...the New 21

Ahhhhh… it’s nice to be back. I do enjoy traveling the country and preaching the urban design gospel from the book of Chattanooga, but as they say, there is no place like home. As it happens, I am home just in time for my eleventh marriage anniversary. What a patient and forbearing soul she is, to handle the boys and me. I am indeed a lucky man.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an urban design topic this week. I’m not above using travel, the anniversary, the start of the school year, the start of the English soccer season, the impending beginning of college football, home-brewing, and an absurd work schedule as excuses. But rather than leave than you with nothing, I will share a profound life experience that happened this week.

I like to think that I’m pretty good at taking things in stride. It’s not that I don’t loose my temper or get emotional, but I think I do a reasonable job of adjusting to and processing unexpected events. I am rarely shaken when caught off guard, but this week as I was blindsided. As I was making my social media rounds, I opened my Facebook feed and smack in the middle of my screen was a picture of my mother. In this picture my dear, sweet, newly retired mom was tagged in Colorado with her friends shooting some form of brown liquor in broad daylight. I’m…I’m not quite sure what do with that. I’m surprised, because I never remember her having a single drink when I was growing up. Even in these later years, I only seen her with an occasional glass of white wine (on the rocks I might add). This is somehow strange and disconcerting. I think I also feel a bit threatened- in our family I am the one most likely to drink brown liquor during the day. Who knows, maybe sixty-something is the new twenty-one. I guess I better go prepare myself for holiday jell-o shots...

Well, I'll always have my
1993 Beer Olympic Championship
(wow, has it been 20 years?)


99 Problems But the Beach Ain't One

Now, the tired but true maxim…say it with me…I need a vacation after my vacation. It’s time for me to get back to it though. By the time you read this, I'll be back in corn country where my clients and I are working to Reclaim Main Street and start a Riverfront Renaissance. Some day I’ll give ya’ll an update on our exciting work out there, be on the lookout. For now, I offer my thoughts on a vacation in its death throes…

I got up before the crack of dawn on Saturday morning to push, pull and drag the children and our various sandy belongings into the family truckster.  I was in quite a hurry to get back to the Scenic City. We drove for probably 30 minutes before we realized that we left members of the family behind. Beau Brummie and Big Al are the cherished stuffed animals of the oldest, were left at the cottage. The eight year old can count on one small hand the number of nights he has slept without them. For those not in the know, these little guys are simulacrum of sports mascots:  Beau Brummie of Birmingham City FC, and Big Al of the University of Alabama.  After giving brief (but serious) consideration to leaving the damned things behind, I realized that I would not be able to survive the fall-out of that decision. Back to the beach went, and that little excursion cost me more than a precious hour.

Oh, I would never leave you guys...

The reason for the rush is that a member of the C.Rushing circle and dear friend J.Hardaway was to exchange marriage vows that afternoon. I arrived home, passed children off to waiting grandparents, made a quick change to the suit (looking clean I must say), and dashed to the wedding. It was a lovely affair- mirth, happiness and celebration. (Let the record show, however,  that I did not touch the orange and white checker-boarded groom’s cake…I suspect it tasted of disappointment and defeat.) Footballs jokes aside, I’m so happy for my buddy and offer him and his bride my heartiest congratulations and best wishes for the future. This now brings my list of American buddies who have never been married to…one. That’s how old I am.

...of this lot...three down, one to go.
T'was a long day after a long week, and I was happy to have my head back on my own pillow.  I must say that I'm still getting reacquainted with the neighborhood and the house. The reason is quite obvious, and it is one of scale. I built the Madison Street project (my humble abode), on very tight lots, and the houses are of necessity and by design much smaller (by 33%) than a “typical” American house. Our neighborhood is one of the denser single-family neighborhoods in the city (it is not uncommon for lots to be 30’ wide or less). From time to time I feel the house is a bit small, but save for the over-sizing of the newer homes, the neighborhood feels about right. A week in Seaside has, for the time being, distorted my perspective.

On this trip we stayed in a small carriage house of one of the larger cottages. I didn’t think to measure it, but by mental map I bet it was 560sf (plus a 50sf front porch). Making it a little over 1/3rd the size of my home which is itself considered to be small. Despite its diminutive size, the house accommodated the life activities of two adults and two children reasonably well. From a design standpoint, the rectangle is entered from a six-foot deep porch that's as wide as the house. The interior comprises two large rooms (living/dining room and bedroom) separated by a core consisting of a bathroom accessed from bedroom, and galley kitchen and laundry/pantry that serve to connect the two larger rooms. Above the core is a loft with two beds that opens to the high ceilinged living room. As for Seaside, it is New Urbanism (almost) as advertised. (Their motto is dense, diverse and walkable- well, it’s definitely dense and walkable.) A few narrow streets and a number of narrow pedestrian paths connect the town. It seems that there isn’t a cottage that can’t be touched from some right of way, such is the nature of their building set-backs. Within this matrix of path and building, native trees and plants have populated the interstitial space. The place feels like a bespoke suit, albeit a snuggly fitted one. (As an aside, I think this is why the place feels odd to me- there's no such thing as growth and evolution. The entirety was built as one, and while the elements within the framework can be razed and rebuilt over time, the organism is in a kind of stasis.) The result of these conditions is that for a solid week I lived a “normal” life, just in a smaller dwelling and community.  

