12.31.2012

Past, Present, Future

Past 

This is the time of year that everyone takes to Facebook and Twitter to say something to the effect of “Good-bye and good riddance 2012, you sucked. Bring on 2013”. I, for one, will not be among that crowd. 2012 has been one of the best years of my life. I’ll not bore you the details as I’ve done enough of that here during the course of the year. I will say that if 2013 is half as good as 2012 was, I’ll be the happiest sonofagun in the Tennessee Valley. Of course, ‘Bama winning next week would go a long way toward making that a reality. Unfortunately, according to the national media, our lowly boys have no such chance against the awesome might of Notre Dame.

Present 

Last week, the family and I packed up the family truckster and headed down to spend Christmas with my folks in Montgomery. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line I have become a Scrooge (or Grinch if you prefer). I have nothing against Christmas, I’m all about celebrating the birth of Jesus. But I do think the whole thing is overblown and over-commercialized. Even then, the whole ordeal serves in a purpose since the week gives us a chance to reset, visit loved ones and it gives our society a common point of reference.  Despite the fact that I can acknowledge and appreciate the event, for some reason when it rolls around I get a bit crotchety. This year was no exception. On the bright side, the boys had a good time and they seemed to be genuinely appreciative of their several tons of Ninjago Legos and ‘Bama paraphernalia.

My Christmas mood notwithstanding, the trip was melancholy for another reason. After years spent teaching dance to the youth of Montgomery, my folks are hanging up their pointe shoes and retiring to the mountainous West. This, coupled with Baba’s passing earlier in the year, means that my life-long ties to my home state are essentially broken. Of course, those ties can never be truly broken, but they are from the standpoint that there is no longer a base there; I no longer have a “home” in Alabama. This makes me sad. To be clear, I’m not upset with my folks. After teaching ballet in Montgomery County Public Schools for more than twenty years, they have each earned the right to do what they want in retirement (not that they need my approval anyway). They both love the big mountains, snow, and lack of humidity out there, and I’m very happy that they’re going to a place that they love. For them, home means retiring to a place in the mountains, not remaining in central Alabama.

It is the thought of home that I will miss, not their house (ya’ll might guess my thoughts on a garden home in a homogenous development in a 10th ring sub-urb). My gloominess is a psychological issue. The state of Alabama is still there. Montgomery is still there. So, in a sense, nothing concrete has changed. The saying goes that home is where is the heart is. I’m not sure that I can totally agree. My home is in Chattanooga, and my heart is here. But when I think of the word “home”, my first thought is of Alabama. To be truthful, I’m not as in love with Montgomery as I once was and I can’t envisage a scenario that would lead to me moving back there. I have absolutely no desire to leave Chattanooga, but Alabama is never far from my thoughts.

Future

Kunstler’s Clusterfuck Nation was one of the inspirations for this blog. Kuntlser wrote Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere – books that influenced me heavily as a planning graduate student. Every year he offers a post with predictions for the upcoming year. This year he offers a very well-reasoned, but depressing (shocker) outlook on the future. I will again bite his style by offering predictions for the New Year. My predictions, however, will (primarily) be limited to issues affecting urban design in Chattanooga. Looking into my crystal ball for 2013 I see that:

-Andy Berke will become our next Mayor. This is a very good thing.

-Marginal progress will be made in making the T-Dot design for US-27 suck less. It will, however, still suck and we may well have to drop the “Scenic City” moniker. The TDOT lack of understanding that cities consist of more than highways never ceases to amaze. They are PROUD of what they have done to us- witness their website celebrating the three dozen+ massive concrete retaining walls that are the new reality of our downtown.

-The local architectural community will (continue to) step up. I don’t think we’re quite ready to see a boom in downtown building just yet, but there will be some action. I think the Urban Design Challenge indeed challenged our designers to raise their game- it also reminded our development community of the breadth and depth of talent to be found here. There won’t be a ton of new work, but what is built should do us proud.

-The Downtown Design Guidelines will be adopted. Try as I might, I can’t bring myself to say that this will be a good thing. I will say, however,  that there is at least the possibility that it won't be a bad thing.

-I will continue my personal boycott of downtown establishments that show disregard for good urban design. I'm not going to share my list as it now includes some locals in addition to the chains. The bad news is that the list is growing...the good news is that from a culinary standpoint I'm not missing anything.

-Like it or not, I will continue to blog for at least one more year.

-As mentioned earlier, the press is doing everything they can to convince people that Notre Dame will beat Alabama. They have pulled all manner of statistics to make their case. I will make a prediction for the game using my own statistical analysis (that is about as solid as what the DB’s on TV are using). My analysis is based on the last opponent of each team – Georgia and USC. Alabama proved to be 4 points better than Georgia, Notre Dame was 9 points was better than USC. The link between these two teams is Georgia Tech. Georgia beat Tech by 28, and Tech just beat USC by 14 (Sun Bowl). We then know that ‘Bama is 4 better than UGA, who is 28 better than Tech, who is 14 better than the Trojans, who are 9 worse than the Irish. This means that Alabama is 37 points better than Notre Dame.

My prediction: ‘Bama 49  UND 12.

Happy New Year!!

12.23.2012

Pond Hopping

After taking a couple of weeks off, it’s great to get back to my Saturday morning writing routine. As you may know, the Mrs. and I were abroad for the last couple of weeks. One of my fraternity brothers, an Englishman from Birmingham (Bur-min-GUM, UK  not Birm-ing-HAM, AL), finally decided to tie the knot. This was not an event I was going to miss. I considered a daily blogging of the trip, but I'm sure that would have worn y'all out, and I’m not sure I could have kept up (to say nothing of the shockingly poor state of wireless connectivity over there). I tried to jot down some thoughts and observations while I was there, but when I got home and read through everything it turns out that it was more a travel journal than it was an observation of urbanism. In any event, it was an entertaining trip and my brain hasn’t really reengaged, so this post is a series of excerpts and observations from the travel journal. Be warned: this is a long one, and has naught to do with urbanism or Chattanooga.

6.12.2012
I'm on a plane from Hell-on-Earth (ATL, Baby) to Amsterdam. It will be a miracle if I survive this flight. It appears that the flight attendants are on a mission to get everyone on board housed. I was greatly anticipating a cocktail, this being the first night of our vacation and having sat on the runway for an hour before our plane departed. I watched with great anticipation as the attendants rolled the cart up the aisle- it was like watching a slow motion wave- you could see the jubilation as each successive row was served. When our turn arrived, I ordered a glass of red. I was handed a 14-ounce Dixie cup filled with the finest boxed merlot that the Deltoids could muster. Kick ass. I love wine and generally prefer to partake in a manner that allows me to appreciate and savor it. This, however, was not one of those times. About a third of my way into the "glass", I looked up to see that another cart was wheeling down the isle, handing out more booze. The first three times this happened, I was fair game. It feels like we’re kindergarteners at nap time and the attendants are filling us "juice" so that we will all pass out. It turns to that Delta Flight 6012 is filled dozens of lushes- and I am not the worst one (that award goes to South African lads sat behind us). I'm not complaining, I've had box wine from a Dixie cup before, but this is quite an auspicious beginning to the trip....

