Monday, August 25, 2008

Neal Pierce Column on City/Surburb

Pierce's column is particularly thought provoking this week. I was asked to post it:

by Neal Pierce

City or suburb? For decades that's been the choice for most Americans. Suburbs have been the hands-down winners -- by the millions, we've rushed to the urban edge.

But could we be on the cusp of an historic "back to the city" shift? The case is building.

Alan Ehrenhalt, executive editor of Governing magazine, says we're in the midst of a "demographic inversion."

Check such cities as Atlanta and Washington, he suggests -- they're beginning to resemble historic Vienna or Paris, the centuries-old pattern in which the people of means chose to live near the vital city centers, while the poor were left to live in the less expensive outskirts.

Atlanta, for example, is seeing so many better-off whites move in that its decades-old status as a predominantly black and low-income city may soon be reversed. Conversely, suburban Clayton and DeKalb counties are already registering black majorities while simultaneously serving as immigrant gateways.

A parallel switch has been under way in Washington, D.C., for several years as young professionals have poured into neighborhoods such as the 14th and U Street corridors that were an epicenter of the 1968 riots. Chicago has registered sensational gains in downtown living. The same phenomenon is being registered continentwide -- strong on the West Coast, even cropping up in such Sun Belt cities as Charlotte and Houston.

Why this shift, now? Industries, with their smokestacks, noise and pollutants, have largely disappeared from city centers. Random urban street violence, the scourge of urban life in the 1970s and '80s, has subsided dramatically.

And, writes Ehrenhalt in a recent New Republic article, today's youth, bored by the cul-de-sac world they grew up in, are the cutting edge of the new population move: "It is striking how pervasive the pro-city sensibility is within this generation, particularly among its elite."

The cities' revival is even broader -- not just young singles and married couples but "mingles" (unmarried and gay couples) and "jingles" (ex-suburban empty-nesters), notes William Hudnut, former Indianapolis mayor and Urban Land Institute senior fellow.

There's a big cautionary note here -- we're not about to witness abandonment of the suburbs, or rapid movement back to all our city cores. "But we are living," Ehrenhalt notes, "at a moment in which the massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the 20th century is coming to an end."

So what are the affluent and their middle-class friends seeking? "Walkable urbanism" -- places with convenient

Read the rest of the column here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

City Hall Landscape Honored as Florida Friendly Yard

From Jan Thornburg – City Hall

Sarasota, FL: To see firsthand what a quintessential Florida Friendly Yard looks like, take a peek at City Hall, 1565 First Street. The City of Sarasota was notified yesterday its City Hall landscape achieved the highest recognition level for Florida Friendly Yards. The recognition was awarded by environmental experts at the University of Florida extension office in Sarasota County.

The City achieved the "Golden Oak" recognition level, the highest of three levels, by assuring the landscape protects our natural resources. The landscape demonstrates to the public that serious environmental issues, such as storm water runoff, water shortages, and disappearing wildlife habitats, can be addressed without sacrificing attractive landscaping. "We wanted to showcase the plantings at City Hall as an educational tool because it is a public space that receives many visitors," said Michele Mician, Neighborhood Coordinator who oversees green initiatives for the City of Sarasota. Some of the techniques used at City Hall include:

  • Planting more native species
  • Recycling grass clippings
  • Collecting rainwater and using it to water plants
  • Using drip irrigation
  • Avoiding fertilizers and pesticides
  • Positioning trees and shrubs to improve the building's cooling capacity
  • Planting low maintenance plants
  • Providing cover for wildlife
  • Purchasing plant materials from local native plant stores
  • Positioning plants according to the principals of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED)

Moving forward with green initiatives is one of the City Commission's top five critical priorities. In October 2007, the Environmental Management Task Force, comprised of City employees, was created to oversee sustainability issues within City government. "The landscape department includes a master gardener whose expertise helped make the garden bed at City Hall Florida friendly," said Neil Gaines, a Public Works employee who is a member of the EMTF.

In addition to the Florida Friendly Yard, visitors to City Hall can also see a set of rain barrels, which capture rainwater. Ultimately, that water is used to irrigate plants and flowers at City Hall through a drip system.

For more information about green initiatives visit