Luring us back to the center, by whatever means necessary.

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After crossing the Thames River along Interstate 95, speeding westward past the compact, archetypically New England central business district to New London, Connecticut, a visitor will encounter an exit ramp leading directly to the city’s economically recovering downtown. Generally speaking, this should be the preferred trajectory for those of us obsessed with old town centers. …Read more…

Still on the grid…just a little looser.

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My postings have been pretty sparse lately, though it’s not for a lack of new ideas. I’ve been traveling across the middle of the country, visiting friends and some of my favorite American landscapes: the vast prairies and buttes of the high plains. Driving along unpaved roads in some of the most sparsely populated countryside …Read more…

Perplexed in Pawtucket.

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My latest just made it to Huffington Post.  Fundamentally it’s about two cities and how they strategically toy with the boundary between them. The industrial city of Pawtucket has a prominent border with Providence, Rhode Island’s economically mixed state capital.  Both cities have their fare share of gritty neighborhoods, but, where the two abut one another, …Read more…

Goulash in the melting pot.

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On the corner of an otherwise nondescript strip mall just outside of New Brunswick, New Jersey, I encountered this storefront: Nothing particularly special about it in the grand scheme of things—nothing that jumps out, just from viewing the exterior. But the name is distinctive. Magyar. For those not in the know, Magyarország is the word …Read more…

Who’s YOUR state’s prime mascot?

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When a highly localized slang term pops up in an environment far removed from its natural home, it’s inevitable that it will cause some heads to turn. And that’s exactly what happened when I passed this sign along a fairly busy stretch of highway:People who follow college basketball—and particularly those who followed it in the …Read more…

Dressing the wounds with paint (a sequel).

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In a nation where the supply of potential retail space is so excessive that it hobbles the commercial landscape it intends to serve, a vacant storefront often remains vacant for a very long time. Only in the healthiest, most sought-after retail districts does the leasable space absorb quickly. In larger structures with the capacity for …Read more…

When a “road diet” removes not just the fat but the bone.

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Long perceived as one of the most automobile-dependent major cities in the country, Houston has made considerable strides in recent years toward diversifying its transportation options. The METRORail line, first proposed (and rejected) in 1983, took decades to develop, largely due to persistent political opposition.  However, with a 2001 groundbreaking, the 7.5-mile line, spanning from …Read more…

Gateway to navigational confusion.

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In recent years, the various public and private agencies in Indianapolis have collaborated on the commissioning of public art projects in what would appear to many to be unlikely places: off the side of some the region’s busiest interstate highways.  The most prominent location for these installations is along the I-70 corridor connecting the Indianapolis …Read more…

Discarded easels from the boardroom.

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It should come as no surprise that a prolonged period of economic doldrums often fosters a collective hesitation. We’ve witnessed it for the past year with the sharp retreat of consumer spending coupled with job losses, in which the cause-effect nexus is just about as chicken-and-egg of a phenomenon as we’ll hopefully ever see. But …Read more…