The Hierarchy of Nobel-Prize-worthiness

Hierarchy of Conscience

Why is it so hard to find developer success stories in combating gentrification?

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith explored the cultural milieu that produces our sense of right and wrong. In this work, which laid the groundwork for The Wealth of Nations, Smith notes that it’s human nature to seek praise and praise-worthiness. This basic tendency, he supposes, forms a social glue that keeps our societies ticking along.

He who coined “the invisible hand of the market” in fact seemed to view morality and markets as complementary, not competing, forces. How might this perspective apply to urban development? Continue reading “The Hierarchy of Nobel-Prize-worthiness”

Tim McDonald, Onion Flats—Philadelphia, PA

Onion Flats

Can a single design- and environmentally-conscious developer influence others?

Tim McDonald runs Onion Flats with his three partners. Trained as an architect, Tim co-founded the Philadelphia-based design-build firm alongside his brother. “As a developer,” he says, “every project I’ve ever done has been an opportunity to explore something. I’m a design-driven developer, and I come at it from an architect’s perspective.” Continue reading “Tim McDonald, Onion Flats—Philadelphia, PA”

Machinebrain & Gardenbrain


What the heck is development culture, anyway? And why are we so interested in it?

Gardens of Democracy

I was quite excited to see Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau list The Gardens of Democracy as one of his two favorite nonfiction titles. This under-sung little book has deeply influenced how Brian and I think about urban development, using a concept called “Gardenbrain”. Here’s hoping that a big shout-out from Canada’s “little potato” will help get the word out.

The book has helped us frame the importance of exploring the culture of real estate development. In other words, it’s more than markets and regulation that influence developers. Think to your own work: are you just a puppet of money and laws? You might concede that you’re also a bundle of feelings and dreams, deeply influenced by the people around you. Continue reading “Machinebrain & Gardenbrain”

How to encourage collaborative development, organically

I’m cross-posting this older essay here so that you can find all of my writing in one place. Please visit Crosscut to read the full essay.

Neighborhood development is fascinating work. The people who choose to spend their lives making places for people can be motivated by many factors beyond simple financial advancement. Yet planning policy provides only numerical parameters for good behavior, creating a world where a developer’s first task is not to visit a site’s neighbors, but to open an Excel spreadsheet; where an architect begins not with a drawing pen, but with a computer model of zoning envelopes.

The language of our regulatory framework suggests that real estate development is for financial wonks and Microsoft Excel masochists, reflecting a civic dialogue over developer motivations that leaves one important factor out — how individual developers respond, as social creatures, to their neighborhoods and to each other.

Continue reading at Crosscut

In support of inefficiency

I’m cross-posting this older essay here so that you can find all of my writing in one place. Please visit Crosscut to read the full essay.

In discussing the merits of urban growth, we sometimes forget to distinguish between two very different kinds of density: efficient and inefficient density.

Contrary to some expectations, only inefficient density will result in the long-lived, rich cityscape described by urban advocates.

Continue reading at Crosscut