Delta- keeping it real.

7.12.2013
After the booze cruise that was Delta flight 6012 we arrive in Amsterdam for a connecting flight to Birmingham…only there is no connecting fight to Birmingham. At this moment I realize what Amsterdam Schipol and Chattanooga have in common: 2" of snow brings the joint to a screeching halt. All flights to the UK for the day are cancelled. The best the KLM folks could do is get us a flight tomorrow morning (which means we're going to be cutting it close for making the wedding…like, putting my tuxedo on in the cab close. We'll see how that turns out.) The silver lining to this cloud is that we have an overnight in Amsterdam that we did not anticipate. We checked in to the hotel, and then went back to Schipol to catch a train to Amsterdam Centraal. We didn't get to spend much time, but I loved it there. Being unprepared for the trip, we didn't have an itinerary, so just we just walked around (in the bastard cold) until we got lost, then found a little place to have a few beers and a bite to eat. The architecture there was awesome- a great mix of old and new. The thing that impressed me most though, was the sheer number of people of the street. Everywhere we went, there were people (despite the bastard cold). There were also tons of bicycles. I'm hoping to get back there sometime soon and spend a little time (perhaps in the spring though). From the "you can't make this up" files, our hotel room number at the Steigenberger was 420 (but let me be quick to point out that despite the reputation of the city, we did not partake).

My first view of Amsterdam.

8.12.2012
Up bright and early, and back to Schipol. Our flight left (more or less) on time and we're on our way to England. At this point, the only question is whether or not Ms. Rushing’s checked luggage will be coming with us. This is not an issue for me since I packed 10-days worth of clothes into one carry-on bag (tuxedo included). All of D's clothes for the week (including formal wear for the wedding) are, for the time being in European airport baggage limbo. Oh, the anticipation...

Touchdown in Brum, and yes, it appears that D's luggage got here before we did. Not sure how that works but who's complaining. The father of the groom, the incomparable Alan Jones, met us at the airport. I could go on forever about the man, but the fact that he would spend his time two hours before his son's wedding picking up Americans from the airport gives you some insight into the measure of the man. Alan whisks us away from BHX and off to our destination- the lovely village of Henley-in-Arden. We checked-in to the hotel (a lovely number called the White Swan), had a quick shower and shave, then met the wedding party in the pub downstairs for a quick pint before heading off to the ceremony. Off we go, I’ll give you the details tomorrow.

An international, All-Star line-up...not quite Reservoir Dogs.
by DC Photographic

9.12.12
The wedding was held in St. Nicholas Beaudesert. A beautiful church that is only about a thousand years old. I bullshit you not...ten centuries...1 Millennium...a hundred decades. Interesting bit about the church- I noticed that the arch is not centered on the space and asked if anyone knew why. Apparently, in the early years of the building, the north wall started to sag and it was discovered that the wall was built atop an underground stream. So they simply moved the wall a couple of feet, redid the roof and called it a day. Brilliant. The ceremony was an awesome experience, a hundred people in black tie, gathered in a 1000-year old church in a quaint English village- it doesn't get much better than that.

St. Nicholas Beaudesert
Who needs symmetry?
After the ceremony, the town crier (yes, town crier, and yes, it was very cool), announced the newlywed couple and led us to our first reception at the Medieval Guildhall (a youthful building, having been constructed in 1448).  After a nice, warm Winter Pimms, the crier led us to the wedding reception at the Blue Bell- a proper English Pub (and restaurant with 2 Rosettes)  in a mere baby of a building, being only about 500 years old.

With the mother of the groom at the Guild Hall.
Chattanooga needs a Town Crier.
by DC Photographic
How to describe the wedding reception...hmmm...I don't think I can do it justice. Lets just say that I have some very good friends in England who enjoy life, and we celebrated the bride and groom well into the night.
Father of the groom, the incomparable Alan Jones.
Belting out some Sinatra with the groom and a some Villa fan.
Always looking for a chance to show off the Phi Delt pin.
 It is worth mentioning that during the evening some of the lads were having a go at my patent leather opera pumps. I tried to assure them that these shoes are quite traditional, and that in even more recent times they were favored by the likes of Sinatra. I sent them off to do their homework, but was left to defend my “girls shoes” for the rest of the evening. (A quick note on current language: literally everyone over here says literally...a lot…literally).

My new favorite shoes.

9.12.12
I don't recall exactly when we called it night, but I woke up the next day at 1 pm, just in time for Sunday lunch with the newlyweds and the groom’s family. This will be a day of rest: time to see my friends, have a pint while watching the Manchester Darby, then off for a curry and an early bed. The highlights of day however, were the texts and calls of formal apologies from the lads for slating my footwear. One of the men noted that he found a quote saying that the shoes were “preferred with formalwear by many leaders of style.”  Ah, the joy of getting one over on my English friends...in formalwear no less. US of A-1, England-nil.

If they're good enough for Ol' Blue Eyes,
they're good enough for C.
10.12.12
Today we hoped in the car with Bride and groom for a day in the Cotswolds- through Stratford-upon-Avon, then down to Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-water, Moreton-in-Marsh and Broadway. It doesn't get much more beautiful or English than the Cotswolds. Virtually every building is built of Cotswold stone, a honey-colored, oolitic Jurassic limestone. Each of the villages feel unique, permanent, and welcoming. The scale and atmosphere of each place is outstanding. We finished up the day with fish and chips back in Henley, thus completing my English culinary trifecta in one day- full English breakfast, steak and ale pie for lunch and the aforementioned fish and chips. Time for bed, travel day tomorrow.

Stow-on-the-Wold
Moreton-in-Marsh
Stow-on-the-Wold

11.12.12.
Off to Paris. I think I’ll leave that as a topic for another blog post, but I will mention one of the highlights of the trip.

Those who know me, know that I love food. On that Wednesday, I had the dining experience of a lifetime- a meal at Le Taillevent. The restaurant has been called the “high court of Haute Cuisine” and one of the “best restaurants in the world”. They recently lost their third Michelin star after holding it for 34 years, but this is still a serious restaurant. This is the big leagues- high french cuisine in Paris. This is what my mother was training me for all those years ago when teaching me what all the silverware and glasses were for.  Despite lofty expectations, the food and the experience delivered. It was everything I thought it would be – stereotypical French waiters, more service staff than guests, and sights and flavors that I can’t begin to describe. I’ll stop short of saying it was the best meal ever, because the place was pretty stuffy and I was a nervous wreck throughout. I definitely out-kicked my coverage on this one. But in the end, I managed not to spit in the soup, and we had a fantastic meal -  definitely the dining experience of a lifetime (sorry Charlie Trotter).

