Doing DIY Lowell

You may have noticed that we haven’t posted too many articles lately. Part of the reason is that we’re involved in few community initiatives, including “DIY Lowell.” Now that the DIY Lowell website is up and running, we wanted to share our story.

D.I.Y. LowellDIY Lowell is an initiative to try to capture all the ideas for projects and events people have and help them make those ideas a reality. For example, someone may have an idea for a temporary art exhibit, share it on Facebook, and then forget about it. We want to help connect that person with an artist, with someone who knows how to get the permits, and with some funding.

We’re doing this by inviting everyone to share ideas on a forum and in dropboxes around town until June 15. On June 20 until the end of June, the ideas will be up for a vote by anyone who registers for a summit. Our goal is to narrow down the ideas to a small handful that summit attendees would be interested in working on. We have a few guidelines: ideas can’t be expected to cost more than $1,000, they should be completed by the end of the year, they have to relate to space open to the public, and they can’t be illegal.

On July 9, the summit will gather DIY Lowell participants and organizational partners to create action plans for the ideas. A number of very talented folks have volunteered to lead breakout groups about each winning idea, and many organizations have pledged to attend the summit to offer their suggestions on how to kick the ideas off. Citizen working groups formed at the summit will move the ideas forward.

What about after the summit? Well, most exciting, we’ve identified some funding, and we are moving forward with some other fundraising ideas soon. In addition, we’ll keep track of all the projects and offer a helping hand when necessary, connecting those citizen working groups with the help they need.

Why are we doing all this? It’s not just to put a few projects into action, but also to identify the common barriers our working groups face. We’re interested in bringing more voices into the community conversation and encouraging folks who might not have time for a huge commitment to take on a small piece of a small project.

The DIY Lowell Story

The genesis of DIY Lowell was actually in Buffalo, during the Congress for New Urbanism Annual Meeting. One of the most exciting conversations at the conference was about “tactical urbanism” and “lean urbanism.” The idea is that activists or planners can make short-term, sometimes temporary projects that actually change the urban form long-term. This includes anything from making a parking spot into a mini-park, putting pop-up stores and displays in empty storefronts, and guerilla gardening.

This inspired Aurora and I to come up with a few ideas of our own for Lowell. We thought some chalking or painting of the concrete jersey barriers across from our apartment would spruce up Bridge Street. We talked about a trail that would lead from the National Park Visitor Center to the Boott Cotton Mills Museum just like a small version of the Boston Freedom Trail. However, the more we talked, the more we realized that there could be something bigger than just a project or two.

People talking at Mill no 5 during Transform Mill City

Transform Mill City drew a variety of folks to Mill No. 5 before Coffee and Cotton was in business

We were really impressed with the number of Lowell folks who came and participated in the “Transform Mill City” initiative. This series of meetings hosted by a student from UMass Lowell allowed more than forty participants to each meeting to share ideas on giant sticky notes on walls or tables with questions such as “What events would you like to see in Lowell that aren’t here already?” Some popular ideas were a “Firewater” display on the canals and a series of art events or markets.

This wasn’t the only idea-generating initiative in Lowell. The City spearheaded Neighborland a couple of years ago, and it collected ideas via an online website and stickers on an empty downtown storefront. Ideas included an independent theater, free downtown wifi, an expanded Farmer’s Market, and even bocce courts.

What if, however, we combined the two ideas? In school, I ran an organization that accepted project proposals and offered technical support to villages and towns too small to have their own planning departments. There’s a lot of expertise in Lowell already, and we could connect that expertise to these great ideas that sometimes seem to fizzle away. It could be democratic, where the most popular ideas are the ones that get the most attention.

That’s when we started meeting with a lot of people. It’s amazing how many people you can meet with when you’re trying to talk to every group that could be interested in the effort. I started with Yovani Baez, the City of Lowell Neighborhood Planner. She suggested meeting with a few more people, and those folks suggested others, and it soon snowballed. I had to make an excel spreadsheet with the people I met, the people they suggested to talk to, and the ideas on how we could execute our plan.

All in all, Aurora or I emailed or talked to nearly 70 people in the City before we finalized our pitch, including people from the City of Lowell, E for All, Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, Coalition for a Better Acre, Made in Lowell, COOL, Greater Lowell Community Foundation, Lowell Makes, all the neighborhood groups, a few churches, and a lot of other organizations and groups. During that time, we even took a tactical urbanism tour of the Acre with ACTION.

