Tag Archives: urban planning

When Suburban Churches Look… Suburban

I saw this interesting article posted this morning on, “Why Contemporary Protestant Church Architecture is so Poor” on The Urbanophile’s blog.

The author posted an article by Duncan Stroik, a professor of architecture of Notre Dame, that discusses his theory of why protestant churches put less effort into the design and architecture of their places of worship comparing it to cities in Europe and catholic and orthodox churches. The full article can be read here.

While the planner in me loves good design, aesthetically beautiful architecture, and visual appeal, I tend to lean more on the ‘church can be anywhere’ side of things. Jesus participated in church in temples, homes, and outdoors.

So while I don’t necessarily agree with the author’s closing words,

“That call is to glorify God in all that we do, not just through special spiritual practices. I hope that we Protestants will rediscover how to glorify Him in our buildings, recognizing them as an integral part of our worship. Let us do that without neglecting to glorify Him in our hearts, actions, and every other aspect of life as well.”

I think he brings up a lot of interesting points throughout about cultural and spiritual practices that influenced the protestant church.

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Vanishing New York

The Daily Beast recently published an article about one man’s blog, Jerimiah’s Vanishing New York,, which chronicles the disappearance of small stores and local restaurants from New York’s streets and neighborhoods due to extreme hikes in rent.

Scrolling through the blog made me so sad as I read multiple stories of many local businesses with long histories being shut down. Despite the sadness, it’s incredibly interesting and worth taking a look.

Read the full article and interview with the author with the Daily Beast here.

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Public Health & Planning – Attractive Stairs

I found this interesting article on NPR today noting the positive help benefits of using stairs. It tied in well with this other NPR article posted today noting how obesity in America is largely due to inactivity versus eating too much. I continue to be inspired by the countless examples of urban planning’s ability to be a powerful tool for improving the health and well-being of our communities.

What I love about encouraging the use of stairs is not only the positive health benefits but also the potential to add more public art to the built environment. Increasing visual interest will make people want to take the stairs instead.

Here are a few inspiring steps from around the world.

Read the full article here

Spanish style tiled steps in Santa Barbara, California.

“Endless Stair” in Munich. There is no practical purpose to these ones.

Famous “Escadaria Selarón” steps in Rio de Janeiro.

Also, check out this great video .

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Bike Art

As a planner you talk a lot about biking, bike safety, creating more bike lanes, etc. I came upon some bike artwork that used bikes to create art. It seemed very planner appropriate!

bike art 1

bike art 2

bike art 3

Artist Thomas Yang used 7 different types of bicycle tires to create this image of the Empire State Building in NYC. Very cool!


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Riding the Bus

During my first quarter of planning school, my professor returned to the class research papers we had been working on, and apologized for the sloppy written notes, explaining that she had graded most of our papers while riding the bus. She told us that she actually does almost all of her grading on the bus and how that despite having a longer commute, she was amazed at the amount of time she gained when she began using the bus.

Moving to San Luis Obispo (SLO), I too became a frequent bus rider. While doing my undergrad at UCSB, biking was the easiest means of travel, and I never even considered using the bus. I also had my own personal vehicle, so any other trips were made in the convenience of my own car. At UCSB, biking was also often much quicker than driving to campus. As at many universities, the parking lots were always packed, and were always a long walk from class.


SLO is a much hillier area, I live farther from campus, and I only own a cheap bike. Fortunately, my apartment is on the same street as a bus stop that can get me to school. My first observation from riding the bus was how long it took to get anywhere. With the bus, you have to add on roughly 10-30 minutes to what it would normally take by car. It takes me about 20-30 minutes to travel 3 miles to school.

I felt like I was wasting a lot of time every morning just sitting on a bus, waiting to get to class. I didn’t see it as an opportunity – of new, small increments of my time, now added to my schedule. When my professor made this comment, my outlook changed. I wasn’t losing time by riding the bus, but gaining time.