When I was finally able to kick off my shoes and survey the old homestead, I was shocked to find that both house and neighborhood felt MASSIVE. Could I have lived an everyday life with a wife and two children in 560 sf? Probably not. (The man who complains about not having his Burberry swim trunks probably has more clothes than can fit in a 6sf closet.) The experience however, was a fantastic reminder that the perception of space, and our “needs” are plastic ideals. It's possible to live a rich and rewarding life in less than 4,000 square feet. As we work on the next big thing in Chattanooga- increasing density- we need to make the case for greater spatial economy.



Well friends, coming ‘atcha from the sun and fun of the C.Rushing family vacation. As mentioned in previous posts, when I was a young man my family used to vacation at the Seagrove Villas in Seagrove, FL. This was, of course, years before Seaside and the rest of 30A blew up. After an absence of years, I reinstated the tradition in 2008 by bringing my young ones there. When making arrangements for this year’s trip, however, I sadly found that the Seagrove Villas were no longer. Apparently, the market believes that there is a higher and better use for the site. Despite my sentimental objections, I must confess that the market is probably correct. As a consequence, this year we quaffed the New Urbanist Kool-Aid and shacked up in Seaside.

Seagrove Villas...RIP...

Aside from accommodations, I did an abysmal job of preparing for the trip. We departed the Scenic City and made it as far as Fort Payne, (God’s Own) Alabama before I realized that I forgot my swimming trunks. On a trip to the beach, I forgot to pack swimming trunks. I forgot my beloved Burberry Nova check swimming trunks. Equally as tragic, I left my Burberry bucket hat. As I am ever the slave to style, I think that there are certain stylistic pinnacles that have been reached, and as such, certain standards to cling to. Sunglasses find their highest expression in Ray-Ban Wayfarers; casual shirts- Lacoste polos; athletic shoes- Nike; swimwear and bucket hats- Burberry. Once I find something that is done right and fits well, I seldom deviate.

Fortunately for me, however, Saks at The Summit in Birmingham is right on the way. Saks being one of the relatively few retail outlets for Burberry ‘round here. Unfortunately, yes, they had no Burberry swimming trunks today.  I opted to go slumming with a pair of Lacoste trunks and a fetching pink number from polo. On the hat front, the closest thing I could find to a classic style was a Lacoste bucket hat. I actually made the rationalization that a Lacoste bucket hat is more classic and appropriate than one from Burberry. Was it not a white terry-cloth Lacoste bucket hat worn by my father in the ‘70s that first sparked in my interest in that particular hat typology?

We arrive at the beach, check in to the house and get ready to head down to the beach. I don my flip flops, new trunks, t-shirt and bucket hat, and have a glance in the mirror. Oh my god, I’ve been l’accosted. A closer inspection shows that by unholy accident, everything piece of clothing I brought down or acquired on the way (save the new pink Polo shorts) has an effing crocodile (or is it an alligator?) on it. Lesson One from this week’s post: blind devotion to one way of doing things, no matter how “right” or purpose-suited that way may be, can sometimes lead to unfortunate circumstances (such as me looking like a right tool).

As for reading material while I’m down here, I’ve not made it easy on myself. I'm struggling my way through both The Ten Books on Architecture by Vitruvius Pollio and An Autobiography of an Idea by Louis Sullivan. Vitruvius is not a great writer and probably wasn’t a great architect- he just had the great fortune of having his manuscript survive from antiquity. If I am to continue teaching architecture history, however, I feel compelled to read it. I’m half way through…pray for me.

Sullivan’s work has also proved to be a trying read. This is his autobiography, written in the third person, and at time when the florid and effusive use of words was in vogue. Beyond the hyperbole and wordiness, however, is a fantastic story (that I sketched out here a few weeks ago). I’ve been on a Sullivan kick for the last couple of months. I think his story points to a larger pattern in the human condition- that the greatest ideas of man have to be watered down to achieve mass adoption. I need more time to think that one through though. Be on the lookout for a post on that one sometime in the near future.

What is certain is that Mr. Sullivan would dislike Seaside. He was effusive in his criticism of slavish devotion to European precedent. Seaside, of course being a veritable grab-bag of classical revival design. This being the first time I’ve been back since “rediscovering” architecture history, I must say that the place feels a bit hollow. There is none of the proportional rigor that makes Greek classicism sing and there is none of the engineering genius of the Roman works. There is only fashion. In this case, however, it is not the clothes that make the man. It is the subservience of architecture and infrastructure to the person, whether they are active, in repose or in ambulation that makes the place special. Of course, this would be lost on Mr. Sullivan, for he failed to live long enough to see the rise of the sub-urbs and our subsequent struggle to establish a sustainable, American development pattern. Yes, I normally give the New Urbanists hell, but getting blottoed on caipirinhas in a place has a way of softening one’s outlook. 

