Josh Stephens's blog

Josh Stephens is a contributing editor of the California Planning & Development Report (www.cp-dr.com) and former editor of The Planning Report (www.planningreport.com)
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Voices In The (Urban) Wilderness

Anyone who has picked up a greeting card, coffee mug, or calendar in the past 100 years or so can recognize the sentiments of any number of great American environmentalists: Whitman and his yawp, Thoreau and his deliberateness, Frost and his serene decisiveness. We know the exhortations of Carson, Leopold, Emerson, and Abbey. John Muir, John McPhee, and Barry Lopez are known to have taken a few strolls through the chestnuts. 

The Frontier in American Politics

With due respect to Frederick Jackson Turner, the American frontier closes on Tuesday.  This time, for good.

Searching for Subversion in Boston

I've always wanted, but never quite had the cred, to go to Burning Man. Instead, I went to this year's rendition of National Park(ing) Day in the hopes that it would provide a reasonable, if diminuative, substitute in temporary parks across the country. Creative minds can do a lot with 180 square feet, especially when there are straight-laced passers-by to shock and paradigms to subvert.

The Mystery of Ground Transportation

Despite the rising costs of belonging to the jet set, I took my share of flights for a few business trips and boondoggles this summer. Though most of my plane tickets were paid for, my transportation to and from my respective airports were not. Like any good urbanist, I approached each airport as a challenge to see how cheaply and quickly I could get from the airport to my in-town destination.

These were challenges that I -- or, rather, the cities -- failed more often than they passed.

Marketing the Bus

Not until this month did a bus pass ever make its way into my wallet.

Insuring Good Cities, One Mile At A Time


I once was consigned to a table full of business school students at a land-use conference at UCLA. Trying to be a good sport, I offered the only idea that I'd ever had about business: car insurance charged according to miles driven. I posited that since risk and mileage were more or less correlated, it only made sense that people who drove more and incurred more risk should pay more.

My tablemates stared back at me as if I had just issued a rousing recitation of Das Kapital.

Simple Cycling Solutions

Now that the weather in Los Angeles has gone from pleasant to perfect with the subtle advent of spring, I've been spending more time risking my life atop my bicycle as I wend my way to meetings and errands. As a faithful urbanist I have little trouble convincing myself of cycling's merits, which, as former California State Health Officer Dr. Richard Jackson likes to say, can "improve your life span, lower your blood pressure, make you better looking, improve your sex life, and save you money." Sounds good to me.

Singing the City Sterile: Urbanism and New Wave

I've always hated songs about cities, particularly mawkish anthems like "New York, New York," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," and the ghastly "I Love L.A." Lyricists seem to dream them up when there's nothing else to sing about. Indeed, cities are the setting for life, not the object of it. Singing about them is like performing a play about a theater.

Art, Agriculture, and Civic Identity Converge in the Great Plains

MINNEAPOLIS--If not for the Walker Art Center I would have scant reason to spend extra time in Minneapolis. Minneapolis is not lacking for charm or culture, but it certainly falls in that middle range of American cities, somewhere between New York and nondescript, which is to say that it is not a destination in and of itself, yet it offers reasons to extend a stay for those who find themselves so far north for other reasons.

Light Rail Pits Planning Against Parenthood

Yes, yes. We all want to save the children. They are our most precious resource and hold the key to our future. Let them lead the way, and please, lord, don't let them get run over by a train.

Fortunately, most American kids face no such danger because they are held safe in far-flung suburbs where conformity and the cocoon of the strip mall tend to their well-being. They are growing up strong and worldly behind gates and in perfect communities far from the strife of the city, where art, culture, diversity, adventure, and freedom might stimulate them just a little too much.

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