In driving a car, there isn’t opportunity do anything, except, well, drive. Which is good for safety reasons – drivers should be alert and attentive to what they are doing. The contrast with public transit is that you have the space and freedom to do other things, while still traveling to your destination.


A lot of this applies to taking the train as well. I recently took the Amtrak for the first time on a class trip to Los Angeles this last quarter. It was the most relaxing experience I have ever had traveling to L.A. – no traffic, beautiful coastal views, comfortable chairs, and a snack cart. It was great. I was able to socialize with classmates, do homework, and relax.

It is popular in planning to push public transportation for all of its environmental benefits, but let us also look at the simple personal benefits public transit has the opportunity to provide. With my new outlook on bus riding, here are the top 5 things I find myself doing with this new free time:

5 Things to Do While Riding the Bus


1. Get work done. Like my professor, use that extra commuting time to get a head start on work that you can carry with you. Review those documents, get a head start on class reading, etc.

2. Read – for fun! As a student this idea sometimes feel foreign. I have been trying to use this extra time to read books that I want to read, not that are just required for school. It is nice break from the academic life.

3. Catch up on news and current events. Browse through your favorite news source on your phone or bring a magazine or newspaper.

4. Catch up on replying to texts, emails, and social media. Instead of procrastinating important work and tasks to do this, use your time on the bus to text back your friends, reply to important emails, or catch up on your facebook/twitter/instagram feeds. Also, I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people trying to inconspicuously snapchat on the bus. We see you taking your selfie.

5. Turn off all media and just relax. I do this fairly often on the bus. Most of the day is spent staring at my phone, tablet, or computer – reading, working on my to-do list, writing, researching, or procrastinating online. It is nice to just put your phone away, sit next to a window, and enjoy a few minutes to just relax, enjoy your surroundings, watch people, have a conversation with others on the bus, whatever it may be.

While driving a car may get you to your destination quicker, bus riders gain the opportunity to get a head start on work or simply to take some personal time to catch up on reading, news, or relaxation.

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Incoroprating Faith into City Planning and Academia

I recently came upon a podcast posted by Urbanophile entitled “Faith and City Planning.” I am a Christian and aspiring Urban Planner, so I was immediately intrigued. The podcast is a discussion between two MIT urban planning professors, Annette Kim and Phil Thompson. The full podcast can be found here.

While the podcast does address this topic in regards to city planning, it highly focuses on the role of faith in academia in general. The professors discuss how faith ceases being talked about once a student enters the classroom. Kim says that although you’re still catholic, once you are in class, you don’t talk about it.

Thompson tries to tie in the Civil Rights Movement as an example of major social movements being faith centered. He states that it was the essence of the Civil Rights Movement, and that if we don’t talk about that, then we’re not telling the whole story.


He also gives an example of Native American spirituality, and the idea of seeing everything as having a spirit, and that if you don’t see that, you won’t survive. He continues on as to how this idea is also central for environmentalism.

Kim discusses how this type of discussion does not fit into the academic realm and that their is a climate of silence and fear. She says that it feels like something we are not allowed to talk about because it is not “intellectual” or “valid.” However, she believes that students should be encouraged to explore their moral development and wisdom, along with their intellect and critical thinking.

Kim discusses that a major reason that the idea of faith should be talked about in planning is because most students go into planning for moral reasons. Students are seeking to learn what is better, what is right, and the ways to make things better.

What I found interesting as well in the discussion is their emphasis of understanding how faith has motivated people throughout history (such as the Civil Rights Movement). What stood out to me as well, is when Kim states that we have to understand how oppressed people survived so long, and where their hope came from.

They continue to discuss the fact that faith is rich and complicated, and that adding this to academic discussions will only make us more intelligent.

