Walking the Walk

Urban design from the front lines

Kevin Klinkenberg

Using urban design to make our lives more enjoyable and create wealth

This site is for all those interested in the making of cities and towns, and especially the lives of the humans that inhabit them. Kevin Klinkenberg is an architect and urban designer who's practiced from coast-to-coast. He opines from here.

Car City, USA Redux

From Twitter, earlier today:

When I wrote KC: Car City, USA last year, some people took issue with my characterization. This week's news of the American Royal bbq moving to Arrowhead Stadium only confirms the byline. Taking a great event and moving it to a suburban site essentially because of parking is planting a big flag in the ground that says "we care more about cars than city life." I find it especially sad because some creative thinking to make it a urban event, in the city, of the city, about people mingling, walking, smelling, eating, drinking in the greatest bbq city in the world, would be an event of international importance. Can you even imagine how incredible it would be every fall to essentially shut the city down for a weekend for such a festival? But alas, no, the gods of parking and easy freeway access win again. If I still lived there, I'd be among the first in line to boycott the new location, and start a counter-festival the same weekend, in the actual city. Year one might have 6 teams and a keg of beer, but like First Fridays, I predict it would grow quickly and be it's own showcase event. 

Markets aren't always local

There've been so many articles lately on gentrification that it's been dizzying. Most have covered ground that people have written about for years, and repeat tired cliches on all sides of the issue. I confess to be tired of the old arguments, precisely because I think we're in a different era now with different concerns than 20 or 30 years ago. I even strongly dislike the term "gentrification" since it's a British term describing a particularly British phenomenon - then applied to American cities.  Personally, I think Megan McArdle's recent writings have been the best - especially this, this and this. The last one is outstanding, and it's interesting of course that someone who's not a planner has a better grasp of this than many planners. At any rate, below is a tweetstorm from today regarding another aspect of the conversation.

Fun with Finance

I've been busy enough lately that it's been difficult to find time to write. That's a good thing, but I'm not proud enough to say: I miss the blogging. In any case, I am still fairly active on Twitter @kevinklink if you'd like to continue the conversation about walking and making successful places for humans. Here's a small taste of something from earlier this year:

Upcoming speaking appearances

I haven't had much in the way of time to travel and speak in the last 6 months (nor blogging for that matter), but I do have a few upcoming in case you're in the Orlando or DC/Baltimore area. Thanks to all of those who've helped set these up, I think they'll be very interesting and entertaining. Contact me offline if you are interested in having me come your way. Here's the details:

"Why I Walk: the shift to a walking and biking culture"  - presentation and book signing

January 14, 6:00 PM  Orlando, FL

Canvs:  101 S Garland Ave, Suite 108, Orlando, Florida 32801

Facebook signup page


"Why I Walk: the rise of the walking and biking culture" - presentation & book signing

January 29, Noon, Washington, DC,

Torti Gallas & Partners: 1300 Spring Street #400, Silver Spring, MD 20910


"Why I Walk: the rise of the walking and biking culture" - presentation & book signing

January 30, 12:15 PM, Baltimore, MD

In concert with the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference

Hilton Baltimore Hotel, Key Ballroom 12, 2nd Floor

2014 - what a wild ride

Well, it's that time of the year again where we pause to both reflect on the past and look forward to the future. And, I've definitely found that the old cliche is true: time seems to speed up with age. This year just flew by.

For me, the year included time spent trying to build a car sharing company (with not much success), a new website and look to the blog, a whole new approach to blogging that included multiple daily posts, a TedX talk in the spring, the publishing of my first book, Why I Walk: Taking a Step in the Right Direction, and a new job in July as Executive Director of the Savannh Development and Renewal Authority

Oh, and yeah, I also got married and we adopted a dog, Moose (see my Instagram account for more on him.) Cue me breathing deeply now.

Sooo - what to make of it all?  is this just a big year of transition?

