you to invest your time in them. Attention is the new currency.

Why architects need to blog (and all design/build pros)


We simply don’t learn to write or even to communicate well in architecture school, and perhaps not in the field either. We practice designing, drawing and modeling. We learn by making things, not necessarily by speaking and writing, except for marketing and specs (yes, I said specs, thoroughly lacking in readability.)

Blogging cures that gap. When architects blog, we practice explaining our ideas, what we think about, and most importantly perhaps, what we believe. Rather than every few weeks to a client, we have to do it regularly, sitting at a computer, and then put it out there for you to respond: “Aha! Now I get it.” Or: “That’s crap, no way!”

Mostly design pros and contractors talk to each other. Isn’t that true? Think how much of your week is spent talking to people outside the industry about the industry? Blogging goes well beyond our everyday communications; we actually have to cut out the jargon, or at least explain it. (A client cursed me roundly for calling a drawing of the building exterior an elevation. whew, a stinger.)

Why do I blog?

I blog to rev up the idea chain, engage in conversations, and learn. Some of my blogging looks to the future, like “Twitter for Futurists,” my series on 21st century cities, and my current True Green series. Other posts focus on my opinion laced with some facts, such as last week’s outrage about the US pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai. From my blog, it looks like opinion posts get more comments, while informative pieces get more views. Maybe when my voice is more front stage, so is yours? It’s one thought.


I wonder why we still ask about the value of blogging? Then I imagine, the Cistercian monks probably argued against the Gutenberg press for years too, maybe centuries! “Who will read all those Bibles?” doh! Eventually blogs will be accepted as a central part of the communication media chain, the part that gives each of us a megaphone.

Surely every blog post changes the world, some far more than others.

You can find more of my blogging colleagues responses to “Are blogs important?” here.

And for your amusement, Jon Stewart skewers blogging, or rather, eviscerates it.


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