Rediscovering the Human Scale


  1. Peter Millin said:

    This is the great thing about the USA you can live wherever you want, because we have the space and means to do so.

    If circumstances should change people will change their behavior, although I am not looking forward having to live in downtown Detroit.

    October 6, 2008
  2. Kirke Elsass said:

    Peter and Others,

    Unfortunately, circumstances have changed, in some cases a long time ago, and we, Americans, have not changed our behavior. Here’s the deal:

    Everyone who thinks development issues in our country are free-market, cost-benefit driven is dead wrong.

    We’ve certainly always had the space to live wherever we want, but we’ve been running out of the means for some time now. Instead of changing behavior, the first step has been to look to the federal government for subsidies. Those subsidies have flowed into under-returning development projects in the West for centuries, and Carter lost tremendous support for trying to stop them. Has it not become painfully obvious in the last few weeks that the housing development industry is not prudently-run or at all regulated?
    The fact is that population should flow to resources, not vice versa. The flow of resources to population will always be fragile and costly.

    Also, downtown Detroit? I hope that was just poorly thought out. You seriously think that in a post-car-dependent society people are going to be migrating to a city that’s already falling apart because of the decline of the American auto industry?

    October 6, 2008
  3. Bonnie Obremski said:

    I loved kid-sized stuff when I was little, when does our infatuation for “just my size” go away? Sure, there would be some drawbacks to limiting our globality (made that word up). For instance, see this January piece by satirist Joel Stein in which he decries “eating local.”,9171,1702353,00.html?iid=perma_share

    Howevah! (that’s how we pronounce it in Massachusetts) I think there is a way to make this video’s proposition a reality and still hang on to some large-scale transportation options. I do contend with the mantra “rebuild.” I’m more a fan of using what we have for a different purpose. Thanks Tracy!

    October 7, 2008
  4. Peter Millin said:

    So now we want government to decide where we live? The very same government that has created the housing meltdown in the first place. Or the government that decided let’s burn corn for fuel and make everybody elses food cost go through the roof in the name of living green?

    250 years of free market would disagree with your statement Kirke. If it becomes to expensive to live in the burbs then people will flock to the city on their own, they don’t need a government to tell them that.
    People know intuitively what’s better fro them more so then any elected official.

    I used Detroit as an example for an unlivable downtown. I could have said Chicago, Atlanta or Pittsburgh.
    I am glad I live in Northfield where I can send my kids to a football game Friday night without having to worry (too much), that they fall victim to a crime.

    BTW Kirke where do you live?

    October 7, 2008
  5. Kirke Elsass said:

    First, I never said anything about government deciding where we live. Federal government has a bigger role in the status quo than it does in what I support. The rubber stamping of bills allotting myriad resources to highway development is why people live where they do right now.

    Bringing up government in that way makes me think that your “250 years” comment is based on your definition of free market development being something involving people not being assigned concrete apartments, like those built last century in Eastern Europe. We certainly haven’t had that sort of interference in this country, but to say we have not had government interference in our development patterns is to demonstrate a lack of understanding.

    I don’t disagree with your point that people understand their individual situations better than elected officials. I think 99% of people would agree with that statement. How my opinion may, or may not, differ is that I believe people are likely to act on what is best for them immediately rather than what is wisest or even affordable in the long run. When the federal government encourages this “pay later” behavior in individuals and even takes it on itself, I have a problem. This is exactly what is going on in this country right now.

    I’m living in Northfield and going to Carleton right now. I’m from southwestern Wisconsin.

    October 7, 2008
  6. This last year, my dh finally got into a position where he can work from home again.
    He gave up one of the most secure jobs in America, with a nice paycheck, and started his own security and data design computer business. We have put less than a thousand miles on our vehicles in the last ten months. It used to be over ten times more than that. Not only do we save gas, but wear and tear on the cars, as well as my husband’s energy, Even though we avoided the expressways altogether, it was still almost 40 hours a month of travel time. Now his travel time is about 1.7 seconds on a good day. 🙂

    Over the last few years, he has repeatedly searched for jobs that would allow telecommuting even one or two days per week. There is really no reason to go into work spaces if you have home capabilities most of the time. No company we contacted wanted to deal with that. The other employees wouldn’t like it, you have to see people every day, and a bunch of other irrelevant excuses based in some business psychology books.

    With the kind of work my dh does, the last thing he needs is a bunch of people standing around bragging, complaining and avoiding work like some did at his past jobs. Very little gets done in that distracting sort of environment. D’s a thinker. He likes peace and quiet as well as taking a walk with the dog whenever they like.

    In the last 8 months, he has only had to meet in person with clients at their locations twice. Both times he was able to fly himself in, using a plane that gets 30mpg, even better than our vehicles, and in half the time.

    I realize some jobs demand a physical presence, but even those might people might benefit the environment by working four days instead of five, or job sharing, or rethinking the approach.