Also, the view from our hotel room did not suck.
15.12.12

Friday was a relatively uneventful return trip to England. That evening we had a night on the town with the Jones’ for a few pints, a curry, and a few pints.

16.12.12
Saturday is of course game day in England. We returned to St. Andrew’s – home of my beloved Birmingham City Football Club. I have a sterling record as a blues fans when watching the boys on English soil- they have never lost when I've been in attendance. This time we had an in-form crystal palace to contend with. After going down 2-nil, it appeared that my record was in jeopardy. However, a header by Zigic, and thundering a header by (my man of the match) Papa Bouba Diop evened the game, won Blues a point and preserved my record.


Now that we're playing a league down and our owner is in jail,
attendance has suffered. On this day 17,000 of 30,000 capacity.
17.12.12

The return trip was fairly uneventful, minus the obligatory delayed flight out of Hell-on-Earth (ATL, baby). It was a fantastic trip and one that I will never forget. It was, however, great to get home to Chattanooga!!

Ya'll have a very Merry Christmas! See you next week.

12.03.2012

People who live in glass houses (shouldn't throw stones)

Yesterday was one of the busiest days on the Rushing Calendar. The first Saturday of December means MainX24, Stern’s birthday, and the SEC Championship game. I didn’t get to spend as much time on Main as I would have liked, but from what I saw, it was rockin'. We had a house full of friends and Alabamians to celebrate Stern’s fourth birthday party. If you don’t know already about the epic SEC Championship game, an explanation from me won’t help. In any event, this may be my last post for a couple of weeks for reasons that I will reveal later. Y’all be good and I’ll be back soon.

It has been brought to my attention that in the past couple of years I’ve been a tough critic on some downtown buildings. I’m not ready to concede this point – the fact is that I’ve been pretty good about holding my tongue. Unfortunately, there are a number of projects that warrant a good dressing down. Our city, however, is a small one- everyone knows everyone. For that reason, I will note that my critiques have been limited to the crappy, faceless, out-of-town corporations that have besmirched downtown with their generic bullshit. In my defense, I will also point out that I’ve dedicated many more pixels to praise of virtuous urban design elements in our city than I have to panning the bad ones.

In my youth, in athletic endeavors, I was known to get a bit lippy from time to time. I was almost never mean-spirited, and it was always a joy to find an adversary who enjoyed a bit of banter as well. That little trait taught me that if you’re willing to dish something out, you better be willing to take it. I also firmly believe in the philosophy that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Although I don’t currently live in a glass house (but desperately want to), I figure turnabout is fair play. So today, I offer some recent work of my own for your appraisal and critique.

I am not an architect and don’t portray myself as such. I don’t solicit building design work, but from time to time I have occasion to either partner with an architect or take on a small residential commission for a client. This week I offer a glance at a couple of projects I’m currently working on. One is near completion and one is under construction.  The first is a home in another county designed for a retired couple. The second is a home in an urban neighborhood for a young couple. I must admit I didn’t consult either client before writing this, so details are omitted. I originally wrote brief project synopses for each, but have decided not to include them. I didn't give the BWW folks a chance to explain their work, so it would unfair for me to do so ;)

So, there you have it. I’m not afraid to put myself out there for critique. Please feel free to rip me a new one. But remember, Chattanoogans live in these so if you’re not respectful in your critique, I won’t post your comment (if you want to be mean, lets go do it over a beer ;)


T******* House


S***** House






11.26.2012

Urbansim- So easy, a 7 year-old can do it.

It’s a little chilly outside and cuddled up with D, I’m quite cozy. I know I’ll be cold and uncomfortable when I get out of bed, but on this Saturday I don’t mind so much. Today is one of life’s massive milestones. Today I’m taking my oldest for his first trip to Tuscaloosa and his first Alabama-Auburn game. By the time I’m up, Spence has already woken, brushed his hair and teeth, and donned his favorite ’Bama jersey, the #8 once worn by Julio Jones. Despite the fact that I HATE shaving, I shear me whiskers, have a quick shower then don a pair of hound’s-tooth trousers and a crimson sweater. I look good, he looks great. Time to roll.

iPad? Check, iPhone? Check. Tickets? Check. Car charger for the phone? Check.  Out the door, in the car, off to breakfast. A quick croissant for both of us at Neidlov’s and we’re on the road. The drive from Chattanooga through Birmingham to Tuscaloosa takes about three hours. Aside from the unfailingly appalling condition of I-59 between the Georgia line and Gadsden, the drive is pretty uneventful. This is a stretch of road that enables my mind to wander a bit.

When I was growing up, the family didn’t often go to college football games.  One of my earliest recollections, however, was going to an Alabama game with my father and brother – I suspect I was four, maybe five. I remember three fuzzy snapshots in time: arriving at Denny Stadium and walking in with the crowd; sitting in some nosebleed seats looking down at the field; and questioning why we were leaving before the game was over. Despite the fact that we didn’t often attend games in person, Alabama football (and in the case of one of my brothers, Auburn football) was as important as school or church. Of course, I was no exception; most of the people I knew also felt the same way about either the Tide or Tigers.

I don’t hate Auburn (except in 2010, the whole $Cam Newton thing did my head in). I have a graduate degree from there, and I’m member of the Alumni Advisory Council for the Planning Department. As it relates to my personal and professional development, I can’t overstate the importance of the six quarters I spent in Lee County. I actually love Auburn, and it has a special place in my heart. I found, however, that as it relates to football, six quarters on the plains could not trump twenty-four years of living and dying with the Tide.

It’s about ten in the morning as we roll into the Magic City…
“Hey Spence, look, it’s downtown Birmingham.”

“Cool…. There are a bunch of big buildings, all jumbled up.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of what a downtown is.”

“Do a million people live there?”

“Less than that, a few thousand.”

“I bet a bunch of stores are there. If a thousand people live there, that’s where I would open a store, those people have to shop somewhere.”

“Yep, cities are economic engines.”

“…And I bet it’s a lot easier to have sleepovers with your friends if you can just walk over to their house…”

Attaboy.


After that exchange I can tell he’s paying more attention to what’s outside the car window. A few more miles and we’re into old Rushing territory. “Hey Spence, this is Bessemer… where my dad is from.” Fortunately, he doesn’t seize upon that particular morsel (I think he senses it’s not a happy subject). Instead he opines “there aren’t many big buildings here, and they’re all spread out. I bet they have to drive all over to shop. I like downtown better.” Attaboy. The rest of the drive passes relatively uneventfully – except for old man Rushing rocking to Gangnam Style during minor traffic jam. This act that causes young Spence great embarrassment, but provides a level of entertainment to our fellow travelers. We’re almost there.