Overall, the podcast tied in faith, social justice, diversity, and academics in a really interesting and thought-provoking way. I was really intrigued by the discussion of how faith has played a huge role in several social justice movements and how it has been key to several oppressed peoples survival. I also thought it was interesting to encourage academia to help develop students morals and ethics, which will only help increase their intellect.

I also do believe their are several educators out there who do a great job already of some of these suggestions, and that these statements do not apply to everyone. However, I believe there are benefits to minimizing discussion of one’s personal faith in the classroom. I know in a lot of situations, people are not always as understanding of each others beliefs, and it could make some students feel uncomfortable and interfere with the learning process. Also, if educators too strongly push their own beliefs, it can make students uncomfortable to share their own viewpoints. The goal would be to create the safest space possible, where educators can facilitate discussion of religion, morals, and ethics with students able to freely share without judgement or ridicule from others. This is an ideal situation though, and I understand it is not always easy to achieve.

Also, I don’t believe you need to follow set religious parameters in order to be a moral person or believe strongly in social activism. The podcast discussed that the social movements of today may not be as effective as they were in the past due to a lack of faith as a motivator. While I certainly believe faith can be a huge and prominent motivator in social action, I do not believe people cannot bring social change if they do not identify with a religion.

I wish they discussed a bit more on incorporating faith and ethics into city planning, but I do believe this is worth a listen. Definitely check it out and let me know what you think! 🙂

Or rather, what role do you think faith, religion, ethics, or morals should play in the classroom? How do you balance encouraging intellect with moral development? 

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How City Planning Creates Social Improvements

I came across this article recently from Architecture in Development regarding the significant social impacts quality city planning has had on the city of Medellin, Colombia.

Medellin was suffering from economic, social, and violence issue resulting from drug trafficking and conflicts between communist guerrillas and paramilitaries. It was even ranked  as one of the most dangerous cities in the world in 1992.

Mayors Luis Perez (2000, 2003), Sergio Fajardo (2003-2007) and Alonso Salazar sought to improve the safety and quality of life of Medellin through a comprehensive strategy that sought solutions to mobility, governance and education, along with the recovery of public space and green areas.

What stood out to me the most. and which I believe is key in this scenario, is that their strategy revolved around recovering the poorest sectors of the city (which were dominated by communist groups, paramilitaries or drug smugglers).

Several of the projects being implemented have had a strong focus on the most marginalized areas of the city. Mayor Fajardo’s goal was to improve these areas through “Social Urbanism” which helped improve the education system through new schools, libraries, and parks with high architectural value. He saw this as a “New Medellin” that illustrated how violence can be fought by means of cultural development and social inclusion.

Urban solutions in Medellin had to revolve around its topography. It is very limited by the space development and had to implement alternatives to solve problems of space and mobility. For example, the “Metro Cable” was created out of the need to connect informal settlements in the upper parts of the city with the metro system at the lower valley. This project decreased travel time from over an hour, to just ten minutes.

Metro Cable Medellin CC. J. Drissen

Metrocable of Medellin

Medellin still faces many issues, but it is impressive to see the amount of progress it has made with such a short history in urban planning. I think it sends a strong message to the world of how quality urban design can tremendously benefit the poorest cities in our world. The article writes, “The urban and social development of the city is remarkable, the number of violent incidents has decreased. The unemployment rate is low and the perception of safety on the people of Medellin is positive. This is made possible through integral collaborations between planners, designers and politicians to highlight areas of the city that have been ignored.”

I highly suggest reading the full article here.

It is stories like this that inspire me to continue the path of becoming an urban planner. The structure of cities can play a major role in the social welfare of those who inhabit them. It is amazing to me to see how, if done well, city planning can be a tool to prevent severe social inequalities and violence that many of the urban poor are faced with daily. It can be a strong tool of social justice.

Anyways, I was very inspired by this article, and hope you will be too! Feel free to comment, I would love to continue this discussion!

P.s. Yes, this is my first post on WordPress. If you would like to learn more, please visit my About Me page. 🙂

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