Each interview helped us form our idea. Just to think of a small handful of examples: Marianne Gries told us to make sure our website was smartphone-compatible for those without computers; Souvanna Pouv suggested doing interviews on LTC shows to market the idea; Geoff Foster reminded us to use examples in every neighborhood in Lowell; Sean Thibodeau recommending throwing an event on a weekday, not a weekend.

DIY Lowell mock-up webpage

diylowellwebsite

We created a mock-up to get feedback from our advisory committee, and with help from the community, we made it into a real webpage

Do-it-Ourselves Lowell

Although we kicked off DIY Lowell, we could never have done any of it alone.

I have to credit Aurora with coming up with the name “Do-it-Yourself Lowell,” or DIY Lowell for short. Her idea was that the organization was all about people feeling like they could take ownership of their city through these small, achievable projects. These ideas aren’t that hard or expensive to put into practice, but most people don’t have the tools, time, or contacts to make their ideas a reality on their own. We hope DIY Lowell will really let people do-it-themselves together.

A lot of others offered invaluable help as well. We’re finding volunteers through the Merrimack Valley Time Exchange, CBA is providing assistance with fund management, a local blog is hosting our website, and we may even be able to hold the DIY Lowell summit in a really cool community space for free. We’re amazingly indebted to our Steering Committee who helped us through decisions such as when to do fundraising, what guidelines to put in place for projects, and how to set up our website.

With all this time invested, you may be wondering why we personally are doing all this work. In a word, it’s fun. We’ve met so many people and we’re hoping to add to what we see happening in Lowell already: a sense of excitement and possibility. It’s a lot better than watching reruns.

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North Common Amphitheater Welcome Rainbow in Lowell MA

Lowell’s Acre and “Community Urbanism”: Small Steps Leading to Big Impacts

I’ve often heard that Lowell’s Acre neighborhood has experienced an incredible revitalization in the last decade. By many accounts, the relatively safe, clean, and strong neighborhood I’m familiar with was very different only a few years ago. Describing the Acre of 10 years ago in a story about Moody Street’s transformation, CBA’s website mentions “vacant buildings falling into disrepair and families moving out.” Although University Crossing, the new Jeanne D’Arc office, and several CBA housing projects are among the most visible aspects of the revitalization, there is a concurrent, smaller-scale effort that looks as if it’s paying just as many dividends: projects led by the Acre Coalition to Improve Our Neighborhood (ACTION).

Dave Ouellette, president of ACTION, took members of the community on a tour of a few of these projects in November. The tour was publicized by Do-It-Yourself Lowell[1], a citizen-led initiative to facilitate similar projects and events throughout Lowell. I found Mr. Ouellette’s story instructional and inspiring, as the projects tie sound planning principles with a community focus in a way that has helped redefine a neighborhood.

Map with path of tour, background: Google Maps

Path of tour.

North Common Amphitheater

We started our tour with the North Common Amphitheater, also known as the “Welcome Rainbow.” The origin of the Amphitheater and ACTION are tied together.

Dave Ouellette talking in front of metal frame in amphitheater.

Mr. Ouellette gave a sneak preview of the newest addition to the Amphitheater. Letters will be installed on the metal frame spelling “ACTION Theater”, which can support lights, backdrops, curtains, or a movie screen. The City will run power to the frame.

The Coalition for a Better Acre (CBA) had served as a neighborhood organization for the Acre since it had formed in 1982 to successfully oppose a plan to raze the Acre’s Triangle neighborhood. However, in a community meeting organized by the Lowell Police Department after a 2009 shooting, discussion about a resident-led neighborhood organization moved Mr. Ouellette to found ACTION to more directly speak on behalf of residents. In addition, ACTION understood that physical projects along with sustained outreach were needed to reduce crime and increase community.

In 2010, CBA funded travel expenses for Mr. Ouellette and five others to attend the annual NeighborWorks America Community Leadership Institute, a three-day training session that includes a workshop in which teams create action plans for their communities. These plans, which had to “show substantial change,” were eligible for a $2,000 reimbursable grant from NeighborWorks. CBA’s team created a plan to improve the amphitheater.

Mr. Ouellette told us that he grew up in the housing next to the North Common, and remembered that the 1970s-era amphitheater once hosted music and entertainment. It was a place to meet neighbors. However, by the late 2000s, lights around the amphitheater had been out of service for twelve years. Vegetation obscured it from the road, and gangs used it as a fighting arena. The team realized that it could be a benefit to the community once again.

