5.28.2012

Seven?

You find me back in Chattanooga, after a trip to Tampa and a stint in the heartland last week. I'm not particularly keen on traveling, but I’m working on a good project with a great client in Iowa. I hate to keep lobbing excuses at ya’ll for why the posts are short or off-topic, but I’m going to do it anyway. Because of travel and workload I haven’t had time to think of a new and exciting topic. Rather than give you another series of links, however, I will write off the cuff about my past adventures in the business of urban design. 

As for this weekend, I'm only hoping to survive Spencer's birthday party. Seven years old, S-E-V-E-N! How time flies. Each year on the weekend closest to his birthday (which always happens to be Memorial day) we have the family in town for a crawfish boil. The weekend is always great and it is the one I most anticipate every year. Aside from its obvious significance, his birthday is also a marker for other events in my life journey.

For as bright and athletically inclined as he is, he has yet to
grasp the concept of this particular rivalry. He does, however,
know the difference between Hondo and Rondo.
2005 was an eventful year. That year, D.Rushing was with child (my aforementioned son and heir), and I was working for Stroud at the Planning & Design Studio. Life was great. We had a very happy, comfortable (I speak for myself) and uneventful pregnancy. Working for Stroud was a joy and privilege, even if it wasn't always a bed of roses. The life of a silversmith’s apprentice City employee was not an easy one. The work itself was a joy, but dealing with the cast of characters at the city and in the broader community could be…trying.

In the late spring, Stroud got the sack and studio employees were shuffled to other city departments. I was designated for assignment in the public works department where I was to assist citizens navigating the building permit process. While I suppose there is something to be said for the fact that I was not fired outright, I can't imagine a more soul-crushing job for a designer. If my goal was to put in twenty years of civil service and retire with a pension, I might have stayed. As you might have suspected, however, I don't get down like that.

Long about this time, Spencer Sinclair Rushing arrived. In part out of loyalty to the Master, in part because I didn't want to be a cog in the bureaucracy (the pay sucked anyway), and primarily because my first son was born, I resigned from the city. How lucky was I to be able to spend the first three months of Spencer's life at home with him and his mother. After having that experience, I am convinced that fathers should be able to take paternity leave (especially for the family's first child as the couple is learning the ropes). The few dollars of income lost could never buy the experiences I had that summer. In the back of my mind, however, was the question about how I was going to continue to grow professionally and earn a few farthings in the future.

OK, so it wasn't all play- but "work" was fun.

That opportunity came when I joined forces with three of the brightest people around. Stroud, Ann and I were unemployed and our friend Jim was looking for the next step in his consulting business. We joined forces to form of Kennedy, Coulter, Rushing & Watson with the mission of providing planning and design for cities and their moving parts. Over the next six years we did some really nice work on projects like the Knoxville South Waterfront, the Nashville Riverfront, Kingsport Landing, and The Strip in Knoxville. While the project work was fun, educational and paid the bills, the great windfall for me was simply being able to interact with three very high level professionals. Watching and learning as they conducted business, both technically and personally, was like being in school again (in a good way).

Alas, starting a new business is no mean feat. We did well enough and kept our families fed, but starting a private sector planning firm during the Great Recession was always going to be a tough ask. In the end, we each started to gravitate toward our core competencies and last fall when Stroud decided to try out for the PGA tour we had a group hug and called it. We’re still finishing out some contracts, and I have shown dogged determination in keeping Stroud off the golf course and on an airplane. That fantastic chapter of personal and professional development, however, has come to a close with a debt to my friends that I’m not sure I can ever repay.

As was the case exactly seven years ago, I’m in a transitional phase. This time round, however, the summer will be hectic rather than blissful, as there are irons in the fire. In August I’ll take the family on vacation, catch up on some sleep, then take the next step in my career. Don’t worry, I guarantee it will not be as a writer.

5.21.2012

Have-A-Tampa

Last week was great.  Idea Channel put it down for the Vine Street corridor in the Urban Design Challenge. The team embraced the challenge by putting the site in a broader context and addressing the issues that they felt were most important. If you want to hear more about their concept, make sure to come out the Community Design Forum on June 7th. As the usual Forum host is a member of the Idea Channel team, I have volunteered to moderate. It should be entertaining and informative, and there will be beer.

The morning after the Design Challenge, I hopped a plane with The Bearded One to Tampa. We were invited down there by the one and only Blake D (who was a pupil of mine until he turned evil…just kidding). Last century, Blake and I shared a small office at the RPA for the first year of my professional career. He left Chattanooga for his homeland of Florida and Glatting Jackson (which was later bought by AECOM). AECOM is currently undertaking a downtown plan for the City of Tampa, and as a part of the process is hosting a number of Knowledge Exchange Forums. Each of these forums deals with a specific topic, and we were invited to come tell the Chattanooga story at the public realm forum (correction: Stroud was invited to come tell the Chattanooga story, and I was invited to make sure that Stroud kept his presentation to no more than 20 minutes). I must admit that when the trip was planned, I had grand visions of sunshine and a cigar smoke filled night in Ybor City. Alas, it was not to be. It rained the whole time we were there, and we ended up dashing through a downpour to eat somewhere in Channelside. No serious complaints, however, as this was work not vacation.

As expected, Stroud killed at the forum. (I dropped the ball as our 20-minute presentation ended up running 33:09, but no one seemed to mind).  As we were prepping for the presentation, it occurred to me that he and I (and others no doubt) have given this talk numerous times on the road but not frequently at home. I thought it would be a good idea to record his presentation and make it available online. It is uploaded in 3 parts below.  Although we were asked to go into greater detail on a couple of things that are more relevant for Tampa, it is a pretty good overview of the Chattanooga story from a broad urban design perspective. Enjoy.

