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Archive for December, 2011

Success is a funny thing, and more difficult to measure than one might immediately think. If a basketball player scores 30 points per game but destroys his team’s chemistry with a poor attitude, is he really successful? Is a presidential campaign successful if half the country doesn’t support the candidate? And is city planning only successful when it happens quickly and in lockstep with the planner’s vision?

A recent article from americancity.org looked at the issue of public participation in city planning, something that Sarasota has dealt with plenty over the past decade or so as New Urbanism has made its present felt. Charrettes—one or even multiple-day information sessions and planning workshops—are now standard operating procedure when new projects begin to develop. Surely, citizens are involved to a higher degree than ever before. But is the value of their contributions being maximized? And has increased involvement made the planning process better or worse?

Over the past two years, a growing number of voices have criticized the role of public participation in urban planning. These voices include Andrés Duany, the architect and New Urbanist, who has decried America’s “absolute orgy of public process.1  They also include Tom Campanella, who argues in essays in Planning magazine and the journal Places that, “it’s a fool’s errand to rely upon citizens to guide the planning process.”2, 3  A position justified, Campanella claims, because, “most folks lack the knowledge to make intelligent decisions about the future of our cities.” Criticism of participation is not new, but the increasingly strident tone of anti-participation sentiment should worry citizens and policy makers alike. In fact, there are good reasons to encourage participation in public processes, perhaps now more than ever.

Recent criticism of participation comes at a time when comparisons between American urban development and other models are particularly stark. This is especially true when looking at the speed and scale of new construction. Highlighting the contrast between American and Chinese cities, Thomas Friedman noted in a 2010 New York Times article that, “the comparisons start from the moment one departs Beijing’s South Station, a giant space-age building”.4  In his article, he notes: “With enough cheap currency, labor and capital – and authoritarianism – you can build anything in nine months.” Friedman’s argument is that the status quo approach to development in America isn’t working, a sentiment shared by Duany and Campanella, as well as a large number of other commentators. As Campanella stated in a talk at Harvard: “Just as China could use more of the American gavel of justice and democratic process, we could certainly use a bit more of that very effective Chinese sledgehammer.”

Contemporary concerns that public participation slows development bear similarity to arguments voiced in the 1970s, during the Cold War. Then, the rival economic superpower was not China, but the Soviet Union. As Joseph Stiglitz points out: “In the years immediately following World War II, there was a belief…in a tradeoff between democracy and growth.  The Soviet Union, it was argued, had grown faster than the countries of the West, but in order to do so had jettisoned basic democratic rights.”5  Stiglitz continues by arguing that such a tradeoff, between participation and growth, does not exist and that, in contrast, participation is a key element of sustainable economic development. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that American competitiveness has been more sustainable than the Soviet Union’s over the long-term, in part due to the country’s robust democratic norms. Keeping this history in mind, is it any more prudent in the current recession to think that rolling back participation will be a boon for American cities over the long term?

Keep reading at http://americancity.org/buzz/entry/3187/

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The holidays they are approachin’, so we at Laurel Park Management thought we’d pass along info on this weekend’s appropriately themed events and to-do options in case the spirit moves you. Enjoy!

Atomic Holiday Bazaar: December 10-11

Atomic Holiday Bazaar, Sarasota’s original annual Indie Craft Show returns for its 6th year. Shop local with unusual creators of hand made arts and crafts from Florida, the U.S. and as far as Central America! This is a craft show that won’t make you yawn or cringe!

click for more info

Gingerbread Festival: through December 11

Community Youth Development presents the Gingerbread Festival at Westfield Sarasota mall (Macy’s wing), where more than 125 houses created by youth groups, businesses and community organizations will be featured. This year there will also be gingerbread versions of iconic Sarasota landmarks as well as a Iron Chef-style gingerbread house decorating contest performed by professional and youth chefs.

click for more info

3rd Annual SRQ Santa Paws: December 10, 10am-1pm, Five Points Park

Bring your friends, family and four-legged friends to this must-see holiday pet extravaganza. Santa Paws will be available for kitty and canine consultation on Dec. 10 from 10 to 1 at Five Points Park and Santa’s little helpers will be capturing photos of the cutest pets to feature in SRQ: The Best Overall Magazine on Florida’s West Coast.

click for more info

Holiday Splendor at the Payne Mansion, Selby Gardens: through January 2

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Presents “Holiday Splendor at the Payne Mansion.” The Florida West Coast Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) will expand the scope of its popular Holiday Showhouse in the Mansion for 2011, decking the entire first floor with stunning holiday décor. Talented designers will transform Selby Gardens’ Museum of Botany & the Arts into a glittering Holiday Showhouse, even creating a kitchen on the sun porch.

click for more info

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As the quest for more viable renewable and alternative energy sources continues, some of the options suggested seem brilliant while others remain firmly in the world of the bizarre. Take, for instance, a biofuel mentioned in a recent article on portstrategy.com:

According to a recent report by the American Chemical Society, alligator fat could be the best option for fuelling cars; the oil found in the alligator’s meat and skin is apparently more practical than soya, the usual biofuel source, and the society says that the meat industry sends 15m pounds (lbs) of alligator fat a year to landfill.

Really? Gator gas? Gotta wonder whether the folks at the American Chemical Society are avid golfers who lost one too many balls to alligator-defended water hazards. Then again, it’s hard to justify wasting 15 million pounds of alligator fat annually. Might as well put it to use. As strange as gator fuel sounds, it is an interesting possibility, one that could lead to more locally sourced biofuels.

Another, more technologically oriented, potential energy source is the humble speed bump. A Maryland-based company has developed a speed bump that harnesses the kinetic energy of cars as they pass over it and  then converts that energy into electricity.

The company “is targeting installations in parking lots, border crossings, exit ramps, neighborhoods with traffic calming zones, rest areas, toll booths, and travel plazas. Electricity would power roadway signs, street and building lights, storage systems for back-up and emergency power.”

Traffic calming can make neighborhoods safer, more enjoyable, more humane places to live, so if it can also increase an area’s social, economic, and environmental sustainability who could complain? Downtown Sarasota has dozens if not hundreds of places appropriate for such a speed bump.

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