It was the start of a years-long project involving many groups and people. Suzanne Frechette, Deputy Director of CBA, and others assisted the group with an initial clean-up and power washing. In 2010, they asked the city to cut down the vegetation. In 2011, ACTION facilitated a partnership between the City and YouthBuild America to reconstruct the concrete steps: YouthBuild built the forms while the City mixed and poured concrete. In 2012, Western Avenue Studios, YouthBuild, and the Boys and Girls Club sponsored an invitation to the community to paint 26 mural spaces with “Welcome” in the many languages spoken in Lowell. The Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL) provided paint, brushes, and other materials. Finally, the City restored the lighting, an $8,000 project in itself.

Each step built upon one another. Each step proved the next step was possible. Most importantly, each step involved the sweat equity of the community the project would serve. In an unveiling celebration, Mr. Ouellette stood in front of the amphitheater, one empty mural space remaining, and asked, “What does this mean?” People shouted out answers until one came up with: “One City, One World!” The crowd cheered, and this became the phrase on the top step.

Wilfred Lavasseur (Whiting Street) Park

Lavasseur Park site prior to park development. (Source: Google Maps)

The lot prior to park development.

The tour then moved to the Wilfred Lavasseur park, which until 2012 was an empty lot. Although once children had played in the lot, it had since become a dumping ground and a hotspot for drug deals for more than a decade. The City administration was impressed with ACTION’s leadership on the North Common project, and asked for help to transform the city-owned empty lot into a community space in 2011.

Alleys between houses were often used by drug dealers to enter and exit the lot, so the group created a plan to fence the alleys off and create community gardens along the edges of the park. Along with grants from the City, Mass Service Alliance, Lowell Rotary, and NeighborWorks, Mr. Ouellette said ACTION “used the City as Lowes.” They recovered bricks from a renovation project near City Hall and intercepted the concrete barriers that would separate the center of the park from the gardening area.

Art panels at Lavasseur ParkMost notably, when the Revolving Museum closed, it threw away many mural panels. ACTION and Mill City Grows came together to rescue dozens of pieces of art from the dumpster. These are now displayed on the fences of the garden and in other community garden locations across the city. More than 200 volunteers built the fifteen garden plots, shed, benches, and pergola over 18 months with the help from the city, CBA, Mill City Grows, Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, UMass Lowell, and YouthBuild.

Tour group as Lavasseur Park

The tour group finds the park, named for the late owner of Cote’s Market, attractive even in winter.

The space is now used actively by community members of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, and they keep an eye on the once-derelict lot. The operations are overseen by community member Billy Heath, who attended the Garden Coordinator Institute, a seven-part workshop provided annually by Mill City Grows.[2]

Decatur Alley

The tour then turned to what may be ACTION’s next project, Decatur Alley. The old path runs between Merrimack and Salem streets, stretching from University Crossing to Decatur Street. Although Mr. Ouellette remembers walking the path as a child, it had since become overgrown and was used by drug dealers or others attempting to duck under fences to evade police.

Group and Decatur Alley

The tour traveled through Decatur Alley, cleared and just waiting for a project!

Last year, ACTION and CBA organized and participated in volunteer crews to clear the alley of vegetation and trash. The crews included members of groups throughout the community, such as dozens of volunteers from Somebody Cares. In a Sun story, Mr. Ouellette said, “We found 12 mattresses, six tires, air-conditioning units, needles, everything you could think of.” ACTION also reached out to the homeowners abutting the alley, including UMass Lowell. They convinced the University to not erect a fence that would shut off and reduce visibility on one end of the alley.

The ultimate plan developed with the community is to transform the alley into a cobblestone walkway lined with benches, poetry pedestals, and artwork. ACTION plans to dedicate one area to veterans, which would engage yet another piece of the community. Another area would showcase artwork from local schools. An area behind Cote’s Market would become a spot for picnicking. The path could be used by students and residents alike.

The path—and the tour—ended at St. Jeanne Baptiste church, a place so interesting it deserves its own post.

Decatur Alley in Lowell MA

Lowell House has provided a path behind its residences, providing an example of how the alley can become an attractive path.

Lessons Learned

As we talked about what made the projects successful, Mr. Ouellette expressed his belief that more important than finding funding is making sure projects are a volunteer effort. He has seen several projects falter because they were built using a grant, but then had little to no community involvement in maintenance. If the community itself builds the project, they own it, and they take care of it. Trash used to be a problem at both the amphitheater and Lavasseur Park, but now community members take care of the area.

