Lean Urbanism is a way to restore common sense to the processes of development, building, starting small businesses, community engagement, and acquiring the necessary skills. The Project for Lean Urbanism is collecting and developing tools and daylighting techniques to enable and encourage those activities. This collection is the result of a survey to identify tools developed elsewhere and to track ideas for those that are needed. As tools are developed by the Project for Lean Urbanism, they will be made freely available on this website.
The Pink Zone is a powerful tool for concentrating resources on the task of enabling small-scale, community-centered development and revitalization. It defines an area of focus, leverages a suite of available tools, and provides a platform for the community to gather resources, make commitments, and work together on projects that enhance community character and allow existing businesses and residents to remain and profit from the improved quality of life. The Pink Zone tool will be developed and refined in a series of pilot projects, and then released to the public.
The City of Phoenix has become a model of Lean Governing, demonstrating the benefits of community revitalization when a municipality enables and encourages the work of creative entrepreneurs, small developers, neighborhood leaders, and community organizations. Along the way, it has employed and refined a number of principles and techniques that other cities can use to revitalize their neighborhoods. Phoenix is demonstrating that small projects can lead to big results.
The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism defines the “terms of art” and other useful words and phrases that have emerged from extended discussions on the online Lean Urbanism discussion group and at Lean Councils. The first section is dedicated to these terms, and the second presents a selection of helpful quotations.
Appealing, context-aware designs for small-scale homes in small-scale neighborhoods grabbed national attention during the 2005 Mississippi Renewal Forum after Hurricane Katrina. Though it took far longer for the ideas to find traction than anyone imagined, trial-and-error progress has produced models worth emulating, and just in time to address new realities in housing demand in post-recession America.
The potential for a natural partnership between Lean Urbanism and social-justice groups is self-evident and should be explored. A growing movement of social-justice organizations across the world are coalescing behind the concept of “the right to the city” as a means to garner support for a wide range of social issues that can be characterized by a belief that everyone has a right to design and shape their community. These groups have the energy and determination to alter the status quo of financial and regulatory structures that prevent people who lack access to resources and capital, such as millennials and immigrants, from becoming active in small-scale development. But these groups often also lack the technical knowledge to achieve such goals. Lean Urbanism can provide tools and know-how that these groups need.
Regulatory barriers make housing less affordable to millions of households in the US and abroad. If regulatory barriers were reduced, small developers could provide housing at more affordable prices. This article assesses the current state of knowledge about the effects of federal, state, and local regulations on the supply and cost of housing.
New developers should create their own financial models. Only by doing so will they truly understand the variables and how each affects financial performance. This paper attempts to walk new developers through a financial model that includes development budget, annual return, and capital return. It is simple enough to create but sophisticated enough to present to investors and lenders. It represents one small residential rental building — not condo, and not office or retail.
Financing Lean Development requires both institutional and non-institutional sources of capital. This paper focuses on project equity from non-institutional sources. Years of observations and anecdotal conversations with developers of small, innovative projects suggest that Lean Development is coming of age, but it has significant hurdles to realizing its potential, and financing is among the more difficult to overcome. Understanding the motivations, requirements and techniques for working with non-institutional investors is critical to overcoming one of the primary hurdles for Lean Development.
The Lean Urbanism movement will come to life through pilot projects, as they will spread the knowledge from the professionals to community builders and entrepreneurs. They are at the core of the Project for Lean Urbanism, as they will serve to demonstrate the potential for and value of incremental, community-scale revitalization and development by tapping local physical, financial, and social assets that are currently underutilized. The pilot projects will also be used to test and refine the tools, to identify and seek solutions to common barriers in regulation or practice that inhibit small-scale development or rebuilding, and to serve as models for use by other communities.
The Lean Scan is one of the key tools of the Project for Lean Urbanism. It is a method for uncovering hidden assets and opportunities within a neighborhood, district, corridor or town, and for identifying why those assets are underutilized. The Lean Scan will be deployed in a series of pilot projects beginning in 2015. It will be tested and refined in those projects before being released to the public as a free tool.
What can urbanists learn from West-Central Africa? That Lean describes a way of life for many residents, merchants, and builders who encounter a thick layer of buronic bureaucracy on the one hand, and a lifestyle often stripped down to basic necessities. Working around both extremes builds Lean muscle.
Education should foster innovation. To succeed they should take the risk. Youths should not wait to have a lot of money before they can venture into business. They should think big, start small, and start now.
– Eric Kinoti, MD, Shade Systems, East Africa (Kenya)
Lean Governing is not government reform. It is the action-focused exercise of collective will by local elected officials and citizens. It is a process of discovery, of robust experimentation and learning by doing.
