On the Fence – Part 1

Nice weekend: no football to be stressed about, no client emergencies, the boys behaved, and it didn’t rain. The highlight of the weekend was Spencer’s indoor soccer game in East Ridge.  As fate would have it, that trip delivered the second highlight of the weekend. As we made the turn on Exit 1 from I-75 and headed to Camp Jordan, we saw the tour bus of none other than Herman Cain.

The Cain Train is still a'rollin

Perhaps the best thing to come of Herman Cain’s run for the presidency is the Mike Tyson caricature that it spawned. This makes me laugh out loud every time I watch it. CAIN!! On another day I would seize this opportunity to comment on the abysmal state of our political discourse, and how the 30-second video clip has replaced deep thought and contemplation in complex matters that require intellectual attention. As it is, I have precious little capacity for deep thought and contemplation and don’t want to waste it on a system that appears to be broken. In that sense I suppose one could argue that makes me part of the problem. That doesn’t mean I can’t help focus on the solution.

I think the solutions to a number of our problems are found here, not in D.C.  I believe that in the coming years we will find that the world is indeed round. Perhaps I have been reading too much Kunstler ( who wrote a great one this week), but I also believe that we will see diminishing returns from complex technological systems, and that resource scarcity will have profound effects on the sixty year long American standard of living.

Throughout the course of humanity, people have lived in close proximity because we need each other. We need each other for social reasons and to provide for our basic needs: water, food, shelter, and clothing. Of course, that’s a well-understood and accepted concept. Early in human history, our communities were essentially extended families. There was a communal dependence on one another for the ultimate health of the group (which allowed individuals to thrive). I’m not saying that everyone got along like a big, happy family, but there was a clear understanding that the health of the individual and the health of the community were intertwined.

As our civilization has advanced (and in particular the United States), the concept that the city/community exists as institution for common good has been lost. We take for granted that when we turn on the spigot, water will come out. When we’re hungry we can go to a restaurant or grocery store and provisions will be there waiting. When we need to go somewhere we can find gas at the filling station and roads in good condition. What this has created is a sense of entitlement and a false sense of independence.

This false sense of independence has given rise to a culture that accepts the notion that because we have property rights we can give the middle finger to the community (‘cause it’s a free country). This is nothing more than pure selfishness. In essence it expresses the thought that my needs and desires are more important than yours (or anyone else’s)”. This thought manifests itself in projects like BWW and Applebee’s. When these companies build in a way that does not respect the building form that the community has established over time, they are essentially giving the community the middle finger whilst exclaiming that their need and desire is more important than that of the community.

It is not only national chains that are offenders- it comes from private citizens in neighborhoods as well. An easy example is a front-yard fence. Let me first say, that not all fences are bad, some can be beautiful, add character and define space. However, in some cases, the installation of a fence means giving the middle finger to the neighborhood and proclaiming that your needs and desires are more important than those of the neighbors.

Example: Let’s say there is a compact neighborhood with narrow lots and well-scaled homes built to a common setback. Each home is different and expresses the personality of the homeowner, but the house itself is respectful of the scale and rhythm that the community has established over time. The introduction of an alien element (fence) disrupts this environment. This has recently occurred a couple of times in a neighborhood that I am familiar with. (I’m not calling out neighbors, but since these houses are for sale and have no residents, they’re fair game). I know it is the right of the homeowner to build a fence if the law allows. I also know that sometimes just because we can do a thing doesn’t mean we should do that thing.
Part II next week. Good fences.

Serendipity: An hour after I wrote the preceding paragraphs I went to Church. (Yes, I went to church, don’t be so surprised). In referring to a tangentially related topic Reverend Skidmore introduced what he referred to as the “Thirteen-year-old Syndrome”. He was pointing out that any thirteen-year-old who has taken a civics class understands that “this a free country and I can do what I want”. At that age, a person understands the concept of freedom, but probably hasn’t grasped the corresponding responsibility that it brings. He went on to say that despite the laws of the land, we have a higher moral responsibility to put the well-being of our brothers and sisters first. I fully understand that not everyone in this country holds to spiritual beliefs or is even aware of the golden rule. I do, however, firmly believe that it is our obligation as human beings to respect the needs of the community and that of our fellow man.


The Ol' Man and the C

So, there I was, trying to figure out a way to deliver on my promise of not only continuing the weekly blog, but doing it bigger and better. I developed a few ideas, but one stood out. The idea was to combine my love of urban design with my love of beer and cigars by conducting interviews with urban design cognoscenti at my Cherry Street office. Brilliant!! (if I do say so myself) My plan was to grab a buddy and do a dry run to test lighting, sound and experiment with my interview style. As fate would have it, I never got the chance for the dry run.

