“Your Town” Walkable Communities

I just came back from participating in a 3 day seminar in Michigan sponsored by the NEA and the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design called “Your Town”.  This seminar of lectures and design charettes was held in the historic landmark “Old Schoolhouse” in the small coastal village of Douglas.  The focus of the seminar is on Walkable Communities.  Walkable Communities address the need to change our focus from a car or vehicle-centric nation, to a human-centric nation in the way we plan communities.  Associated with the current trend in Smart Land Development and addressing such qualities as diverse asaffordable housing, sedentary lifestyles, obesity and the corrosive effects of sprawl (all by-products of our vehicle-centric living) in our society, this well paced and participatory seminar helped a small West Michigan community identify ways in which it could plan to become a healthier and even more attractive place in the future.  The seminar host and co-founder, Dan Burden was on hand to help 50 local stakeholders (planners, the mayor, residents, teachers, and designers) organize into groups – armed with colored sharpies, aerial maps and tracing paper to plan ways in which problem areas in town could be addressed. Dan Burden and his staff’s infectious optimism and consensus-building approach to dealing with traffic, access and safety was a refreshing approach.  Long-standing local infrastructure issues, complaints, and missed opportunities were identified through a design process that encouraged (by Dan and his team) looking beyond current and at times archaic ordinances and regulations and to identify potential.  The end goal of this and I am guessing many seminars will be the establishment of a Design Committee of citizens in order to further the discussion established in this Your Town seminar.  Link to Walkable and Livable Communities website: http://www.walklive.org/

Article by Nicolaas Wilkens

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