Category Archives: architecture

Urban Agriculture: Green Trend de rigueur


While the phrase ‘urban agriculture’ is still, to the common household, considered analogous to food coops and low-income vocational practices, it has indeed evolved. Denizens are successfully convincing municipal leaders to change zoning. They’re stocking restaurants with locally grown produce, perpetuating sustainable dietary and agricultural practices in children via outdoor gardening programs in schools, and gaining supplemental income. It all sounds good in theory, and it does bear success stories, but urban agriculture isn’t without controversy.

Living Buildings Challenge Status Quo

The Portland, Oregon-based International Living Future Institute (formerly known as the International Living Buildings Institute), the world’s most thorough sustainable building/development-certification program, a non-governmental organization founded in 2009, also takes agriculture into its certification processes. Among new, partially new, and renovated residential, commercial, and civic projects, municipalities, landscapes, and infrastructure, the ILFI studies the relationship between the applying project and its entire surrounding environment via seven main categories: site, water, energy, health, materials, social equity, and beauty/inspiration. Applicants are considered only after at least a full year of continuous occupancy at the site, thereby ensuring a symbiotic relationship between the building or project and its surrounding soil and air.

The ILBI goes further than comparative certification processes of the USGBC and National Association of Home Builders by including an element of urban agriculture. Certification requires dedicating varying percentages of square footage to food production per site, depending on the site’s zoning; the more suburban a site is, the more food production is required.

‘Our urban agriculture element not only considers the healthy building but also healthy people. We want there to be a balance. We want to present agriculture as a process, as a livelihood,’ says Eden Brukman, vice president of the ILFI. At least a dozen of its current applications contain urban agriculture elements.

‘Urban agriculture is shaping the urban fabric. We’re seeing more concern about animal husbandry and beekeeping in urban agriculture because it’s not just about plants.’


This post comes from my article originally published in Perspective magazine.

Tips on Storytelling in Memoir


When is the last time you told a story? Maybe you did it to someone in the cafe line, maybe to your mechanic when trying to explain your car’s dunk thunk dunk sound? Maybe you even told one of a story from your own life to a younger person to prevent them from making a mistake. Certainly as a memoir writer, you’re storytelling. But are your stories the right ones? Have you left out anecdotes that could sell your manuscript?

Here’s what got me thinking about telling stories. Thrice in the last week I’ve heard people from various professions discuss the importance of stories: Former President Bill Clinton when talking to people in foreign service, my architect friend when talking to design students, and “Godfather of Creative Nonfiction” Lee Gutkind, speaking to a roomful of hopeful writers. Clinton encouraged foreign service students about the things they might experience by demonstrating them with anecdotes. The architect edified students that they might sell their designs better, in theory or practice, by creating stories about their composition or about their future uses. Gutkind told the story of how he earned his moniker. (It turns out to have originated from a scathing story in Vanity Fair, comparing him to a Mafia hound out to counterbalance fiction’s overabundance by awakening the world to the power of narrative nonfiction.) That story worked well. I’d always thought he had given himself that moniker; knowing he hadn’t added to his credibility.

The fact that storytelling has arisen in this many situations of late tells me two things: people need to start speaking more deeply and more often to each other; writers are just as important as they ever were. No riches for us, though; there is no direct correlation between storytelling and thickening someone else’s bottom line.

Check out Laure Rosin's site for more memoir tips

Check out Laurie Rosin’s site for more memoir tips


Laurie Rosin, AKA, has fantastic information for memoirists, however, about how to tell your story in a way that adds to your own bottom line. Consider these points:

  • What omissions are you glossing over that leave gaping holes in your story? Readers know when you’re not telling the truth or omitting over something significant.
  • How can you be more like Humbert Humbert? That is, how can you reveal the authenticity behind your motives in the story?
  • What battles that would lend deeper meaning to your coda have you omitted from the story?

Jerry Waxler offers tips on ordering the sequence of events in memoir. Hint: it’s not always linear.

What’s the last anecdote you told? What tips do you have for storytelling in memoir?