How might Lean Governing be applied in places where local leaders believe in Lean Urbanism and want to support it? The term Lean Governing is used here to connote a network of distributed leadership among public entities, citizens and businesses, focused not on a massive, long-term reform of government, but rather on robust experimentation with alternative models through a set of opportunistic partnerships.
Lean Infrastructure is Transect-based engineering and landscape works that support Lean Urbanism projects through incremental improvements that can be quickly and economically implemented by subsidiary players without the need for massive equipment, capital or protocols. It is infrastructure designed to fit the needs of a particular level of urbanization (a block or so), but can be frugally upgraded or downgraded to the adjacent level, or adapted to changing conditions.
The legislation enabling building codes and other targets of Lean Urbanism is often inspired by straightforward protection of health, safety and welfare, but then comes to serve many other purposes. Environmentalists have sought for many years to reform codes for new buildings to allow greater innovation, and Smart Growth advocates have worked since the ‘90s to reform building rehab codes. In some ways these efforts have been very successful, while in others they have left in place many impediments to a certain scale of development. This scale of development occurs in the inner city and in severely damaged suburbs and rural villages, and becomes more valuable to a locality when the market for larger-scale development disappears and is very sensitive to cost, delay and complexity. Additionally, legislative interventions are necessary to remove regulatory barriers that inhibit robust development at this scale. The method for identifying appropriate legislative adjustments to the building codes can be applied to other regulatory scenes which interfere with the revitalization of neighborhoods.
Seaside, the resort town in the Florida Panhandle, is best known for being a compact, walkable, and diverse community, but it has also become known as one of the first environmentally designed new towns. It is now time for it to be recognized as a model for Lean Urbanism, particularly greenfield development.
Over the past decade, even as there has been a growing fascination with the benefits of charrettes as a tool for planning and public engagement, there has been a constant complaint that charrettes are too expensive. This complaint has become more common and more urgent in recent years, with shrinking budgets and tightening competition among firms for a smaller pool of available work. Lean Urbanism has introduced a new set of concerns about the costs of the process. It is particularly difficult to fit a charrette into the budget of a project when the goal is to “make small possible.” But Lean Urbanism isn’t just about streamlining the planning process. In the simplest terms, it is about reducing the time and resources invested in planning and dedicating them instead to getting things done, in more manageable increments, with less top-down intervention or public investment, creating more opportunities for individual action, with smaller increments of investment.
Lean Codes have compact formats, bare-bones standards, and lighter (pink) red tape, in contrast to the excessive controls, redundancies, contradictions, delays, and unintended consequences created by conventional codes (and some form-based codes, for that matter). Lean Development Codes are Transect-based, as it is Lean to connect disciplines and support local contexts.
The mission of the Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) program at Woodbury University’s School of Architecture is to change the role of architect from consultant to entrepreneur and to empower architects in a profession where they are rapidly losing their traditional role as leaders of project teams. Students graduate with the skills to be not simply consultants, but also builders and real estate developers. MRED graduates are establishing a new localized culture of building and an architectural vernacular that speaks to San Diego’s context, place, and time. The built results have created a quiet storm of new housing and commerce that both fit nicely within and raise the design bar in San Diego’s more urban neighborhoods. These new projects and architect-builders are creating a buzz, drawing attention from funders and others wanting to build upon their budding success, and establishing a new responsibility through raised expectations. The MRED program is creating a group of young architect-developers who can determine their own fates, design, and places while contributing to a better urban environment.
The 27 principles of the Charter of the New Urbanism were formulated by a broad cross-section of thinkers, practitioners and officials who recognized some of the shortcomings of post-WWII development, planning and design on the continuity and coherence of American cities. The Charter reflects a durable and broadly agreed upon standard of regional and urban livability, sustainability and civility.
Analysis suggests LEED buildings perform no better, and in fact perform worse, than non-LEED buildings. Many recommended actions, especially those selected by users, have little to no effect. Too few of its standards are results-driven, with high pay-back in areas other than environmental stewardship. Its rewards are self-serving, and used more often by a narrow group of elite users rather than a broad population. Recommendations include recognizing the shortcomings of current use characteristics, bringing clarity to the essentials of desired end performance, and refashioning certification standards to alter use of the program.
The U.S. housing market has seen significant transformation in the last few years. The recent mortgage crisis and the ensuing aversion to sprawl; issues of climate change, energy and affordability; and a renewed appreciation for context and community have ushered a return of smaller, more efficient dwellings. An examination of vernacular housing models, particularly those from locales where pragmatic building practices are still common — such as in the Philippines — may offer useful techniques for developing Lean housing types.
Strong economic, demographic and household trends reveal a tremendous pent-up demand to use homes for employment, pressuring the marketplace to accommodate all types of live-work units. Yet for the past half-century, live-work units have essentially been made illegal or discouraged in most places. Changes to zoning and building codes, as well as management and permitting procedures, are required to allow the full spectrum of live-work options to be restored.