In sporting news, a hearty congratulations to the 5-6 year old Hixson Thunder for overcoming their “coaching” to win their pre-season tournament, regular season, and post-season tournament.

I'm a proud papa (and a marginal coach). 


5.13.2012

House Cleaning

As my writing time falls on Mother’s Day this week, I will be brief. This is fine, because from time to time, it’s necessary to pause the C.Rushing narrative and do some housecleaning. This week’s post is a collection of blurbs that need to be addressed but that probably don’t warrant a full post unto themselves. Yep, I’m sticking ya’ll with a “clip show”. (sorry)

-If you have not read the article from The Pulse on urban design, you probably should. It’s a decent piece of work, and not just because I’m heavily quoted. (Although this does extend my perfect record of being misquoted or otherwise put on blast by a writer).

-I’m very excited for River City Company's next Urban Design Challenge. Tuesday, 5:30pm at Christ Central Church on Vine St. If you see me, please stop and say hey. As always, I will be fielding your questions and comments for the design team- email me, comment to this page, the Facebook page, or on Twitter at #urbandesignCHA

-As a follow up from last week’s post, let me clarify my comments on pedestrian bridges. I was writing specifically about downtown Chattanooga- not in the ‘burbs (where everything defers to the car anyway). I was also specifically referring to pedestrian bridges that connect sidewalk to sidewalk– not skyways that connect two buildings. Skyways that link two complimentary uses- an office tower and parking structure for example- are mostly benign. However, in some cities extensive skyway networks have been established as surrogates for sidewalks, that practice can be problematic. However, I just don’t see that as being a potential problem for Chattanooga- we don’t have that kind of density, development pattern, or “excuse” to do anything like that (not to mention desire). If this is a subject that interests you, this is an interesting take.

-Big food news lately, last week was the start of our CSA, this week is Harvested Here Restaurant Week. Get thee to one (or more) of the participating restaurants and eat. The importance of local food production in the health of the city and it’s residents cannot be overstated. Food production also has very real land use and urban design implications; probably worthy of a full-blown post, stay tuned.

-Congrats to the U8 Green Phoenix for winning their league this past weekend…
A very happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! See you next week.

5.07.2012

Why should I change? He's the one who sucks

First things first – thank you to those who checked in with health advice and concern. I’ve got a plan for diet and exercise and after a year on a waiting list, I’ve got an appointment to see a new doctor. I’ve heard great things about his practice, and I’m very excited about his approach to health (I feel old exhibit #427: I just wrote that I was excited about a seeing a doctor). Obviously, I have not yet seen him, but after hearing from some of my friends who are clients, and reading about the practice, I am totally on board with the philosophy. As I understand it, the approach to health is collaborative between to the doctor and patient, it puts physical concerns into the larger life matrix of social, emotional and spiritual concerns, and approaches treatment from the standpoint of treating cause instead of symptom (which is the opposite of how my prescription-happy former Doc approached things). Last week, I noted that maintaining health and building the city are both hard work. This week I’ll stick with that concept, but illustrate it with a detail.

One of the things I have found in my dozen years in this profession is that there are two ideas that always come out of a public process (and most stakeholder meetings). The first is to close a street and turn it into a pedestrian mall. The second is to build pedestrian overpasses or footbridges. Both of those are almost always a bad idea. Earlier last week, I sat in on a meeting for an upcoming project, and someone tossed up the pedestrian bridge idea. It was not my meeting, and I think we were trying to wrap things up, so I held my tongue. As I left the building I reexamined why footbridges are such a bad idea. There are some straightforward, concrete answers, but it struck me that there is also a very basic concept that no one ever talks about.

Pedestrian bridges are detrimental to urban environments for a number of reasons- each of which is the direct result of the facility functioning as it should. The job of the footbridge is to remove the pedestrian from the street. The sole benefit from this move is that pedestrian and auto conflicts are reduced (and that is a worthy goal, don’t get me wrong). By taking people off the street, however, we have taken people off the street. The street is the heart of the public realm- our shared community space. We want pedestrians on the street- strolling, sitting, shopping, browsing, running, and dining. This is makes business viable, attracts more activity, and fulfills the promise that is the city.

As I mentioned last week, our society now treats symptoms. We rarely look for the root cause of our problems. This is the case with ped bridges. The fundamental question is this: “What is the problem?” Is our problem motorists behaving in a way that is potentially dangerous, or is it people having the audacity to walk across a street? Put in those terms, the answer is crystal clear. Our problem is not people walking (in fact that is a good thing), our problem is that we developed a transportation system that exists in a vacuum instead of being integrated into the city. Cars are important (I love mine and I drive all the time), mobility is important, access is important- however, these are facilitative actions. The reason we drive is to get from one place to another to engage in some activity. Those activities are the reasons that roads and cars exist to begin with. However, our current system favors the act of moving more than what we do once we’ve arrived. So rather than trying to cure the “ill” of people of walking on a street, why aren’t we address the other side of the equation?

In the great movie Office Space, Michael Bolton (one of the protagonists) decried the fact that his name had been hijacked by a “no talent ass-clown” (the singer Michael Bolton). When asked why he didn’t change his name, he replied “Why should I change, he’s the one who sucks.” So it is with the pedestrian bridge in an urban area. Why should the pedestrian have to get on a bridge, it’s the traffic behavior that is the problem.

*As I was writing this week, Outside the Lines did a segment about Bo Bike’s Bama. This is Bo Jackson’s effort to raise $1 million for the tornado victims by bicycling across my great home state.  Halfway through the piece I was reduced to tears (I am a crier of Vermeilian proportions). I love Bo Jackson (although this has not always been the case), he is a credit to professional athletes and an Alabamian of the highest order. Please consider going to BoBikesBama.Com and making a donation.