…and as I’m putting the finishing touches on this post by the pool, my 4-year-old swims up to an elderly stranger and opines, “You look pretty old”…we’re out…pray for me…


Roll out the Welcome Mat

It was brought to my attention that there is no such thing as the "Aquarium Plaza" as I referred to last week. The proper name of the place is "Ross's Landing Park and Plaza". This "was chosen to 1) honor the city's birth name, 2) acknowledge that the space was both park and plaza and, more implicitly, 3) send the message that the space was a public project separate and apart from the privately-funded aquarium." I can't believe I didn't know that. It is for me, however, a lesson that once learned will not be forgotten.

As for this post, it is one for my fellow conservatives.  To all of my liberal friends, thanks for stopping by, but please feel free to take the week off (go treat yourself to a Michael Moore movie or something ;)

The big news this week was, of course, Mr. Obama’s visit to the scenic city. I loathe politics, but I will make a couple of observations. It is a shame that we couldn’t be a bit more civil when the POTUS comes to town. I do not care for his policies* and I think that he has largely failed in delivering on his promises**. His failures, however, cannot change me or change how I choose to respond to the world around me. In this particular case, as a Southerner, I believe it is proper to treat guests (great or small) with respect. Ever heard of Southern hospitality? The fantastic news was that Mr. Obama chose not to come downtown, which would have brought life here to a screeching halt. For that, I am thankful. I’m on shaky ground when talking politics, however, so lets get back to design…

Speaking of Southerners, we should be the best urban designers in the country.  In essence, urban design is a mechanism to express the values of a community, to accommodate, and to make people feel comfortable. Is then urban design not the very essence of hospitality? Is hospitality not in the very DNA of the Southerner? When people visit our communities and homes do we not bend over backwards to be friendly and accommodating?  If that is one of our shared values, it should then be expressed in our built environment.

When we choose to live in a place, to pay taxes there, to work there, to play there, we become part of that community. When we pay those taxes, we are providing for the common of the community. This includes the public realm- the streets, parks, sidewalks, plazas and open spaces that belong to us all. They are owned collectively, and as such the qualities of place describe to others what we as a community value. If we are proud of being friendly and hospitable, our public realm should reflect that. Our sidewalks should be wide, clean, and shaded and lined with elements of interest and activity. Our open spaces should provide for a range of activity and repose with sun and shade, natural and built design elements, and places to see and be seen. In all of these things, every piece of every element of the public realm should exude quality.

Unfortunately, our Southern cities do not always express the finer qualities of our personality. We have joined rest of the country in a wholehearted embrace of sprawl, and perhaps even led the way. Yet sprawl seems a profoundly un-Southern thing. We have a deep appreciation for the land that is perhaps a result of our agrarian past and present, and that is also expressed in our cherished leisure activities of hunting, fishing and camping. Our urban development patterns have, however, conspired to erode that way of life. If we look at the things we value- friendliness, hospitality, generosity, and connection to the earth- it is only logical that they should be combined in the physical embodiment of those values. Somewhere along the way, however, we got caught up in the notion that communal efforts are somehow nefarious. We’re now at a point where we perceive virtually any government expenditure as wasteful and socialist. Although there is an egregious amount of waste and malfeasance in government expenditure, there are obviously legitimate works. Expenditure on the public realm is legitimate. This is not a government hand-out, but represents an investment in a shared physical asset, it creates jobs, and it sets the stage for all of the broader economic activities that take place in our community. Beyond that, it is an expression of pride in who we are- bofth to ourselves and to others.

Look at the political maps and it's clear to see that the South has values and attitudes that set it apart from the rest of the country. Regardless of whether or not we see eye-to-eye with everyone else, we should work to set ourselves apart by expressing our values and attitudes through the excellence of our urban design. Roll Tide.

*I am having serious difficulties with this whole healthcare thing. I work very hard to provide for my family, to keep bread on the table and squirrel a bit away for the boys education. I also try to eat well, work out and otherwise live a (relatively) healthy life. Unfortunately, the reward of self-employment and clean living is the likely doubling of my health insurance premium. Wealth redistribution is all fun and games until it's your "wealth" that's being redistributed. That’s not exactly the change I was hoping for.

**After running on “change”, he has delivered precious little. In my estimation, things are exactly the same as they were before, only the party names have changed. For the record, I was just as displeased with Bush. If “change we can believe in” is a failure, so was “compassionate conservatism”.

…and while I’m on the subject, remember when the President said of successful small businesses “you didn’t build that”? I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was talking about the infrastructure necessary for any of us to conduct business. But even so, who did build that? The government? Where exactly did the government get the funds to build? Taxes. Those taxes are paid by businesses, the people who run them, and the people who find value in their goods and services. I would respectfully argue that they did build that.