Strong Towns National Gathering
September 13, 2014

I have spent the weekend at the Strong Towns National Gathering. Minneapolis is my favourite American city. Many American cities feel overly gritty, too hollowed out, or they are 'incomplete' (they lack everyday amentites in the urban core), too empty, too far to walk anywhere - or just some other basic feature that cities are supposed to have that just makes the entire city not feel right. Downtown Minneapolis, even with all of its impurities (such as lots of surface parking in eastern downtown and pretty crummy transit), I was thinking - wow, I could live here.

If you were at my National Gathering presentation Friday night, I talked about laneway activation and building a network of human-scale streets within our cities. However, exploring Minneapolis, they have taken this to the next level (literally) with their skyways. It is pretty awesome being able to walk downtown from food court, to office building, to apartment building, to theatre house, in an environment that is completely designed for humans;

Sure, the skyways are indoors. Sure, they skyways are privately owned. But if it looks like a city, feels like a city, functions like a city, then for all intents and purposes it is a city. Indoor or outdoor, publically or privately owned, - it does not matter. I have seen villages that do not fit the American description of what a city should be (a zoning code, wide segregated streets, an elected mayor) that when someone tells me this city is a network of buildings connected by floating streets filled with the energy and life that you would find in a traditional human-oriented city I say 'why not?'

The biggest thing I did not expect at the Strong Towns National Gathering were how many people knew me. I thought only a handful of people would recognize my name. But I have lost count of the number of times I have shook hands with someone and said "Hi, I'm Andrew Price" and saw their jaw drop. I am just a guy with a blog. I am not famous. Then again, Chuck started out as a guy with a blog.

Last night I presented an 8 minute talk at the Strong Towns National Gathering called 'Walkability - Human Scale'. I am going to convert that into a blog post soon. Two weeks ago, my original talk was 20 minutes long. Most of my presentation was filled with 'whys'. Why human-scale environments matter. Why we built hypertrophic cities and suburbia. Why heroic materialism played a role. I had cut the presentation down from 20 minutes to 8 minutes - those were the rules. I quickly realised that explaining 'why' about everything took up a lot of time, so all of that was cut out. Many slides were merged, sentences shortened. My presentation was on questioning the scale of our cities, comparing places and non-places, and showing how Melbourne 'activated' they laneways (alleys).

It is funny to think that I was actually considering presenting a different topic on zoning, probably because it was fresh on my mind after writing about traffic and zoning. I am glad I did not because standing up on stage I felt that I had received the biggest applause I have ever had. My business cards were gone after that presentation.

Tonight we watched the documentary The Human Scale. It was weird because the first half of the documentary felt exactly like my 8 minute presentation. But I promise I have never seen that documentary before I gave my presention.

One of the highlights of today was when Michael McGinn told us his story. I found him very smooth at delivering his speech, which I assume is a skill he picked up from all of those years in public office. One of the things I took away from his speech was when Michael was telling us about the avid opposition to installing bike lanes, but the dynamics completely changed when one person would stand up and say "Thank you for those new bike lanes, now my child can safely bike to school." This has got me thinking about the different conversations we could have. For example - what if a group of angry citizens voiced their opinion at townhall, and as a rhetorical device, shouted "we don't want to spend our taxpayer money on those traffic lights" or "we don't live near that street so we don't want to spend our taxpayer money on those potholes."

I am getting very sleepy and falling asleep at my computer, so I am going to publish this and write again soon.


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Jeffrey Bridgman • 09.24.2014 • 22:00 PM (MDT)
Those underground cities exist even in smaller regional cities in Japan. Another common pattern in Japan pedestrian only (or pedestrian priority) covered shopping streets with activity spilling over into the small side streets around them (an example from the city I grew up in: http://goo.gl/maps/B2A4P).
Nathan Lewis • 09.18.2014 • 06:48 AM (MDT)
Building connectors can lead to a format where the "narrow streets" are indoors, somewhat like a suburban enclosed mall. You see this in Hong Kong somewhat. In Japan you find it underground, in major subway interchanges and below office buildings.
Andrew Price • 09.16.2014 • 10:43 AM (MDT)
Hi Zeph, thanks for dropping by. I know Gracen filmed all of the presentations, I'm expecting maybe within a month or so (to give her time to edit them) they will be published on the new Strong Towns website.
Zeph • 09.16.2014 • 10:18 AM (MDT)
Do you know if there are/will be videos of the presentations?