Dreamland is a station of the cross for bar-be-que enthusiasts and a Tuscaloosa institution. Surely, on Iron Bowl Saturday, the place will be mobbed. I can’t not try to go though- it’s Spence’s first trip here. Jug Factory road is, as usual, a bit sketchy- but as we pull up, I am greeted with a front row parking spot. A police officer opens the door for us, and directly escorts us to a booth beneath a poster of Coach Bryant. Our server approaches the table and tells us that we will be splitting a slab of ribs and asks what we would like to drink. Who knows if it’s the gameday day ambiance, Spence’s face-splitting grin, or the food, but the combination of pork, smoke, sauce and company is better than anything I’ve ever tasted (sorry Charlie Trotter).

Pointing a signed picture on the wall, Spence asks “Dad, who’s that?”

“George Teague. I went to high school with him. I didn’t know him well but he was in my computer class with Ms. Daniel’s when I was in eleventh grade.”

“What’s he doing to that guy from Miami?”

“Stripping the ball from him. That’s one of Alabama’s famous plays. We beat the ‘Canes in that game to win the National Championship.”

“Cool.”

We park at Central High, and join the throng headed toward the stadium. Spence is about to come undone- he’s hopping, skipping, holding my hand and asking questions as fast as his little mouth can form them. “How big is the stadium? Why is it called Bryan-Denny? Where are the players? Why is he called “Ears” Whitworth? Can I have an Eddie Lacy jersey? Where are the Auburn fans? Can we meet Nick Saban? I like the way the cars are parked in places all around – that beats a big parking lot where everyone has to walk all day.” Attaboy.

As we approach the quad, the questions stop and his mouth drops a little. Thousands of our brethren are cavorting in tents, hugging, dancing, high-fiving and enjoying each other’s company. A cheesy as it sounds, I feel like I’m home. Alabamians… dressed like me, talking like me, loving what I love. I can’t help but think that Spence picks up on it. We make our way through the scene, soaking up the atmosphere, and I point out elements of interest: Denny Chimes, the Library. “I like it here, the buildings and the trees make it feel like a big room.” Attaboy.  We reach our destination: a tailgater thrown by one of my fraternity brothers from New Mexico who has moved to Birmingham and adopted ‘Bama as his own.  After a hearty round of hugs and introductions, they proceed to stuff us with food and drink. Thankfully, Mr. Garcia refrains from telling any stories that start with “I remember when your dad…”

We make our goodbyes and head toward the stadium to take pictures with the Statues of our beloved coaches. “Dad, can we go to our seats? Dad, can we go down on the field? Dad, I want popcorn… no, I want nachos…no, I want a hot dog… no, I want a pretzel. Where’s A.J McCarron? Who’s Mal Moore? Why isn’t that guy wearing a shirt?...

Standing in front of Coach Bryant’s statue, I make to have a stranger take a picture of us. OH. SHIT. How can I have made this schoolboy error? My… Phone… Is… Dead. Did I really just drive for three hours without plugging my phone into the charger? Yes. How will I be able to tell all of my Facebook friends how much fun we’re having? How will I be able to post pictures to Instagram that illustrate said fun? How will I be able to tweet the details of our fantastic adventure? In that moment, I realized that this is best gift Spence could possibly be given- the full and undivided attention of his father. Obviously, I wasn’t planning on using my phone to work or check email, I was going to use it to let family and friends know what we were up to. But from his standpoint, what’s the difference- his dad still would have been fiddling with technology on and off throughout the night. Now, its just me and him, and his experiences and memories trump all the likes and retweets in the world. This is our game- what happens here, between us is not for our family or friends (whom we love dearly). What happens here is for him and me to share to the exclusion of everyone else (yes, I’m selfish like that). 

The third quarter ends, and over the P.A. an acoustic guitar gives way to familiar lyrics…

Rollin' down a backwoods Tennessee byway, one arm on the wheel…


“Dad, are you crying?”

“Uh, er, no son….uh, the wind is uh making my eyes water… I love this song”

I am no country music fan, although, I do have a pair of boots and a cowboy hat to show for my time in New Mexico. Dixieland Delight, however, is one of those songs that has been with me my entire life. It was the soundtrack of beach vacations with the Turners and Voltzes when I was small boy. It was a go-to when I got homesick in Albuquerque. It’s been the backdrop for a number of cherished moments with D (notably the stormed delayed Riverbend concert of 2000). It was cause for a drunken square-dance with Matt Winget and Johnny Hardaway at Hannah’s before this year’s UT game. In this moment, it’s perfect once again. With ‘Bama up by six touchdowns, and my son by my side, a hundred thousand happy Alabamians serenade one another at the top of their lungs.  When the chorus I arrives, I join in full voice (…except for the unofficial lyrics that aren’t really appropriate for seven-year-old ears)…

Spend my dollar; (ON BEER!)

Parked in a holler 'neath the mountain moonlight; (ROLL TIDE!!)

Hold her Uptight; (AGAINST THE WALL)

Make a little lovin', (ALL NIGHT)

A little turtle dovin' on a Mason Dixon night. (F*** AUBURN)

Fits my life, oh, so right: My Dixieland Delight.

The song ends, the game resumes, and the elderly gentleman sat in front of us turns and says “You and your son look like you’re having so much fun, would you like me to take a picture of you two?” I replied with a wink, “ Thank you sir, I appreciate it, but fortunately my phone is dead”

He inquires 
“Oh, by the way, do you know who sings that last song?”

“Yes sir. It’s Alabama.”

11.19.2012

Man Crush: John Nolen

Before we jump in this week, I have to acknowledge the remarkable events of the weekend. What a life!! For those of you who don’t stake your emotional and mental well being on the performance of a group of 19-year olds, I’m talking about college football. Two miraculous upsets have propelled Alabama back into the national title picture. I must admit that for a moment, I lost faith- I thought we spent all such luck last year. If things go according to plan, we’ll get Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game – delicious. There is still plenty of water between us and the shore, but for now, this makes one very happy C.Rushing.

Dr. John J. Pittari, Jr. has the ignominy of being the only graduate school professor to give me a B. I fully believe that I did A work in that particular class, but it was not be. There is, however, some justice there as I likely did not deserves some the A’s that I received in other classes. I’m not too broken up about it, but the frustrating thing about the B (in Planning History for heaven’s sake) was that I actually enjoyed the course. I’m not really a history buff, but studying past philosophies of planning and reading about past practitioners and theorists was enthralling.