He also stressed that anyone can be involved. Children helped pull weeds, young adults built structures, and older neighbors served drinks. The diversity of volunteers and partner organizations is inspiring. Once again, this all works toward ensuring mutual ownership of the projects.

Finally, the projects must be useful, providing many functions for different audiences. The garden is a place to grow food and to relax. The amphitheater can be used for plays, movie screenings, and festivals (and hopscotch courts have been stenciled on to keep it useful between events). The more people using the project, the more people around to help keep it clean and safe.

Ultimately, each project is individually useful and addresses a need, but as a group, they are transformative. As I understand it, many small actions over years revived the amphitheater, created the community garden, and will create the Decatur Alley path. In turn, each of these is a relatively small project compared to a new University building. However, these small steps when put together—along with constant engagement—are majorly enhancing Acre residents’ quality of life.

North Common Amphitheater Partnership Monument

Small steps and partnerships can transform a park and a community.

Lowell's Amphitheater: A Remembrance of Time - Each step is a unique cultural design of your ancestral devotion. So... step up to the podium and shout out loud to your ocean/of listeners. And listen to the echo of whispers of your heart and/mind, where your spirit dwells.

Local Poet Augustus Clayton provided poetry for pedestals at both the Amphitheater and  Levasseur Park. Local poet Augustus Clayton provided poetry for pedestals at both the Amphitheater and Levasseur Park.

Notes

[1] I am a lead coordinator of DIY Lowell and plan to write a detailed post about my experience putting together the initiative soon.

[2] Some information from Lowell Sun.

New Urbanism, from Buffalo to Lowell

A few weeks ago, I attended the 22nd annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism. New Urbanism is a movement within urban planning that supports tools to promote walkable, mixed-use communities rather than communities with segregated housing, employment, and shopping.

Main Street Buffalo

Despite its reputation, Buffalo has many vibrant, walkable districts.

This year’s conference was held in Buffalo, NY, but the movement is international in scope. Many Lowellians will be familiar with one of the movement’s proponents, Jeff Speck, the planner who developed Lowell’s 2010 “Downtown Evolution” plan. However, he is only one of many planners and architects from around the world advocating New Urbanism.

Much of what was discussed made me reflect upon Lowell: What seems right and what opportunities might still exist? I’ll share my thoughts here, but these explanations only scratch the surface. If any reader is intrigued by any of the ideas mentioned here, please drop a comment, and I’ll expand in a future post. I also welcome corrections or additions.

What is New Urbanism?

This was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a topic of discussion at the conference. I originally understood New Urbanism as a movement about physical form: sidewalks, building types, densities, landscape, road widths, and similar. In fact, the movement is a very large tent. There were those more interested in programming and making sidewalks alive. There were those that designed new developments in a “traditional” fashion, others that wrote codes that would guide development (or at least not get in the way) toward that direction, and still others that worked to change the public realm in existing development. The keynote speakers spoke of grand demographic changes, letting a younger generation guide urban development, and the definition of resilience.

There were common threads. One was that all communities, rural to urban, can be built to accommodate both cars and pedestrians. One was about the power of cities is to mix different types of people and different activities to create something greater than the sum of its parts. One is that cities must do much more to address natural ecology and global warming.

Despite its diversity, New Urbanism’s core principles remain about the built environment’s effect upon society. This often brings it criticism, such as art critic Colin Dabkowski’s complaint that New Urbanism ignores racial segregation and pervasive poverty in favor of focusing on “making prosperous neighborhoods more prosperous” and hoping the benefits trickle-down. Having attended many sessions and talked to many people, I don’t think that complaint is on the mark, but there also is a kernel of truth that it doesn’t—and can’t—incorporate everything. Chris Hawley, Buffalo city planner, summarized: “New urbanism—necessary, but insufficient.”

Jeff Speck and Lowell at CNU

 

Jeff Speck at CNU22 with Lowell slide in background.

Mr. Speck used Lowell as an example.

Mr. Dabkowski’s complaint was principally leveled at Jeff Speck. He spoke at several plenary (attended by all conference participants) sessions. Mr. Speck argues that cities must become more walkable to attract and retain young people, become ecologically sustainable, promote healthy lifestyles, and let people spend their money and time for things other than transportation.

lwrhighlands


drumhill
A planner may prioritize pedestrian crossings in the Lower Highlands (upper  picture) rather than Drum Hill (lower picture) just because theres a better chance of encouraging people to walk.