    When and if America ever wakes up, we’ll be right there waiting.

    October 7, 2008
  7. Peter Millin said:


    America is awake. I don’t understand the negative views some Americans have on their own country.
    America is the greatest country in the world to live in, are we perfect? Of course not, but neither is anybody else.

    America has and always will be on the forefront in invention and this will be the same foe all green technology.
    Our rivers and waters are already much cleaner then in the 70’s. We have mandated lead free gasoline about 10 years before Europe did. We will do more if circumstances warrant because we are allowed to do so.

    Centralized bureaucratic solutions have delivered nothing more then more red tape and inefficiencies. Like Russia and China for example.

    The world around us is much more pragmatic on the environment then we are. Common sense is ruling other countries why we are being hijacked by fringe interest groups.

    October 7, 2008
  8. Peter, I think you can look at it either way. I have worked in the nvironmental field personally and professionally for over 30 years and I feel like the system moves like molasses. I agree that the Europeans are more pragmatic, but that is a good thing and I think we could glom some of that.

    And I have to make this correction for my dh, for a more accurate description of his work, he does ‘programming and enterprise consulting’.

    see my post #6

    October 7, 2008
  9. Bill Ostrem said:


    Thanks for posting this. Making our public space more human-scale is important. I’ve been thinking about this as I walk my children around our part of Northfield in a stroller. The sidewalk network is more human-scale than the streets, which are largely given over to motor vehicles. And yet our sidewalk network is patchy and poorly maintained in places.

    We are such a wealthy country (or we were), yet we can’t afford sidewalks, or we choose not to fund them. Rice County recently removed them from its Capital Improvement Plan because it says it needs the money to pay for roads, most of which are rural.

    Sidewalks increase the public and human-scale space in a neighborhood. They provide a place for community to occur. Not funding them because they are supposedly too expensive is foolish – pennywise and pound foolish. Requiring them by ordinance is wise.

    What this video is talking about is actually a more traditional approach to community, and I invite conservatives to look at it as such.

    October 8, 2008
  10. I agree, Tracy, that rediscovering the human-scale in terms of community development should not be a partisan issue. I think of it as a “let’s face reality and create sustainable, fulfilling communities before it’s too late on a crowded planet with finite non-renewable resources” issue. 

    This issue is near and dear to my heart. (Shameless self-promotion warning.) I’m currently working on a cohousing project (as an entrepreneur in the private sector), Buffalo Commons Cohousing, that directly addresses this issue. Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods. Buffalo Commons will be developed with an emphasis on human-scale spaces, densely clustered neighborhood design that emphasizes community interaction, pedestrian walkways rather than roads leading to individual homes, limited parking on the periphery of the neighborhood, several shared vehicles for use by all community members, easy pedestrian and bicycle access to downtown, local businesses and employers (including both colleges), carbon-neutral housing design, community garden space, and, in general, a holistic emphasis on sustainable neighborhood development.

    For anyone interested in learning more about cohousing as a human-scale alternative, a couple of golden opportunities are coming up in the next month. Buffalo Commons is bringing nationally renowned cohousing pioneers Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett (CoHousing Partners and McCamant-Durrett Architects; these folks literally wrote the book on cohousing 20 years ago and have helped develop dozens of projects nationwide since) to Northfield for two separate events the weekend of November 7th, 8th and 9th:

    Buffalo Commons is actively seeking folks (young, old, single, married, with or without kids, black, white, red, brown, gay, lesbian, straight–all are welcome!) who want to learn more about cohousing in general and our community in particular, so check it out if this sounds interesting!

    October 8, 2008
  11. Dustin Beltramo said:

    The choice is not between sprawling burbs and urban behemoths. Many sustainable, human-scale cities would look much more like, well, Northfield, actually. Northfield is a great example of a human-scale city — it’s walkable, it’s livable, it has neighborhoods and bike paths and green spaces and local businesses and good schools. As a newcomer to Northfield, I tend to think light rail transportation to the Twin Cities would be a good thing, but I am sensitive to the concerns of turning NFLD into a bedroom community.

    And for an example of what good urban planning can do, check out Portland, OR. It isn’t one big sprawling city, it’s a collection of well-defined neighborhoods, each with its own character, and each capable of providing for the needs of its residents (local shopping, restaurants, schools, etc.). A light rail system provides easy access to the cultural amenities of the city center.

    But, as I said, this doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Portland’s great, but so is Northfield. Peter recognizes Northfield’s charms — sustainable planning would work to preserve and improve upon what makes Northfield so livable, so that the city and its residents can continue to thrive. One last point: sustainability isn’t just (or even mostly) about government involvement, it’s about the whole community working together to identify and perpetuate the community’s strengths. This doesn’t have to be cast as a partisan issue.

    October 8, 2008

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