As a class exercise, each student was assigned an historic figure of the planning world to research and present back to the class. I was hoping to work on Ebenezer Howard. At the time I was enamored with the rigid geometry and rationalism of his Garden City diagrams. Failing Howard, I wouldn’t have minded doing some work on Earl Draper. Draper did the vast majority of his professional work in the South and borrowed heavily from Howard. Despite the fact that the good Doctor knew I wanted to do Howard, he purposefully assigned me John Nolen. I was pissed about that (I got over it).  Of course, when the good Doctor assigned Nolen to his favorite pupil, he knew what he was doing. Nolen’s work wasn’t about two-D geometry, it was about quality of space. He was less concerned with creating utopias than he was embracing and elevating the spirit of place. Nolen was a stud- I developed a full-on man-crush. The man was a titan in the field: an academic, a prolific consultant, and for his work in various professional organizations is often referred to as the “Father of City Planning”. He did HUNDREDS of plans across the country, and his list of work in the South is long and distinguished. His firm did 54 plans in Florida alone, including excellent examples in Venice and Sarasota (but let's agree that FL isn't the South). His work in Kingsport is famous and he also did plans for Asheville, Columbus, Savannah, and, you guessed it – Chattanooga.

The 1911 John Nolen park system plan for Chattanooga…Kicks. Ass. The plan comprises a twenty-seven page document entitled “General Features of a Park System for Chattanooga” and an accompanying map. It’s tough for me to read through his work without feeling inadequate. While it’s easy to tell that this was written in the very early twentieth century, his prose is clear, direct and readable. Four of the twenty-seven pages of the plan are given over to bibliography- he quotes books that he wrote himself. The greatest thing about the plan, however, is the intangible quality that separates great plans from good ones. This intangible quality transcends time and the development of the city that has occurred in the intervening years.


That is the power of vision. Nolen has been dead a long time, and the city has boomed, busted and boomed in the decades since his death. Yet, there they are, hundred-year-old concepts that could easily be incorporated in a planning document of today. Like all good vision, there are elements of specificity and elements of spirit. From a detail standpoint, virtually everything on the map could be implemented today in some form. The danger of specificity, however, is that elements of a plan, when unrealized can make a document seem outdated or obsolete. Great plans, however, have an underlying layer of vision that suggests broader concepts that are viable regardless of the circumstances of site.

As I am very fond of saying, cities are constantly changing. All of the elements in play cycle at their own rhythms and change at their own pace- most of these very slow by the measure of a human life. Mr. Nolen’s plan is 101 years old, but the Chattanooga of his drawings is more than recognizable today. As I was reviewing his document during the preparation for this post, I came across a passage that gave me goosebumps:

“The first and last need of a city, the one that outweighs all others, is civic spirit and the expression of that spirit in great and enduring public works, erected for the common welfare. Chief among these, according to modern standards and modern necessities, is a system of parks, playgrounds, and open spaces, adequate in extent, artistic in design, scientific in construction, and liberal in maintenance. In Chattanooga, the first step, but only the first step, has been taken toward the formation of such a system. It now rests with the community to express its civic spirit, to manifest its faith in the future of Chattanooga…”


That statement is as true and applicable now as it was in 1911. It is not lost on me that our resurgence was driven by the channeling of our civic spirit and by manifesting our values and aspirations in the construction of a generous and democratic public realm.

11.12.2012

Swim Bike Run - Part 2

OK, I’ll be honest. I’ve done my level best to try to create an urban design connection to this, the second in a two-part post about the ten-year anniversary of my completion of Ironman Florida, but I’ve got nothing.  Don't worry, I’ll be on about something else next week.


The sea was angry that day.  A 2.4-mile swim is a difficult proposition in the best of circumstances, but on this day, it was like swimming in a washing machine. As a consequence of the choppy waters, I caught a few mouthfuls of seawater that induced an inglorious return of that water to the ocean. Training in the placid waters of the Sportsbarn indoor pool helped prepare me for endurance, but didn’t do much to prep me for the course. It also didn’t do much for mental preparation. While training at the pool I was thinking about things like the urban public realm and how we were going to make it through another Downtown Plan meeting. While during the race I was thinking, dear lord, I’m half a mile from shore, I could drown, there are sharks out here, I just threw-up seawater, and this wetsuit is giving me a nasty rash on my neck. I emerged from the brine with an awful time of 1 hour 45 minutes- about half an hour worse than it should have been.


Of the three phases of the race, the bike was the least exciting. The ride was long and uneventful (TWSS). The one interesting thing that happened was that I got the first flat tire of the whole process about 10 miles in. Despite the fact that it was November, the mosquitoes were still out in full force on the panhandle- I got eaten up during the four minutes it took me to replace the tube. This race course highlighted the one deficiency that downtown Chattanooga has for IM training. That course is flat- the only grade change on the course is a small bridge. Try finding a flat place to ride around here. I satisficed by riding moccasin bend from the hospital to Pineville road and looping back and forth as many times as it took to hit my training distance for that particular day. The 112-mile ride took me 7 hours. I was hoping that the time would be a little bit better, but compared to swim, it was fine.


The run was the portion that I was most prepared for physically. I came into the IM on the heels of a couple of marathons and was pretty confident in my ability to finish strong. Based on my training and my estimation of what the rest of the day would take out of me, I figured that I had a 4-hour marathon time in me. I was wrong. The first 13 miles of the run were fine, and I was right on pace. But at the half-way point of the marathon I developed a sharp pain in my knee. Since pretty much every other part of my body hurt, I didn’t think much of it. I took a walk through an aid station and tried to run again and the sharp pain was amplified. I discovered some time later that I damaged the cartilage in that knee. One of the difficult things for a competitive athletic person is to surmise the difference between being injured and being hurt. Playing when hurt is a hallmark of a tough guy, playing when injured is for fools. By the time I felt leg pain, my ability to think was severely diminished. In fact, there was no point when I even confronted the question about whether or not it was wise to proceed, the only question was how. For the last thirteen miles of the marathon I traded off walking, shuffling, brief idiotic sprinting, and extended periods of limping. It took my almost as much time to finish the last half of the run as I thought it would take to finish the whole thing. I lack the vocabulary to describe what I went through for those last few hours. I entered some kind of surreal mental and emotional state- I know that I was changed in those few hours, but I can’t explain how.

A year of hard work, sacrifice, training, and self-denial resulted in a day of stress, injury, and exhaustion. Hard work was the reward for my hard work. So it is for those of us who endeavor to build cities. It is our privilege to be able to work toward the building of the community – the work is our reward. Unlike a triathlete, however, there is no finish line for city builders. Chattanooga was here before any of us arrived and it will be around when we go to our reward. So we work hard to build the type of place we want to live in- a place that expresses the values and aspirations of the community- then we move along. 


As I reached the last of the 140.6 miles that I traveled that day, I broke into what could reasonably be called a run. As I was high-fiving spectators and taking my final strides toward the final line, I lost it. It’s no big secret that I’m an emotional man, and will cry on cue. Couple that with the journey that my body and mind had just undergone and I was worse than Dick Vermeil watching Old Yeller. I stopped the clock in 14 hours, 53 minutes and 34 seconds. The time was three and a half hours worse than I had anticipated, but the race was everything I could have hoped for. Thanks being patient and indulging my anniversary, I'll be back to business next week.

