Best Ideas of the Week

We all know there's a lot of planning going on around the world. Much of it is poor, short-sighted and generally just no good. But there are also some really great ideas being developed and adopted, and they should be considered by cities and communities all over the world as instructive examples of good planning. Here are what I think are some of the best ideas in urban planning from the last week.

Miami Parks Plan Looks Beyond Parks

Parks officials in Miami-Dade County, Florida, are rolling out a broad and ambitious master plan for the county's parks and open spaces. Encompassing more than 13,000 acres, Miami-Dade's parks system is the third largest in the country, but much of it is spread out and scattered. What parks officials hope to do with the new master plan is to better connect the parkland and improve its accessibility.

From a recent article in The Miami Herald:
"The idea is to create a community in a garden," said Maria Nardi, special projects administrator for the parks department. "The moment you step out of your house, you're in the parks system."
This is a pretty ambitious goal. But the long-range and broad nature of its intentions makes Miami-Dade's parks master plan a valuable example of how planners can propose meaningful changes in our communities.

Another important aspect of the parks master plan is its focus on areas that aren't really even parks. The plan takes care to include the entire public realm in its considerations, placing emphasis on creating walkable streets and sidewalks. This redefinition of the meaning of "public parks" could change the way the people of Miami think about their public space, their community and their lifestyle. A parks-driven paradigm shift like this could create an entirely new Miami that is more in-touch with its surroundings and neighbors.

Fueling a Town's Future

A local oil company in Arkansas is pumping profits back into its community by promising to fund all college tuition and fees for graduating seniors in the city of El Dorado. As an obvious result, the amount of graduating seniors attending college has spiked. But the oil company's generous promise has also revived the small town's economy, with more families moving into the school district to take advantage of the offer.

From a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor:
Other communities are starting to offer similar scholarship programs. Anonymous donors in Kalamazoo, Mich., kicked off the idea with the Kalamazoo Promise in 2005. Pittsburgh has its "Pittsburgh Promise," and Denver is embarking on its own ambitious scholarship program. In June, organizers hope some 60 communities will attend a PromiseNet conference in Kalamazoo to share ideas and experiences.
But perhaps none has seen such a dramatic turnaround as El Dorado, which sprung up in the 1920s with the discovery of oil but has been stagnant for years.

Residents seem to have gained a revived sense of hope about their community since the oil company's offer was announced in 2007. They've passed some property tax increases to rebuild the local high school, and have also instituted a local sales tax to generate an economic development fund.

Traffic Calmed

A recent video from StreetFilm shows the extensive and effective traffic calming methods being used in the Williamstown Beach community near Melbourne, Australia. The video shows raised crosswalks, textured walkways, bulbouts, and even lane-diminishing sign posts that force drivers to slow down significantly.

The highly popular beach brings a lot of foot- and car-traffic throughout the week, and the variety of traffic calming techniques seems to ensure the safety of beachgoers from the moving deadly weapon that is the automobile. Other beach communities and areas with high foot-traffic should learn from Williamstown Beach – a place where people not only want to go, but can feel safe going. I can't help but imagine what it would be like to cross the Pacific Coast Highway onto one of California's beaches and not feel like I'm crossing some war-torn barbed-wire border in the middle of the night.

Public Pianos Beckon Musicians in Suburban England

An art project in Birmingham, England has placed 15 pianos in public places throughout the city, available for the general public to play. This innovative mixture of public space and art has brought many people out to share their varied levels of musical talent. The project's website has some pretty cool pictures.

The pianos will only be available for a few days in total (placing elaborate instruments outdoors raises a number of maintenance issues ). But in the meantime, the pianos have helped create lively and interactive places in the public realm that I can only imagine would be pretty hard to ignore.


So that was this week. Let's see what happens next week.

Nate Berg is a contributing editor for Planetizen and freelance journalist.


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