I don't think so, actually. Any more, it seems like every year is a transition in some important way. We all experience downs, ups and big changes whether we realize it at the time or not. And, we also live now in a world that just moves so fast. I remember one of my favorite lines from the ever-present on tv Shawshank Redemption, where old Brooks gets out of jail at last and says, "the whole world just went and got itself in a big damn hurry." Brooks was right, and the truth is it never really slows down for long. We're hard-wired for it more and more, despite our pleas otherwise.

As to 2015?  I hope that each of you is in a place where you're as excited as I am. The opportunities for redevelopment here in Savannah are exceptional, and I'm eager to get more accomplishments under the belt of SDRA. I hope at some point to begin blogging more regularly, since I enjoy it and love the conversation with all,of you that read. And, I think we'll have some good stories to tell from here in the Lowcountry.

if you're interested in having me speak in your town, please don't hesitate to drop me a line. I have January appearances lined up in Orlando (the 14th), DC (29th) and Baltimore (30th). Time is tight, but if it fits in my schedule I'll work with you. 

To all, I hope for a prosperous and happy 2015, and one that involves a lot of walking and biking.




Click on the image for more info

Click on the image for more info

I've got a few events coming up this fall and into the winter. Below are the scheduled events as well as tentative. If you're interested in having me come your way, please drop me a line at kevinklinkenberg@gmail.com. I do need to schedule at least a couple of months in advance generally, but I promise puppies, unicorns and free ice cream for all.

October 28th - Kansas City, MO: The Center for Architecture & Design

November 1st - Savannah, GA: Barnes and Noble (signing only)

November 9th - Savannah, GA: Flannery O'Conner Childhood Home

Pending: Orlando, FL; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC

The case for unremarkable buildings redux

Last week Strong Towns had a blog post about the benefits of just being "nice" for a community. It reminded me of this piece I wrote a while back - reposted and linked here for your enjoyment.


A great way to spend an hour

Joe Minicozzi talks about cities, taxes, economic development, beer and Asheville. It's a very entertaining and enlightening hour to spend - I highly recommend it for anyone remotely interested in these topics:

My Tedx talk: America 6.0

The video is now up of my Tedx talk from two weeks ago. Titled "America 6.0," it's my look at where we've been, where we're going and why. In 12 minutes. Enjoy and please share. 

Friday design wars

It's a Friday, which must mean it's time to argue about architecture. Here's some recent items from the internets that highlight the ongoing battles in design thinking and theory:

First, David Brussat worries about design direction within the CNU and lashes out at the creeping desire to accept contemporary architecture in New Urbanism:

The New Urbanism is really the old urbanism guided by principles of human scale, residential density, proximity and walkability. Before World War II, cities, towns and villages got built and grew over time with few rules. Builders used forms and practices that had worked well throughout the history of human habitat.
That has changed, of course. Civic evolution was interrupted after the war by an ideological revolution. Tradition was dethroned by modern planning and design, based upon the dubious machine-age idea that honest design looks utilitarian and that beauty is expendable.
So by now, what is new in cities and towns is believed by most people to be worse than what it replaced. An entire movement, historic preservation, arose to defend old places against modern architecture.
New Urbanists be warned: The modernists are on the march. They have purged preservation of its founding fear that traditional neighborhoods are under assault. They have staged administrative coups at about half of the few remaining architecture departments that feature a classical curriculum (the University of Portugal at Viseu, the University of Oregon, the Prince’s Foundation, in London). Yes, there are only three or four architecture programs with a classical curriculum left in the world.
Modernism is like a virus that uses subtle techniques to infect its host and achieve brutal results. Modernism does not want to befriend tradition. New Urbanism has long had the virus in its blood. Now, in Buffalo, it has broken out in a rash. Watch out! Not pretty!

