Green city bites

  • The current (July) issue of Builder has a fantastic cover package of articles on affordability — about two-thirds of which is New Urbanism. It addresses both design and policy (finance, finance, transportation, inclusionary, and more) solutions, without any right-wing NAHB complaining.
  • PARK(ing) Day — a day to reclaim curbside parking back for the public realm — will be a national observation this September 21 (following on last September’s observation). My quick idea: perhaps some donated floorcoverings (carpet?* turf?) and a communal table, around which we will discuss The High Cost of Free Parking, perhaps not coincidentally APA’s Planners Book Club selection for August. I can think of a few sponsoring groups who could get behind that. Or perhaps two dozen kick stand-ed bicycles parked (and locked), plus work stands for two mechanics.
  • Mike Davis has a heartwarming article in Sierra about the last time Americans banded together to collectively fight a mighty foe — and downshifted the whole economy in the process.

    Would Americans ever voluntarily give up their SUVs, McMansions, McDonald’s, and lawns?

    The surprisingly hopeful answer lies in living memory. In the 1940s, Americans simultaneously battled fascism overseas and waste at home. My parents, their neighbors, and millions of others left cars at home to ride bikes to work, tore up their front yards to plant cabbage, recycled toothpaste tubes and cooking grease, volunteered at daycare centers and USOs, shared their houses and dinners with strangers, and conscientiously attempted to reduce unnecessary consumption and waste. The World War II home front was the most important and broadly participatory green experiment in U.S. history. Lessing Rosenwald, the chief of the Bureau of Industrial Conservation, called on Americans “to change from an economy of waste–and this country has been notorious for waste–to an economy of conservation.” A majority of civilians, some reluctantly but many others enthusiastically, answered the call…

    Originally promoted by the Wilson administration to combat the food shortages of World War I, household and communal kitchen gardens had been revived by the early New Deal as a subsistence strategy for the unemployed. After Pearl Harbor, a groundswell of popular enthusiasm swept aside the skepticism of some Department of Agriculture officials and made the victory garden the centerpiece of the national “Food Fights for Freedom” campaign. By 1943, beans and carrots were growing on the former White House lawn, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and nearly 20 million other victory gardeners were producing 30 to 40 percent of the nation’s vegetables–freeing the nation’s farmers, in turn, to help feed Britain and Russia… Victory gardening transcended the need to supplement the wartime food supply and grew into a spontaneous vision of urban greenness (even if that concept didn’t yet exist) and self-reliance…

    With recreational driving curtailed by rationing, families toured and vacationed by bike. In June 1942, park officials reported that “never has bicycling been so popular in Yosemite Valley as it is this season.” Public health officials praised the dual contributions of victory gardening and bike riding to enhanced civilian vigor and well-being, even predicting that it might reduce the already ominously increasing cancer rate…

    The total mobilization of the time was dubbed the “People’s War,” and while it had no lack of conservative critics, there was remarkable consistency in the observation of journalists and visitors (as well as in later memoirs) that the combination of a world crisis, full employment, and mild austerity seemed to be a tonic for the American character. New York Times columnist Samuel Williamson… pointed out that American life had been revolutionized in a single generation and many good things seemingly lost forever; the war and the emphasis on conservation were now resurrecting some of the old values. “One of these,” he wrote, “may be the rediscovery of the home–not as a dormitory, but as a place where people live. Friendships will count for more.”

* Did you know that Interface FLOR is based in Chicago?