11.05.2012

Swim, Bike, Run - Part 1

Last week, an ass a good friend observed that in the past few weeks the blog has been filled with stories from my youth and recollections of past glories. From this, he has deduced that I am having an online, mid-life crisis. He has also predicted that within the next year I will purchase a new, red sports car. I don’t happen to agree with his assessment, but if he’s right, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing. For one, I believe that I am past the mid-point of life- due to my affinity for brown liquor and cigars I rather suspect I will not see 80 (but who knows- Baba hit 94). Additionally, if this is indeed a mid-life crisis, I got off easy – a few blog posts are far less expensive than the car I would probably buy. The ass’s point is taken, and in the future I will try to stick more closely to the urban design script. In defiance of his assertion, however, I offer another trip down memory lane.

This week marks the ten-year anniversary of my competition in Ironman Florida. For the uninitiated, an Ironman is a long-distance triathlon. The Florida version of the race comprises a 2.4-mile swim in the Gulf of Mexico, a 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run (aka a marathon), completed back-to-back-to-back in the same day. The fact that I was engaged in the sport is purely a case of sibling rivalry. My brother egged me into running (a couple of a marathons) and a few short triathlons. He was always faster than me, so the only way to beat him was to go for distances that he wouldn’t. Regardless of the reason for participation, the race was perhaps the highlight of my athletic career. Beyond that, the process of training for it sparked the biggest leap in my understanding of Chattanooga and urbanism.


Yes, I shaved my legs for this.

2002 was, until that point, the most dynamic year of my life. Personally, it was the year I got married and the year I bought my first house. Professionally, the studio had just embarked upon the Downtown Plan and the 21st Century Waterfront Plan. This was also the year that I had an aborted attempt at starting a new design firm- obviously it didn’t work out, but I suppose I can count my blessings for that. It was in the midst of that storm that I thought preparing for an Ironman was a perfectly logical thing to do.

The primary factor in training for an Ironman is time. Clearly there is a physical endurance component, but with the proper training you teach your body over the course of a year to be able to handle the physical stuff- all it takes is time. At the height of training, I was spending 4 hours per weekday and six hours per weekend day in the pool or on the road. The upshot of that is that I had a lot of time alone to think. A portion of that thinking time was spent on things like technique and mental preparation for the race, but much of the training is mindless repetition that allows the thoughts to wander. The unintended consequence of spending 4 hours a day running was that I was put into direct contact with the city – our roads, buildings, sidewalks, parks, plazas and greenways. I had hundreds of hours with nothing to do other than think, observe, and contemplate the built environment. Perhaps this is something that others take for granted, but it seemed profound to me: in understanding a place, there is truly no substitute for being there. The typical planning “windshield survey” can be useful for data gathering, but it doesn’t allow for the depth of understanding that comes from actually being in a position to touch, smell, hear and see places up close.

One of the things that is best understood in person is the varying level of quality in the public realm. There were places that I loved to run and places where I didn’t. The places where it was fun to run were those that treated pedestrian with respect and generosity. These are the places where one felt safe and could let the mind wander- the excellent example is the Riverwalk. On the Riverwalk there is no real danger of being plowed by a car, lighting was ample and consistent, and the surfaces level and well maintained.  These factors made for less stressful and more comfortable runs. Then are the places where you have to constantly be on alert for motorists, cracks in the sidewalk, or any of the other typical runners banes.

Fun to run.
When we advocate for a generous public realm, it’s not about aesthetics. The width of the sidewalk, the character of the lighting, the quality of the ground plane, the number of curb cuts, and the interface with the street are often characterized as costly, aesthetic concerns. In reality these issues are more about function than they are form. It boils down to the classic budgetary concern – should you build to the minimum arbitrary standard and end with something that is marginally useful, or do we spend a little extra to produce something that is highly functional. Running through downtown, it’s easy to find the places where we built quality- these are the places where you can find people, these are also the places that expressed our values and aspirations as we were making our comeback. Its also easy to find the places where we cheaped out- these are the places we avoid, places devoid of life and vitality.

Over the past few decades (with some notable exceptions) we have proven that we are a community that aspires to do more than the minimum.  When we have made those extra investments in our public realm, the return on that investment has been extraordinary. When we have cut corners, we have received what we paid for. Chattanooga is currently kicking ass while communities across the country are struggling. Why is that? Our current success is a direct result of our investments over and above the minimum.

I'll see YOU next week

I'll be back next week to finish the thought. For now, I'm off to Nashville to see Noel again. Cheers.

10.29.2012

I'm a lover, not a writer.

In order to create, there must be a dynamic force, and what force is more potent than love?
Igor Stravinsky

The summer is now officially, officially over. Last Thursday was the final day of the Retrospective exhibition and I cleared the space out on Friday. A couple of melancholy days to be sure, but all good things must come to an end. The process wore me out, so I’ll drop a personal observation now and get back at it next week. 

It only took 24 hours (including time for a shark) to break down the exhibition. A space that took months of deliberate, diligent and thoughtful work to create was gone in less than a day. It did not escape my notice that there was symmetry between this and the way that the Design Studio met its demise. Over the course of more than two decades the Studio evolved and grew, and was nurtured and cared for by a robust cadre of community partners. The decades of partnership and cooperation embodied in the studio were also undone in 24 hours. Creating something and building order from chaos is difficult and requires love. Destroying something and becoming an agent of entropy is easy and can be done with ambivalence.

One of my earliest childhood memories came during a car ride in the rain. As I recall, I was sitting in the front seat- likely without a seatbelt (and certainly without the Kevlar car seat with crash-resistant roll bar, like the kids these days). During a journey I became fixated on the rhythm of the windshield wipers. As the wipers swept up, the right wiper would leave a vertical rivulet of water on the windscreen. As the wipers swept back down, the left wiper swept away the line that the other had just created. In my young mind, I considered the thin line of water to be art that one of the wipers had created. It upset me that the other wiper would come along to destroy it. As silly as it seems it caused me some sadness to see that one of the wipers was constantly trying to create while the other wiper constantly destroyed. I suppose that was an early observation that in nature we find things that create and things that destroy.

Fortunately, it appears that Chattanooga has developed a reservoir of creators. We have architects, chefs, graphic designers, artists, writers, filmmakers, geeks and craftsmen all getting down for the 423. There are still haterz (in the parlance of our times), but they seem to have been relegated to the sidelines for the time being. Let us learn our lesson, support each other, and build creative enterprises in ways that will withstand the whims of those with a taste for destruction. Until next week, my friends, keep spreading the love.