Parking is a key piece of this, and he mentioned Donald Shoup’s High Cost of Free Parking. Shoup argues that cities have forced businesses (through minimum parking regulations) to subsidize drivers at the expense of pedestrians. However, even if the city doesn’t require parking, banks that finance developments might, assuming anyone who would rent a two-bedroom apartment would also drive two cars. In the presentations, Mr. Speck praised Lowell specifically for giving developers flexibility by dedicating spaces in parking garages usually empty at night for mill redevelopments. This allowed the developers to present proof there would be enough parking to banks.

It was another concept that drew the criticism, however. Mr. Speck argued for “urban triage.” It is difficult to summarize briefly, so I’ll do it some injustice by describing it as the following: when choices must be made, cities should focus on improving those areas that have walkability potential. This could be seen as favoring already-nice neighborhoods, as critics worry. In reality, however, practicing urban triage might mean fixing the sidewalk along Bridge Street in Lower Centralville before adding street trees to Belvidere, because Bridge Street could become a walkable link between downtown and Centralville shops, while Belvidere will probably stay autocentric.

An interesting rebuttal by Mr. Speck, including a short argument for favoring downtowns before other neighborhoods (another hot topic in Lowell) is here.

Tactical Urbanism

One of the most exciting conversations at the conference was about “tactical urbanism” and “lean urbanism.” The idea is that activists or planners can make short-term, sometimes temporary projects that actually change the urban form long-term. This includes anything from making a parking spot into a mini-park, putting pop-up stores and displays in empty storefronts, and guerilla gardening (often illegally planting flowers or vegetables on public or vacant land).

Somerville pop-up plaza from Chris Orchard, Somerville Patch

These interventions are low-cost experiments that show what “could” be to investors or the public. In Somerville, planners closed off a small public parking lot, invited food trucks, and created a “pop-up plaza” to run an open house. People learned the value of the additional public space and the location intercepted people who would never attend a meeting in a city hall or library. The planners weren’t even sure they secured all the appropriate permits—doing so may have delayed or drove up the cost of the event.

Another example came from Memphis, where planners worked with entrepreneurs to create pop-up events for an abandoned brewery slated for demolition. The planners helped the entrepreneurs secure the needed permits from various departments while the entrepreneurs cut a deal with the building’s owner, cleaned up the space, and planned food truck and other events. “Tennessee Brewery Untapped” resulted in renewed interest from developers to buy and renovate the space to use the first floor for a brew pub or other use.

A project during CNU chalked a plaza into extra space in a five-points intersection. image

A project during CNU chalked a plaza into extra space in a five-points intersection. (Image: Buffalorising)

A panel including Dan Bartman, a senior planner from Somerville and Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns, among others argued that planners need room to experiment and fail. One panelist argued that if you try four risky things, and three fail and one succeeds, you’re rewarded in the business world but punished in the public planning world. He argued, “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough.” This makes sense: if you spend $1,000 each on four projects, and one succeeds and brings in $10,000 in new tax revenue, it’s perverse to say the other three were “wasted” money—so long as the projects are small.

Perhaps Lowell could embrace this principle more. Many small ideas are shot down quickly because of difficulties securing the right approvals, but maybe someone on the inside could pull the right strings. Murals could be painted. The city could work up a model one-month lease agreement that landlords could use to temporarily occupy their storefronts. Best of all, these kind of urban interventions could be applied anywhere—not just downtown.

The SmartCode

Much of the conference revolved around form-based codes. These are codes that focus on the relationship between building facades to the street and the scale of buildings to street blocks. The “SmartCode” is a model form-based code that can be adapted by communities to replace their traditional zoning.

It is centered around the idea that the form of cities change as they move from rural to suburban to the urban core, and divides this gradient into six “transect zones,” numbered so that urban planners from different cities can use the same language. Each of these transect zones are divided into sub-zones which get their own regulations: urban areas should have plenty of windows and doors to make an interesting walk, traditional areas should have porches or stoops, and so forth. At the conference, I heard a rule of thumb that any fifteen minute walk in an urban area should have three of these subzones, so that anyone living in a single family area can walk to a neighborhood center.

Transects

This type of form-based code may seem overly draconic to some, but its authors stress that it is meant to be flexible. It isn’t meant to dictate architectural styles any more than traditional zoning. Rather, it dictates how those styles must interact with the street. In return, it provides more flexibility in how those buildings are used.

