Sunday, July 6, 2014

A 'serpentinuous' passion for urbanism

Posted By on Sun, Jul 6, 2014 at 7:00 AM

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The passion I have for cities and urbanism has really been a serpentinuous one, if that's a word.

In short, I guess it began in college at Kansas State. I went to school to be an architect, with my own grandiose ideals of what architecture is.

Through the first year of school, when the college provides a basis of what the programs of architecture, interior architecture, etc. actually are, I discovered landscape architecture. This was the basis of my passion toward the relationships of the natural and built environments we live in.

I continued to be clueless throughout school, in terms of how cities work and the importance of urbanism, so much to the point that I literally bought into the American Dream of a home in the suburbs.

My wife and I lived in the definition of sprawl in southwest Omaha. We bought "out there" for the same reasons that most do: the schools, and the perception of safety. The experience itself has sculpted my knowledge and background for planning. Of course, I had some assistance with banter from my planning colleagues in Omaha. The guys there often harassed me about my 45-minute commute to work and further educated me in the alternatives through the brilliant books Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and Geography of Nowhere by James Kunstler.

But this time in Omaha was incredibly enlightening to me, challenging the way that I would see everything in the built environment thereafter.

Today, I continue to challenge the basic notions of why things are completed the way that they are.

Our transportation/infrastructure is the first place to start when improving quality of life. The street is the first impression of a place; when it's poorly designed, what does it say about the places along it? We’ve overbuilt our roads with absurd capacities based on self-serving traffic models and projections. We tend to treat our right-of-ways as vehicular sewers, instead of the places that they are.

Improvements to our infrastructure don't have to be expensive. In fact, most of our streets are over-constructed; they just need some surgical removal for the most part. These are the key to making way for other modes of transportation.

In future blog posts, I’ll discuss basic considerations of how we can improve our own built environment, with considerations for long-term viability and minimal maintenance. This is the focus of Colorado Springs Urban Intervention, and a primary passion of mine.

John Olson is a licensed landscape architect, residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Plannning and Landscape Architecture for EVstudio Planning & Civil Engineering. He is also a co-founder of Colorado Springs Urban Intervention, which implemented Better Block Pikes Peak in 2012, the recent Walkability signage found in Downtown Colorado Springs, and, perhaps most notably, Curbside Cuisine.

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