10.22.2012

In Jagermeister Veritas

“Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”


-Ernest Hemingway

(Warning: Mom, some of the dance links contain salty language, please beware)

The fact that this post was written and uploaded by the usual Monday deadline is a minor miracle. This past weekend was the third Saturday in October, and you know what that means. I am one of four brothers (from other mothers) that have a standing tradition of traveling to this particular game. This year, however, we expanded The Circle to assemble an all-star cast of C.Rushing cronies and made a weekend of it in Knoxville. It was great to get together with a group of folks for whom I have an affinity, who have the capacity to put up with me, and who have a propensity to have fun. A weekend of Homeric proportions, it was. The Old City will never be the same after I unleashed epic versions of the wobble, the cupid shuffle, the cha cha slide and a stone-cold Dougie.  All of this, of course, was an excellent warm up for a day of friendly banter and a football game that ended the way it should have (Roll Tide). At dinner Friday night, however, our conversation turned to politics (I know, that shocked me as well). But rather than actually engage in that conversation, I bought some time by asking my friends to tune in to the blog for my views on politics and how it relates to urban design (I then swiftly changed the subject). Here, then, is my attempt to pay heed to Hemingway’s excellent advice:

It's a pants off! (though not literally, Roll Tide)

I can’t stomach the current state of American politics. The very idea of turning on the tv, or perusing a website to listen to the talking heads makes my ears bleed. Every four years it gets worse. I don’t really have much of a social life (except for The Circle), and the ability to keep up with acquaintances via Facebook is a decent surrogate. I am, however, amazed at some of the stuff I see posted by friends that I normally consider to be sane and rational people. The way the process unfolds is nothing less than a circus. How can this possibly pass as a way for sane, adult citizens to conduct the process of self-governance?  It’s as if people have lost any semblance of intelligence in an effort to paint the other guy as a villain. An example from each side: “you didn’t build that” and “binders of women”. Taken in full context, a reasonable person should be able to get the gist of what the candidate is saying. Yet, people insist on insulting our collective intelligence (if there is such a thing), by taking these statements out of context and suggesting that there is some nefarious subtext. Do small business people actually think they built all the roads, infrastructure and markets that gave them a game to play in? Of course not. In that sense, you didn’t “build that”- get over it. Do people think that Mitt should have used some other instrument to hold on to his paperwork? Perhaps he should have had ladies delivered to him in a TrapperKeeper (nah, but I think that’s what Clinton used).

Every four years we are faced with the illusion of a choice. There is very little real difference between the parties, as they essentially serve the same masters (not us, by the way).  We have a cumbersome system that is susceptible to partisan squabbling and that makes it virtually impossible to address “real issues”. This inertia is a great thing when everything is right with the world- it’s hard for some nutcase to come in and mess things up. However, when we are faced with problems, the inertia creates an environment that thwarts nimble and creative solutions to real problems. The bigger our government gets, the worse the problem becomes.

Sadly, a disproportionate amount of
The Circle support UT.
(identities hidden to protect the guilty)

Ok, now for the urban design connection. If this blog was boiled down to a single theme, it would probably have to do with contextual sensitivity. Every site, every street, every project has a set of unique conditions that a successful design will respond to. One of the glaring deficiencies of Modernism is that it offered too many one-size-fits-all solutions (yes, I understand juxtaposition with the landscape, but follow me on this one). With other elements of urbanism- our food systems and transportation systems- the forward thinkers are proposing the devolution of these massive monocultures to localized solutions to local problems. So it makes perfect sense to me that a massive federal government is less able to efficiently provide services and solutions than the state and local governments are. I’ve written time and again about how I lean right, but the truth is, I’m pretty moderate (yes, moderation is not one of my long suits, but for some reason it applies in politics). In this case, however, I fall in with the Republicans on the concept of delegating more powers to local governments.

Before you flood my inbox with hate mail, please note that I fully recognize that we Republicans are a confused lot as well. We’re as much about private property rights as we are about reducing the size and reach of government. Those two things seem complementary, but in the realm of American urbanism they are unfortunately at odds. Enmeshed in the property rights argument is the paranoid Tea Party concern over Agenda 21 and the possibility that the U.N. might take our sub-urbs away. The fact is that the sub-urbs are the embodiment of Big Government imposing its will. Through decades of the subsidization of infrastructure, gasoline, and the administration of zoning and subdivision regulations, the government has dictated to the market what can and will be built. If our massive infrastructure was not subsidized and if consumers actually paid the true market cost for gasoline, sub-urbs would not exist in their current form. So here is our confused position- we love free, unfettered markets, we love sub-urbs, we hate Big Government, and we hate subsidy- yet there they are, all in bed together. I believe that people should have the opportunity to choose how and where they want to live- but they should have to pay the true market cost of those decisions. The costs of highways and roads should be passed along to those who use them- not put on Spence and Stern’s tab in the form of deficit. Gasoline should be priced at what it costs to deliver- currently about $15 a gallon. Since we wouldn’t be paying taxes to deliver those services, we would have more money/flexibility to make our decisions. At that point, the choice is yours- if you can afford to live in the ‘burbs and want to, have at it. As it relates to community development, I have a problem with using our tax dollars to subsidize other people’s bad lifestyle choices.

So there you have it, the fulfillment of an promise made on a night out: C.Rushing on politics. As imperfect as our process is, I suppose it beats strange women, lying in ponds distributing swords as a basis for a system of government. I have learned my lesson and will keep my mouth shut. If you happen to see me out and about, please don’t bring this up in conversation. I really don’t want to write about it again (for at least four years).

10.15.2012

I gets buckets...

I love sports- playing sports, watching sports, talking about sports. In this space, I've written about my love of futbol.  As an Alabamian, football is in my blood (that blood runs Crimson I might add). Baseball has a place in my heart, and endurance sports have a piece of my soul (more on that later this year). But the sport that has had the greatest impact on my life is basketball. From the age of 14 until the age of 20 basketball was everything. Life revolved around the sport, life was the sport. Many of my greatest relationships were forged on the hardwood, the sport kept me occupied and out of trouble in high school, and my quest to walk-on at a D-I school led me to the great life experiences I had in New Mexico.

When I was in high school, I was constantly searching for high-level games. I played four to five hours after school every day, and at least that much on weekend days. My search for runs eventually led me to the "A-Rack"*- an asphalt patch of a basketball court in one the city’s housing projects. The Victor Tulane Court housing project was named after a prominent African-American Montgomery businessman from the early twentieth century. The 300-unit project had a reputation for being a tough place, and the basketball runs lived up to that reputation. That, however, was what I was in search of– “big boy” basketball. I don’t remember how I was introduced to that game or by who, but as I recall, I fit in pretty early. The fact that I was a white guy that could dunk made me a novelty and provided some level of credibility. From ’88 to ’91 I was an A-Rack fixture- for no other reason than the best basketball in the city was being played there and I wanted to be a part of it.

