Monday, June 29, 2015

Once Around the Block: Monday, June 29, 2015

Here are a couple of interesting articles from around the web over the past two weeks. (I skipped last week on account of enjoying a week of vacation in Michigan. There's not much better than a Michigan summer!)

The topic of Michigan is a good lead into this first article, or ranking, from Thrillist. I'm not sure how anyone could ever really rank these sorts of things, but it's always great to receive national attention if you're Michigan. Frankly, too many people doubt the state's beauty and have no idea about just how beautiful of a state it is.  But, nonetheless, I wanted to celebrate Michigan landing atop Thrillist's "Definitive and Final Ranking of all 50 States". (More from

Geographer Jim Russell had a few nice takes on Houston this week, on his personal blog, Burgh Diaspora, where he challenged Texas Exceptionalism, (being from the Midwest and spending a few years in Virginia, I don't understand the Texas Exceptionalism crowd), and also challenges Houston's continued sprawl and annexation. Russell says "Population growth from annexation isn't an indicator of economic health."

Savannah, Georgia-based urban designer Kevin Klinkenberg featured a piece on his blog this week examining sprawl, something that we're quite familiar with here in Houston. He uses four categories to describe sprawl, 1) Pre-Interstate suburbia, 2) Standard subdivision suburbia, 3) Master-planned communities, and 4) rural and exurban sprawl. Read more as he concentrates on Pre-Interstate suburbia.

Pope Francis issued a message a few weeks ago on climate. Emily Badger in the Washington Post writes, "The Pope, it turns out, is an urban planner." This shouldn't come as a surprise, as even scripture contains a wide variety of directives leading God's people to faithful stewardship of all that God has graced this world with. The Pope's paper, found here, details our relationship with the environment, urging "those who design buildings, neighbourhoods, public spaces and cities, ought to draw on the various disciplines which help us to understand people’s thought processes, symbolic language and ways of acting. It is not enough to seek the beauty of design. More precious still is the service we offer to another kind of beauty: people’s quality of life, their adaptation to the environment, encounter and mutual assistance."

Badger summarizes the Pope's statements by saying, "In other words: Architects, designers and urban planners have a moral obligation to care about more than what their creations look like. Their decisions determine how the poor live, how communities interact, how cities tax the environment."
Pete Saunders at The Corner Side Yard posted a reminder about metropolitan comparisons this week. Pete's takeaway is that "There is greater variation within metros than there is between them. This idea should inform our urban policymaking."

Pete also featured an article this week, "Revisiting Black Urbanism". Pete highlights one of his earliest blog posts and examines the lack of black urbanists, or at least the lack of exposure and recognition of black urbanists. Pete announces at the end of this post that he is working on creating a "short list of black urbanists and show how they've impacted our nation's cities". I look forward to Pete's upcoming post.

Finally this week, a series of short essays by engineer and neighborhood advocate Dallas May is featured on Dallas's D Magazine website. May is a featured author in Patrick Kennedy's StreetSmart blog. May touches on some of the topics Pope Francis spoke about in his encyclical letter on the environment.

May's first essay, "God is Found in the City", views our cities as the place where God is found. Why is this you ask? May informs us, and more importantly, scripture informs us, that "God is found in the city because he is found in the people of the city who bare his image."

May's second essay, "What if God planned a City?" exams the city planning principles that the authors of the Torah included in their writing. He highlights a passage of the book of Numbers. It's here we see an instruction to include what we now call a "greenbelt" around their city. But this isn't the main point May is making. May says "The take away from Numbers 35 is that the city God would plan is a place not only of economic development activity, but also second chances." May closes with his professional goal; "I want my city to be a place where every hard working person, regardless of their history or background, has a chance to build a good life for themselves."

His third essay, "The Value of the Neighborhood Church" examines the role of churches in our neighborhoods. May states that churches offer a niche community, and a place where everyone is welcome. May makes a quip that the City of Plano's Legacy Town Center, much like many other "town centers" across this country, is 'a great place to “Live Work and Play” -so long as your credit card is accepted.' This is a place that excels at economic development, but fails at community building. As a diagnostic, May searches for churches nearby, and sees almost nothing. His final point is this: If you don’t include space for the pieces of communities that bring people from different walks of life together (without having to use a credit cards), you failed at city building.

"Once a member of the community can’t pay to play, the community rejects the person. That’s not community at all."

For a bit more fun, to the celebrate Hulu's inclusion of Seinfeld in their streaming library Vanity Fair published a ranking of every Seinfeld episode. There's not much to argue about, as most of the top episodes are from seasons 5 and 6, which is when the show hit its stride.