I met my friend and mentor Stroud Watson for a beer on Friday. I happened to have my computer with me and talked him into letting me take a shot at recording a brief interview with my webcam. I had three questions I wanted to ask and planned on sticking to the rule of thumb for blog video length (five minutes). I asked the first question and twenty-eight minutes later I had to interrupt him to see if our recording was even legible.

I attempted to edit the interview down to a more manageable size, but decided a) the nature of the response did not easily lend itself to editing and b) eff the five-minute rule of thumb. This is a niche blog and the godfather of the topic was dropping science- I’m giving you guys the straight, uncut dope. The lighting is bad, the sound is worse, and I look a bit of a Delta Bravo doing nothing but smoking and drinking for half an hour. That said, the quality of the content trumps the technical failings and that of the “host”.

I submit my one question interview in three parts. Enjoy...


Touch That Thang!!

As promised, I'm taking the week off. I do, however, have a few random comments...

-Roll Tide.

-Let's set the record straight.  Courtney Upshaw has gone on record that "Touch that thing fo" is in reference to #4 Mark Barron,  not "Touch that thing folk" as tweeters from outside the South would have it (#touchthatthingfolk was trending a week ago today). It was indeed refreshing to see a young man who clearly embraces the team ahead of self. I'm tiring of hearing the "great players, make great plays" indirect approach to self-aggrandization in post-game interviews.

-Apparently, it is hatin' season. Not only against the Tide, but against yours truly as well. Fortunately, that is one of the indications that you're on the right track. Haters, hate away...

-I thought last week's Urban Design Challenge was excellent. The crowd was large and energetic (again), the team did an excellent job, and the River City Company crew was on point once again. The Patten Parkway presentation marked milestone in the shift of project type for the challenge. The six sites of the challenge form a continuum of scale from site to district. The first two projects were essentially sites that were informed by their districts, and the final four will lean toward being district interventions that inform particular sites. I'm stoked to see what the last three teams come up with, the first three teams set a high bar.

See you next week.


Rammer, Jammer, Yellowhammer!

In case you missed it, the Times Free Press showed me some love at the end of last year.

I have to say I found it quite amusing that under the caption
of the picture on the TFP site, you have the option to purchase
such items as mouse pads, drink coasters, luggage tags and
t-shirts emblazoned with my smiling mug on them. Yeah…
they’re probably sold out by now…
Photo by Angela Lewis.

As I mentioned last week, I’m going to try to do some big things in the C.Rushing space this year. I have a number of ideas that I hope you will find entertaining and enlightening. Unfortunately, that is not the case this week. Due to massive events in the sporting world, I’m having a difficult time focusing. The BCS National Championship Game is being held in New Orleans tonight and my beloved Alabama Crimson Tide are in the mix. As my friends from Alabama will fully understand, nothing less than my ultimate personal happiness and sense of self-worth is wrapped up in the result. Depending on my mood, I may take next week off as well. Win, lose or draw, I will post something, but be forewarned that it is not likely to be a full-on 1,000-word post.

I considered trying to explain why college football is so important to Alabamians. It became clear after a couple of attempts that I lack the descriptive powers to tackle that. Additionally, that's been covered by others with far greater intellects than I. For the sake of this post, let’s just say that the “why” is less important than the fact that it “is”.  I know how silly the whole spectacle must seem to an outsider- grown people emotionally and personally invested in a game played twelve times a year by 19-year-olds.

Life for Alabama football, like a number of other elite sports teams, has been cyclical. We have gone through periods of dominance and we have gone through lean times. I try to constantly remind myself that when things are going well, enjoy it – it will not last forever. When we we’re losing to directional schools, I try to remind myself that it is temporary and that we will back.

We should think about downtown the same way. In the grand scheme of things, we’re doing well- we should appreciate that. Although, the past few years have been less than stellar, there seems to be a groundswell of enthusiasm and support and for picking up the downtown standard and charging forward. Now that it seems the Tide is turning (see what I did there?), it's time to go get 'em.

Roll Tide!


Say it Ain't So...

Happy New Year!