The Camp Meeting ground is a land-use form particularly American, evolved to create community, integrating architecture, nature, and urban design using innate rules of human behavior. Camp Meeting grounds are the source for uses as diverse as resort villages, bungalow courts, trailer parks, condominiums, home owner’s associations, land trusts, even some town centers. They are also about self-building, occasional prefabrication, and compact, human-scaled structures. The ideas and social experiments, construction know-how and urban layouts have influenced the country for hundreds of years. The lessons still hold.
The built environment accounts for approximately half the energy use and carbon footprint of the United States. Lean Buildings reduce energy flows by tapping basic natural heating and cooling techniques and renewable energy sources in ways that are region-specific and climate-sensitive. Seven defensive and offensive strategies — from use of local and recycled materials to heavy insulation, from building orientation and passive solar systems to dense urban configurations — address the reduction of material and energy consumption in the U.S and similar climates. Issues of energy quantity and quality, energy codes and metrics, as well as building size and configuration, are also discussed.
Owning a small piece of your neighborhood can be good for you and good for your city. Owners of small buildings benefit by generating income and building wealth, as the immigrants to New England who bought and rented out “triple-deckers.” Small building ownership faces challenges, mostly due to lack of economies of scale. However, every asset class has inherent challenges, so budget for them and focus on the benefits.
Regulation and government programs are supposed to protect the consumer and empower the market. Too often, though, they favor big, incumbent businesses. They require things like bonds, copious paperwork, and multiple layers of review. They are too expensive and time-consuming for small builders, small businesses, and homeowners. Programs politicians told us would create opportunity for everyone instead create opportunity for big incumbents. The young, immigrants, people who work with their hands — “makers”— suffer particularly. Such suffering is unjust in a system that is supposed to create opportunity.
Within every community are two economies: one is locally generated, or “place-based,” and sustains assets at home, while the other operates remotely, extracts local value, and sends it elsewhere. Regeneration of a community depends on retaining and growing small, locally owned enterprises that simultaneously build cultural, social, built and financial capital. While big businesses dominate global markets, command the entrenched financial and banking powers and are incentivized by misguided government policy, emerging startups can disrupt the status quo and prove that local economies can compete successfully if they connect with their customer base and build capacity through local networks. The challenge for Lean Urbanism is to take charge at the association and neighborhood levels: to monitor, harness and replicate emerging local business successes and through bottom-up vigilance influence top-down policy to change not just the economic dynamics of a region, but strengthen its cultural, social and built landscape.
Detroit is rapidly transforming into its next incarnation. The challenges that the city has experienced in past decades are being addressed, as demands for enhancements from the current and new population increase. Changes will be efficient out of necessity, and will likely reestablish an already distinctive urban environment, based on its history, inhabitants and physical form. The potential for Lean applications in Detroit directly relates to the capacity of its existing infrastructure and the quality of its underutilized built environment. Through a reexamination of extensive opportunities, Lean, effective solutions will arise and lead to a successful new Detroit.
England’s Coalition government has introduced the concept of localism and seeks to allow communities and neighbourhoods to opt into the formerly topdown planning and development system. These powers may be a useful blueprint for the Project for Lean Urbanism, and it is hoped that certain ideas can be reframed to be of use for “leaning” the building process in the United States.
As a comprehensive method for transforming car-dependent environments into walkable, diverse communities, Sprawl Repair includes small-scale and inexpensive interventions. Sprawl Repair works at multiple scales, from the region to the neighborhood and the building, and utilizes a variety of tools that are cost-effective, incremental, and can be quickly implemented. This paper will demonstrate how a mall, the most promising contender for Sprawl Repair, can be retrofitted in small, efficient steps, creating much-needed, cheap space for incubating new businesses and artisan uses, as well as providing affordable student housing.
At a time when we are re-connecting with our urban roots, a return to Small Town America may be the perfect anecdote for recouping a vast amount of discarded national wealth in infrastructure, natural resources and historic architecture while simultaneously building community in a Lean way, with Lean tools and tactics. Our rural and suburban landscape is home to a network of more than 25,000 small urban gems boasting hidden assets and opportunities — places that may be the best locations to pioneer trends in Lean living, entrepreneurial business and building.
Despite heroic efforts to get more people into health clubs, private and public health measures have failed thus far to significantly increase our abysmally low rates of physical activity. This paper explores the Lean ways in which parks and a variety of everyday spaces can be utilized, designed, and built to encourage people to move more. The particular focus is on presenting and utilizing existing outdoor public furniture and other features for the additional purpose of “exercise equipment,” with little to no added expense or maintenance. This “open gym” approach to exercise space is recommended as a Lean means to improve health, increase sociability, and even spur economic development, serving as magnets for related and complementary businesses, as active, safe parks have the potential to encourage revitalization of nearby properties.