The A-Rack

As a sixteen year old, I did not have an overt interest in urbanism. At the time I suspected I would end up in advertising as a graphic designer. In hindsight, however, my visits to Tulane Court proved to be my first real exposure to the concept of housing density. I had a difficult time appreciating the density, however, because the overwhelming impression of the place was one of highly concentrated economic poverty. The second impression was that despite (or perhaps because of) the economic conditions, the community had a very robust social structure. The density issue had a very  practical application in this case. In my neighborhood the process of corralling ten people and heading to a basketball court was a Herculean task- at Tulane Court, all we had to do was knock on a few doors and walk across the street to get a game. While I had a sub-conscious appreciation for the benefits of density, I had a very conscious understanding of the detrimental effects of poorly executed density.

Tulane Court

History has shown that the low-income housing projects of the urban renewal era were unmitigated failures. Part of that failure was in design- anonymous units were designed in anonymous blocks.  Designers often provided prodigious amounts of open space for the residents, but in the effort to make them space for  everyone, they became no one’s space. The result of those designs was buildings that exacerbated existing problems and open spaces that were effectively no-mans land. Beyond the failure of design, the bigger picture problems were created by the concentration of low-income households.

I have, on a few occasions, participated in charrettes dealing with the redevelopment of government housing projects. In typical charrette fashion, citizens were involved in envisioning the future of the neighborhoods. The residents, having been exposed to (poorly executed) density, almost always favor sub-urban schemes for redevelopment. Can’t say I blame them. The American Dream of a plot of land with a house and front and back yards is something that is ingrained into all of our psyches. Without an understanding that there are other, better alternatives to circa-1950 sub-urbs, we have established a default answer to “what is your vision for a better living environment?” The problem is, as the "haves" have discovered, sub-urban design does not produce healthy living environments. Is anyone better off if poorly designed communities are replaced with poorly designed communities?

If we are to become a truly great city, the community has to provide healthy and sustainable living conditions for all of its citizens.  This process obviously entails more than urban design solutions. We've been down the road of design-only solutions and have seen the results. The community faces a daunting task- but it is not unlike what was faced downtown. The citizenry didn't comprehend the concepts of urbanism in the early eighties. Had you asked anyone about a vision for downtown development then, you would have likely received responses for sub-urban types of development- because that was perceived as good, and no one knew of a better alternative. It took several decades of community education and participation to establish a vocabulary that allowed us to develop a core that is authentic and that aspires to fulfill the promise of a healthy urban environment. 

Much has been said and written about Chattanooga Venture, Vision 2000 and similar processes. Those efforts brought together a certain cross-section of the community to identify problems and enumerate strategies to address them. Is there any doubt that a similar, robust process to address our current problems could be equally successful?  If a viable concept for empowering disadvantaged communities was developed, I'm certain that it would attract capital for implementation. That's where the Chattanooga way comes in- involving everyone who has a stake (which is everyone in the community by the way) in the creation of ideas to tackle the problem.


As for Tulane Court, it appears that in the last few years it has been redeveloped (presumably as a Hope VI project) and renamed the Plaza at Centennial Hill (despite the fact that there is no plaza). The redesign of the site has resulted in a project that looks an awful lot like a suburban apartment complex.  In my estimation it appears that none of the design issues have been fixed- the development seems to be anonymous blocks of housing (they’ve just been given the veneer of sub-urban homes) oriented around an anonymous open space (it’s a nice size, but poorly designed). Of course, the bigger issue is the economic composition of the development. As far as I can tell, the MHA is making efforts to create a mixed-income community, and I hope they can pull it off. The A-rack appears to have survived the razing of Tulane Court, and part of me wants to return and run court one more time- old man style (after all, I get buckets and I can still dunk). If I go, I’ll let you know how it turns out.


video
Let the record show that aged 40, I can still dunk.

*I don’t know for certain if it’s the “A-Rack” or the “A-Rec”, nor do I know what it stands for. There were a number of colorfully named basketball courts in the city- my next favorite run after the A-Rack was “The Band-Aid”. The Band-Aid was the outdoor court facility at Alabama State University- so named because after any given game you would likely require one.

10.08.2012

There are more important things...

I have an uncanny ability for developing great ideas that require tremendous amounts of work but result in little or no pay. And…I’ve come up with another one! The problem is that time usually devoted to blogging will be split working on this new project. The blog may suffer for a few weeks, so please cut me a bit of slack and I will reward your patience with some cool concepts that will hopefully be thought-provoking and insightful.

If the guiding principles for good urban design had to be distilled into one word, I think that word would be context. Context is everything in the consideration of the built environment.  Good designers take cues from the context of the existing built environment, the historic context of the site, the context of natural systems and social context of anything they design. This post doesn’t have much to do with urban design. It does, however, have plenty to do with the city. Today, I will consider my profession in context and put urban design issues in perspective.

Urban design is about quality of life. How we build and inhabit our cities has a great impact on issues of health and well-being and our buildings provide the fundamental human need of shelter. If we are honest, however, urban design is not a matter of life and death. When I complain about Noodles or Buffalo Wild Wings or P-word, those are valid concerns within the context of how important it is to build healthy, sustainable communities. In the big scheme of things, however, those complaints are insignificant.

Ya’ll know that I love Chattanooga. I am a choir-member, cheerleader and one who spends his time spreading the Gospel of the Scenic City to clients across the country. We have a lot of fantastic things going on right now– great stuff at VW and the spin-offs it created, the Gig service and the possibilities it represents, the promise of a new election, and all of the cool things working downtown. It’s a fine time to be white in Chattanooga.

Unfortunately, for a large number of our neighbors, times are a bit tougher. It seems that every time I go to Chattanooga.com, I am greeted with another story of someone murdered or shot. Every one of those who are killed is someone’s son or daughter and may be someone’s mother or father. To borrow from the late, great Robin Harris, it seems that we are in a place where the quality of life is going up, but the chance of life is going down. It always upsets me when I see an article about a Chattanoogan being murdered in cold blood followed by an article about a new opening up or who was lucky enough to win the Disney on Ice tickets.  I guess I have a hard time focusing on the community’s good life when we apparently can’t provide for the basic health, safety and welfare of all of our citizens.

We have young people in our city who routinely murder one another over nonsense, but it seems the community only wants to talk about who is being mean to horses or where the door of a new grocery store should be located. When it comes to inaction, I am as guilty as the next guy. It’s easy to write about problems, it’s quite another to get out in the community and try to fix them. We love to talk about the Chattanooga way- bringing diverse stakeholders together to work in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration to solve a problem. The promise of that process is that it extends to every corner of the community- a promise that I daresay has not been fulfilled to this point.


We face a number of complex issues, and frankly I’m not sure what the urban design community can do to help. Chattanooga is not unique in facing these difficulties. We are, however, a special place in that we have figured out ways to overcome seemingly insurmountable problems in the past.