Housekeeping: I spent the past week contemplating the future of the ole C.Rushing blog. The issue is that writing does not come easy and therefore requires a lot of time. Time is a resource that I will not have in abundance this coming year. I thought about ways to scale back, spend less time and still produce something worth a damn. I couldn’t make myself happy with any of the options. It then dawned on me that toning things down, scaling back and retreating is not really my style. So, F*** it, I’m going in the opposite direction. Not only am I going to keep it going on a weekly basis, I’m going to do it bigger and better (mind you, I’m not really sure what that means just yet, but it sounds good). So, there it is, let’s keep a move on.

I will start the year with a confession- it’s best you hear this from me rather than read about somewhere else or see it on TMZ. This year, D and I celebrated our “New Year’s Eve” on the 30th instead of the 31st. The boys went for a sleepover with my in-laws, and we went out on the town. I got to see some friends I haven’t seen in while and in general cut the fool*. Before I make this confession, I want you to know that these were extraordinary circumstances and the term “over-served” would have been an understatement.  Let’s just say, I was in a state of mind where smoking a Chinese cigarette** sounded like a great idea. After a number of aperitifs at a couple of my spots, we headed to Easy’s for another cocktail or five and a fine meal. Afterward, I sauntered over to meet three of my best buddies at Hair of the Dog. As I arrived, they were leaving. What happened next might shock you:

C.Rushing:              What’s up boys? Where we headed? (pounds and hugs all around)

Unnamed Friend:    To watch UFC at Buffalo Wild Wings.

C.Rushing:              Alright, lets go.

As I recall, it went down something like this...

We walked the couple of blocks down Market Street to our destination (we did not find Paula Deen atop the building). As fate would have it, upon arrival we were informed that there was a 90-minute wait (a 90-minute F’ing wait to get into that shithole). So sanity prevailed and we walked a couple of blocks over to Local 191 (I like it there). That’s right, I was prepared to enter the Buffalo Wild Wings premises and spend money there. Worse than my slight hangover is the knowledge that I was actually going to darken the door of the epicenter of bad urban design in Chattanooga. Despite the fact that I didn’t actually go inside, I still feel that I’ve let myself down. To make matters worse, I can’t stand UFC. I simply can’t bring myself to watch two grown men beat the shit out of each other with their bare hands, but there I was. Speaking of violence, we made sure that our night out ended before folks started shootin’.

I have resisted the urge to write about crime and violence as 1) I want my commentary to be constructive and 2) crime is less a design issue than it is a social issue. Yeah, yeah, I know, everything is a design issue. There are design issues that drive that type of behavior and there are design issues that drive how people interact with one another to induce conflict. Our profession even has a field that focuses on how to address crime by design, CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design). Let me be perfectly clear though, shooting a gun at another human being for the purpose of maiming them or ending their life is not a design issue. It is curious to note, however, that the legal basis for governing issues of design and for arresting attempted murders is the same.

The 10th Amendment to our constitution gives states the authority to enact measures to protect the health, safety, welfare and morals of the community. The state then delegates this authority, known as the police powers, to local governments. Those powers are the legal basis for why our police force can exist, but it also extends to design related laws like zoning, subdivision regulations and building codes.

As I am fond of reminding ya’ll, I lean slightly right of center in my political views. I believe that government is bloated at every level and needs to be put on a diet. I also recognize the absolute necessity of having government provide services that are of importance to us all. We have a couple hundred years of case law that have established what are and are not valid applications of the police powers. Despite that body of decisions, there are still times when governmental action or inaction comes under scrutiny. When a controversial issue arises in regard to governmental action, I typically form an opinion based on a pragmatic consideration of the underlying premise that gives them the authority to act. So in matters of the police power, I consider whether or not the potential act of the government promotes and protects the health, safety, welfare and morals of the community. If so, then I generally favor the action, if no, then I generally don’t. For some (simplified) specific examples, let’s see what’s in the news…

Does the closing of a venue that has been the scene of repeated bouts of fighting and gun-play promote the health, safety, welfare and morals of Chattanooga? I believe so, shut them down.

Does an inter-governmental process to plan for the future development of the region promote the health, safety, welfare and morals of the community? I firmly believe so, plan away.

Does a new regulatory board for governing the design of new buildings downtown protect the health, safety, welfare and of the community? Well, that connection is a bit more tenuous. In consideration of the legal nature of this post, I’ll take the fifth. Regardless of whether or not the downtown review board is performing a task our Founding Fathers would approve of, their work will still benefit the community (I just hope they never get sued). Welcome 2012, I have a feeling you will be a feisty one.

*Alabama slang for behaving silly.

**That is not a euphemism, it was an actual cigarette from China.