CoolTown trends – early fall 2009

Here’s a wrap-up of the latest news and trends that are signaling a shift to a more creative culture and economy…

Cities are starting to go green by the district rather than just by buildings…
Cities are now looking at going beyond green building standards and focusing on green district standards, starting with eco-district plans in Portland, Oregon; climate benefit districts in Seattle, and eco blocks in China. Green at City Scale in Governing Magazine.

…making way for a New American Dream that focuses on downsizing and renting…
People are looking to rent smaller homes they can afford rather than buying larger commute-dependent homes they can’t, using the savings from downsizing (and driving less) to invest in possibly more creative pursuits like starting their own businesses in more urban areas.The New American Dream: Renting in the Wall Street Journal. See previous CoolTown entry here.
Smaller rowhouses are becoming more popular in Chicago (Meet the modern rowhouse) while the City of Los Angeles is legislating smaller lots for smaller homes (Small lots, big deal).

…with restaurants downsizing as well…
“Everyone is going smaller, more efficient, lots of good value,” Barry Goldstein, a lawyer who handles restaurant deals. The number of restaurants is holding steady, it’s just their size that’s decreasing, with less frills, lower prices and greater emphasis on the bar to keep customers longer. Dining Out: Vast, ritzy out; cozy, modest in

…and people getting ready to downsize themselves as biking becomes increasingly popular.
450 bikes at 40 locations are coming to Dublin, Ireland, following the lead of Paris, Barcelona and a number of European cities. However, the main complaint is it’s not ambitious enough (Paris has 20,000 bikes). Link.

  • It’s like you summarized the strategy my wife and I set out upon three years ago. We had been out of college a few years, and were living in Orange County, California.

    By 2010 we wanted to start a family but weren’t sure we wanted to be in suburbia with all its auto-centric pitfalls. But what other model was there? We looked around and said, we wanted to be able to walk (like on campus) rather than drive.

    First thing we did was moved into the downtown of a college town (Fullerton, CA) as an experiment to see if a more urban environment would suit us. It was great to walk to restaurants, but it wasn’t a full-featured city, just a small town belted by suburban housing tracks.

    We also realized quickly that if it took more than 5-minutes to walk to something, our interest faded quickly. J.H. Crawford’s Carfree Cities confirmed some of the psychology for us and we started looking at how to get mass transit, particularly street cars and rail into our lives.

    I am originally from Oregon and always wanted to move back to Portland. We knew Portland’s light rail was awesome from using it during vacations and visits to family. So we said lets move.

    We started another experiment once we arrived, setting a mileage budget to help us explore a car-lite lifestyle. We picked an apartment a short walk from light rail for commuting and close enough to stores that household errands could be made by bike.

    Turns out we love it. Its a lifestyle with the same simplicity and vitality as a college campus.

    And with each move we have down-sized how much stuff we have. Moving has a strange way of focusing your belongings down to needs rather than pack-ratting unused stuff. Finding ways to thrive with less without obsessing about simplicity is rewarding.

    And as proud as we are of our successful experiments, we are even more encouraged by the fact we are not alone in pursuing a different model. I feel like I’m part of a generation that is rediscovering the joys of urban community when the car isn’t isolating our neighbors.