Urban Thoreau

At UrbanThoreau, we believe that everyone has a right to livable, quality places for living, working and playing. We also believe that the key to preserving wild nature and rural communities lies within our cities. The problem is, haphazard growth is not only intruding into wild & rural places, it destroys any sense of community, or sense of belonging to a place.

That said, we are not against growth! Growth is a sign of economic health and cultural vitality. However, we believe there is a better way to grow – a way that will allow growth and yet continue to enhance our quality of life.

So we are talking about creating livable places; places which invite people outdoors, into their neighborhoods. These are places where daily face-to-face contact occurs at a walking pace. This is where natural amenities are within a 10 minute walk of everyone. Similarly, our ideal places integrate places for play, shopping, worship and employment so that they are within and easy, convenient and enjoyable walking distance. These are places where historic preservation isn’t an issue. It just happens. Indeed we seek not only to preserve the older, classic neighborhoods found in cities and small towns across the country, but also to replicate their scale, mix and density in new development. We believe that everyone deserves the feeling of belonging and neighborliness that these places offer.

Being There
Fortunately, there is a growing citizen-led movement toward more livable, humane places. People are finding ways to reconnect with their surroundings, and create a true sense of community.

Many of the solutions are right before our eyes. Older neighborhoods in places like Madison, Wisconsin and even newer ones in places like Portland, Oregon have successfully nourished the indicator species of livability, the pedestrian and the bicyclist. In these quality, livable places, retail, office, residential, and public spaces are integrated and scaled for walking, biking, going by transit and even driving. These are places with ample room for the very young, the very old, the not-so-mobile, the rich, the poor and those who want more out of life than being trapped in a car. These are the landscapes of being there as opposed to getting there. Lewis Mumford said it best in his prescient 1953 book The Highway and the City: “A good transportation system minimizes unnecessary transportation.”

We agree with Mumford that the city should be a place “that offers the maximum possibilities for face-to-face meeting, social cooperation, and transactions of every kind.” That is, a place where human connectedness reigns and civic engagement occurs naturally.

Residents of such communities also enjoy cleaner air, less congestion, more convenience, better health and greater wealth. Indeed, it is no coincidence that places planned and built for the pedestrian and bicycle—livability—are also rated highly for business. As Richard Florida found in his research for Competing in the Age of Talent: Environment, Amenities, and the New Economy regions which make “quality-of-place a central element of regional economic development efforts…will successfully attract knowledge workers and build high tech economies.”

The UrbanThoreau Placemaking Project seeks to bring these ideas to fruition in real places, real cities. Our most current project putting this vision into practice is the Madison Parking Cash-Out Program. This program seeks to give commuters greater transportation choice while enhancing the vitality of a unique upper-midwestern downtown.



Resources about Making Places for People >>

Full Description of UrbanThoreau’s Madison Parking Cash-Out Program (PDF - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader) >>

See the latest news on Parking Cash-Out >>

More about Parking Cashout across the country >>

Sponsors of the Madison Parking Cash-Out program >>

Contact us to set up a Parking Cash-Out program at your workplace >>