GARP: Phoenix, Funds, & Placemaking


Projects like the Grand Avenue Railway Project, or GARP, give me cognitive dissonance. More people could be helped by an innovative economic development along the light rail corridor, and that’s where most of the city’s funding should go in its attempts to reinvent Phoenix. On the other hand, Lower Grand Avenue is one of the city’s most important and cherished artistic resources, a real up-and-coming community that the city could point to as a neighborhood to be proud of.

Robert Graham, principal of MOTLEY Design Group in Phoenix is the lead figure in GARP, a streetcar proposal with its genesis in the Phoenix Trolley Museum. hes been working for two years to bring a contemporary streetcar system to the city in phases. Its route would run along lower Grand Avenue, from Seventh Avenue and Van Buren Street to 17th Avenue and Interstate 10. Later it would stretch possibly into Central City South.

“There’s no need to widen the street. It would work in conjunction with the Greening on Grand project, essentially,” Graham told me, looking out the window of his offices on NW Grand to where the proposed streetcar would run. “It runs in the turn lane. It doesn’t require a dedicated lane like the light rail.

“The only infrastructure is to put the rails in the ground and, if it’s electrified, wire overhead. If it runs through intersections with drain swales it can get expensive but through this proposed way it wouldn’t likely hit them.” Solar or solar/battery options are also being considered.

Graham says GARP’s board, which includes local architect Will Bruder, as well as Terry Goddard and Don Gouth of the Phoenix Community Alliance, believes that rather than squeezing the project into the city’s Reinvent Phoenix plans, it should be part of its transportation plans.

“We’re looking at making it the first leg of a real urban or modern street car program,” he says about the phased proposal, “linking it up to Roosevelt Row where there is a light rail, for people need to get further out (of the downtown corridor).”

Who’s Gonna Use It?

The trolley might serve its highest populations during First Fridays. But we need more things going on that you would want to walk to. As the recession shows albeit slow signs of improving, so does Lower Grand Avenue, the development of which will bring more people who want to walk among the streets rather than seek parking at either end of the neighborhood from McDowell Road to Cibo Restaurant and the historic areas.

And the Funding?

Of course I have to ask him about money, especially if the city thinks like Jeff Speck when last month he said: “Street cars aren’t really transportation; they’re pedestrian expediting.”

Graham lets out a subdued laugh and admits he is in the process of reading Speck’s latest title. “I think Speck was talking about … a solution to the last mile. Your solution is that bicycle.”

Being transit-dependent myself, this is something I can dig. For instance, on that sandstorm day (my first ever such experience), I took my bike to the Tempe Transit Center, got off the light rail at Third and Washington, then biked across some godawful intersections. How much more convenient that streetcar would have been!

“The city just doesn’t have the staff. Through attrition and retirements (forced or not) there just aren’t the people there to put together the big projects like this neighborhood and the trolly system, which is why we’re doing it ourselves. We know the city has no money, so we’re trying to figure out a way to do it all non-profit,” Graham says.

Speck’s point even comes into play in this chicken-versus-egg scenario. To put GARP in gear means going after federal dollars. Still, that requires getting the city to do a feasibility study on the streetcar‘s people-moving stats. The city hasn’t budged.

“They’re afraid that they’re gonna be responsible for funding it.” Federal funds, however, would allow construction to commence. Trolley fares would fund maintenance.

Even the building across the street from MOTLEY reveals public interest in the placemaking and transit ideas fueling GARP. A donor who shall remain anonymous purchased it to serve as the Phoenix Trolley Museum.

Shifting Dissonance 

This is indeed one of the city’s best chances of creating a viable walkable community. When Graham calls the neighborhood the “Before” of the “Before and After” photos, I see it. I see tourists coming to visit this area….far more frequently than they would come visit The Pin.

By the meeting’s end, my cognitive dissonance turns in his favor. It would create jobs. It would materialize placemaking. It would address vital transportation problems.

Projects like this require input from the public, just like Phoenix’s MyPlanPHX. Talk to your local city council member about this. meanwhile keep your eyes peeled in mod-October when GARP will host its first fund-raiser, held in conjunction with the Grand Avenue Festival.