Sunday, June 9, 2024

17 Rules

A necessary rite of my transition into retirement has been to sort through a sizable collection of career-related personal documents I amassed during my 36 years with Robertson/Sherwood/Architects. I now wonder why I chose to save many of these and have no problem parting with them. Others are certainly worthy of preservation. One such document—a paper I suspect I acquired during a visit to the University of Oregon many years ago—follows here.

Written by former UO faculty member Mike Pease and dating to 1993, 17 Rules was his framework for a holistic approach to developing sustainable urban environments. Today, more than three decades on, the framework remains aspirational rather than fully realized, as most North American cities persist in their reliance on a car-centric infrastructure, fragmented public transportation systems, and their inability to adequately realize high-density, mixed-use developments. The enduring relevance of these guidelines underscores the still too often unmet need for innovative and committed efforts to transform our urban environments.

Mike: If you read this, my hope is you take no exception to me publishing your 17 Rules for online consumption. Saving my paper copy of your treatise was a no-brainer. Likewise, my decision to share it here with others was easy. Your words remain cogent and no less timely as when you first wrote them. 

17 Rules
A good city is one that provides a wide range of amenities—jobs, friends, goods, services, cultural events, places to live—for all its citizens; a good sustainable city does this while using resources in a way that allows all others in the world, now and in the future, to enjoy these amenities too.
This project describes a path to follow toward the restructuring of our cities, to make them both good and sustainable.
Principles to define sustainable urban structure, and to serve as criteria for development:
1. Primarily Walking
Focus on walking as the primary means of getting around between the activities of daily life. Provide vehicular access only for service and emergency vehicles, and for public transit, but when these overlap with pedestrian paths, walking is the higher priority (except in emergencies).
EmX station (photo by Oregon Department of Transportation, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)
2.  Nearby Transit
Encourage walking and biking for longer trips, but be sure that there is also an efficient, comfortable public transit system within easy walking distance of all dwellings and businesses. Connect the local transit system to regional systems. Two things about the transit system to bear in mind:
  • The location of transit stops has an important impact on community physical structure, especially when people are going to and from the transit system on foot. Use transit stops to reinforce important activity centers; avoid putting transit stops where they will siphon people away from activity centers.
  • The permanence of the transit system also has an important impact on the community’s physical structure. A subway or elevated system, especially but even a streetcar, special paving for buses, or permanent shelters at stops represent long-term commitment to the transit systemin general, and to specific routes, thus providing a level of security for the transit-dependent investments that a more flexible system cannot.
3.  Access to Cars
Provide safe, protected car storage, easily accessible via public transit, and connecting with the regional road network. Include a convenient rent-a-car service, with vehicles of all kinds, in the car storage system.
4.  Delivery System
Provide a community-wide delivery system connecting all dwellings, businesses, and institutions, with connections to regional transit and the car storage system.
5.  Small Dwellings
Keep dwellings small but maximize the potential for individuation within the dwelling space. Make effective provision for privacy—within dwellings, but also in relation to neighbors and public.
6.  Shared Uses
Provide for many ways of using space and equipment jointly—privately, publicly, commercially—with a flexible, responsive support system that allows people to experiment with such arrangements.
7.  Common Land
Provide easy access to common land for both active and passive recreation.
Market Alley, Eugene (my photo)

8.  Local Economy
Support the development of a local economy, especially:
  • By providing appropriate space with the community for permanent businesses and temporary markets, including low-cost spaces for start-up businesses—subsidized if necessary—and by allowing businesses to operate within dwellings.
  • By creating a community employment service that connects local residents with local jobs and facilitates job training, including training and other support for new businesses.
  • By providing a local information system, accessible in all homes and businesses, with current information about local goods and services.
  • By providing land for agricultural production.
9.  Resourceful Construction
In all construction:
  • Use local construction materials whenever possible.
  • Minimize mechanical heating and cooling demands.
  • Maximize use of natural light.
10.  Recycle
Provide a local system for recycling and reprocessing wastes, with provision for feeding recycled materials into local manufacturing enterprises. Design for potential reuse of space, materials, and equipment. Collect roof and site drainage for agricultural/landscape uses. Collect and reuse wastewater when safe to do so.
11.  Local Landscape
In landscaping, work with local materials—plants, soils, water, animal life—and local climate conditions.
Chicago Riverwalk (my photo)

These two are more subtle considerations that need to be kept in mind in all aspects of design:
12.  Good Places
Invest in making high quality public places. If the walks and plazas and parks and other public places are pleasant and comfortable, and if the investment in them clearly indicates that they are important places, this will help people to feel good about the time they spend there, and it will increase the use of those places.
13.  Visible Connections
Make environmental connections apparent. If people can see the way the rain is collected, then sent to feed the plants; if they can see the food they eat being grown, harvested, brought to market; if they can see the mining of the gravel that makes their concrete, or the felling and milling of the timber in their roofs, and the way those timbers support weight and send it to the ground; these connections help people understand their own relationship to the whole physical world. And that understanding helps to support the urge to live in an environmentally healthy way.
Bryant Park, New York City (my photo)

Finally, the places we’re talking about here should be desirable to a wide range of people—residents must not be required, or even pressured, to have a certain set of values as a precondition for membership. Toward that end:
14.  Open Society
Residents should feel free to associate with whomever they please, or with no one, at every scale of community. While the physical structure should support public social gatherings at many scales, it should not do so in ways that suggest that certain people are necessarily included in or excluded from being part. At the scale of individual buildings, residents should be free to make the boundary between public and private as hard or soft as they wish, but in the larger public domain physical or visual boundaries should be avoided that make distinctions between certain people and certain other people—at any scale.
15.   Personal Visions
At every scale, the community should create only those constraints that are essential to guarantee the city’s effectiveness as a good and sustainable place. Within those essential constraints residents should have as much freedom as possible to shape their own lives, and their environments, to fit their own visions.

Vancouver, B.C. (my photo)

16.   High Density
The more people there are in a community, the more complex that community is likely to be—in value systems, ethnic backgrounds, ages, interests, personalities—and the more likely any one person is to find kindred spirits, enjoyable activities, useful goods and services, satisfying work. Thus, within the constraints established above, find places for as many people as possible.
17.   Structure, Not Behavior
The primary focus for conservation of resources should be the structure and operation of the community as a whole. The community’s success in this regard should not be dependent on individual residents’ behavior.
*    *    *    *    *    *
These rules are often connected in long strings of vital links. For example, 5. Small Dwellings, will not work without 6. Shared Uses, but Shared Uses won’t work unless the movement system is 1. Primarily Walking, which in turn depends on 2. Nearby Transit, 3. Access to Cars, 4. Delivery System, and several others (including 5. Small Dwellings). The 17 rules should be seen as a whole, interdependent set, not a cafeteria of choices.
The rules are deliberately broad, requiring interpretation, allowing adaptation to differing physical and cultural contexts and differing visions. Yet any interpretation, if it takes all 17 rules seriously, will lead to development of a community that will be a good place to live, and one that will be far more efficient in its use of resources than are car-based settlements.

Mike Pease 1993 

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