Speaking of tradition, the Frick Collection shows that you can in fact expand a museum with classical architecture. Yes, despite the howls of many architecture theorists, it is possible to build a new building that looks like the old:

Image by Neoscape, Inc. and the New York Times

Image by Neoscape, Inc. and the New York Times

Frick officials said the new design, by Davis Brody Bond, the architecture firm behind the interior of the new National September 11 Memorial Museum, was intended to be sensitive to the integrity of one of New York’s beloved historic buildings. It would retain the Beaux-Arts vernacular of the original home and use the same Indiana limestone.
Officials at the Frick are taking a decidedly different approach from those at the Morgan Library & Museum, which is housed in another Beaux-Arts building, but whose new wing, completed in 2006, features a contemporary design of steel and glass.

In the "how to do it" world, architect Donald Powers writes in Builder magazine about alternatives to the pervasive "pork chop" eave. Thank God that talented architects like Powers are writing for Builder mag:

The dreaded "pork chop" eave. Drawings by Donald Powers

The dreaded "pork chop" eave. Drawings by Donald Powers

The pork chop evolved from generations of builders trying to imitate homes with classical entablature and traditional eave construction. But because so much common knowledge about traditional form has been lost over the years, so, too, has the ability of consumers and professionals to discern what looks genuine and what doesn’t.
Pork chop eaves happened because they were efficient and simple. They didn’t stray too far from a traditional solution. A logical builder will say, “It saves work—what’s the problem?” The problem is it looks terrible.

And finally, just for old time's sake, here's a tired old argument straight out of the Bauhaus about architectural design:

If the “Vintage Collection” merely made reference to older building styles but were clearly new builds, it would be a different thing. But there is a huge difference between making reference to an older style versus actually just plain copying an older style. The latter is lazy and opportunistic. Instead of moving architecture forward, it slows and even reverses the creative momentum of the discipline by recreating styles, forms and details that made sense decades ago, but have nothing to do with our current times. Architecture is supposed to be a reflection of what is happening in the world today, the current technology and the current ethos of our culture. When buildings become nothing but bad copies of buildings past, it sullies the entire creative process of designing buildings.

The theme that happens in every architectural critique like this is the zeitgeist. I previously wrote about that fallacy here, and suggested an alternative mindset. Just to remind architects that are so eager to dismiss "vintage" styles - those old styles aren't popular just because of nostalgia. They're popular because they engage us as human beings. You get the feeling that there actually, you know, might be humans involved somewhere and not machines or industry.

Best stories on the internets

It's my humble opinion, but The Bitter Southerner takes the prize. It's a great format with beautiful images and generally excellent stories. This week's edition, "The Many Battles of Atlanta" is well worth a few minutes of your time. If you live in the southeast, you especially need to be subscribing to this site.

Here's a passage from this week's version that rings true for me, and something I talk about in my book (pre-order links here and here!):

Hiking is something people usually do in the woods. I enjoy hiking the wilderness of our great nation as much as anyone, I suppose, but there's an appeal to urban hiking I think is systematically overlooked. It's been said that the Civil War was transformative for the United States not least because it was an opportunity for millions of people — soldiers, mainly — to traipse across it and to get a first-hand idea of what it was they collectively possessed. It’s for the same reason I believe everyone should take long walks through American cities.
There's a big difference between viewing a city from a bucket seat and experiencing it on foot. In a car the landscape spools past like a film, accompanied only by the sound of whatever music happens to be bubbling from the stereo, the atmosphere attenuated to its nadir by air conditioning. It's fast, one-dimensional, and — barring a fiery accident — quickly forgotten.

On foot, by contrast, the world inhabits not only the eye, but also the ear and not seldom the nose. It touches the skin and even the tongue, and it does all this at a stately pace. The horizon manifests its mysteries with exquisite leisure, charging the initiate in both time and sweat for the pleasure. Objects rise up, pass, and linger in the distance, giving you plenty of time to observe, to digest, to think. The road trip may be the modern rite of passage, but as is usually the case with technology, for all we gained, something was lost — richness of experience, in this case. Which, after all, is the stuff of life.