This is a subtle distinction from traditional zoning, which controls form as well, but with more abstract measures. Lowell’s zoning code is something of a mix, which is common for modern zoning codes. It divides the City into suburban, traditional neighborhood, and urban districts which appears to roughly be T3, T4, and T5 transect zones. The more urban districts have few “traditional” regulations such as density restrictions and setbacks, and all districts have at least one subzone in which a mix of uses is allowed.

I attended a technical session on how to calibrate the model SmartCode to existing cities’ context. The larger messages of the session included the value of a “synaptic survey:” measuring exactly what makes a good neighborhood in your community such as porches, setbacks, and awnings. This type of survey might be a great community-building tool, as planners and community members walk streets together to consider their neighborhoods on a micro-level.

Resistance to Historic Districts

Something I noticed repeatedly is a general distaste of CNU members for historic districts and standards. I don’t wish to overstate the case, but some seem to feel historic districts’ strict standards run counter to the architectural flexibility form-based codes seek to foster. I believe some may think historic standards may restrict positive improvements in walkability or diversity of building use and housing type.

Jeff Speck’s Downtown Evolution plan mentions preservation and the complex association it has with New Urbanist principles. For example, the plan states:

In any such transformation of a historic building or landscape, a delicate balance must be forged between communicating an understanding of a site’s original design and adapting that design to serve modern needs, or even transforming it into something more compelling.

The plan cites such changes as creating the walkway through the center of Market Mills to the courtyard and parking lot as an adaptation that enhances the urban form while respecting a preservation ethic.

Transit and New Urbanism

Lowell Trolley

Can the Lowell Trolley–even without an expansion–be a tool for urbanism?

I got in from Boston right in time to take the bus from the airport to the convention center. Upstate New York’s busses tend to be a lesson about their level of racial segregation, and Buffalo is no exception. What surprised me, however, was the reaction when I mentioned I took the bus: “Oh, really?! How did that turn out?”

I later learned that almost everyone rented a car from the airport and then parked it for most of the conference downtown. Even among planners, there’s a persistent perception that busses are too complicated or unreliable for outsiders, despite Buffalo having no particularly bad transit reputation. My ride went smoothly and took about thirty-five minutes (as opposed to fifteen by car).

Transit is relevant to New Urbanism: several principles in CNU’s charter deal with transit, stating that a framework of systems should maximize access and mobility, and that appropriate densities should form around transit stops so that transit can create a viable alternative to auto-dependence. The one session I attended about transit had something of a celebratory tone, as North American transit use is on the rise, and funding for system improvements is at least slightly easier to come by than in previous decades.

Buffalo has one light rail line[1]. Although its often been called “a train to nowhere,” it had the third-highest per-mile ridership after Boston’s Green Line and San Francisco’s Muni Metro until recent construction stretched headways from twelve to twenty minutes. The line was originally going to extend to the main campus of its University, but lack of funding ended it at the University’s satellite campus. It has never been able to secure funding to extend, although now the agency is examining alternatives to connect it to the main campus. Regardless, this highlights the risk of a disappointing “Phase I” creating a challenge for future transit phases.

Leaving Buffalo

This is just a smattering of the thoughts from Buffalo. Other interesting tidbits include the correlation between small block sizes and safety, efforts to replace highways with multimodal boulevards, the precinct-by-precinct planning process Toronto undertook, ways to design facilities that can be used by all people of all ages and abilities, the baby booms in urban areas as “millennials” start families, and much more. I’m sure these thoughts will crop up in future posts about Lowell.

Look Peatónito up on the internet. Youll be

Look Peatónito up on the internet. You’ll be glad you did.

One thing this post doesn’t convey is how fun the event was. We did a pub crawl with fifty attendees, toured titanic grain silos that are now being used as event/party space, and met a guy who dresses as a luchador and literally pushes cars out of crosswalks in Mexico.

Here’s a parting thought: A Toronto Sun reporter consistently made fun of bicycle lanes and talked about how bicyclists got in the way of cars. She was invited by planners to go on a ride-along during one event, and her next story was “Sun reporter gets an understanding of cyclists”. The chief planner of Toronto, in recounting this story, said, “We must transform our conversations if we are to transform our cities.” This seems especially relevant.

Note

[1] Light rail is a partially-or-wholly aboveground passenger train usually separated from traffic in its own right-of-way.