The Sketchbook

The Sketchbook


The Sketchbooks

The Sketchbook is one of our most powerful tools to learn from American Urbanism. It does not require any batteries or charging, and requires very little technical support. You can use ink in the streets, and pencil in the library or museum.

Sketching is about learning from the world around you by translating what you see through your eyes, into your brain, out of your arm, and through the pencil on the page. It is about the experience. Sketching requires you to take the time to experience a place. You are capturing a moment in time. You do not have to be an artist, or take classes to put pen to paper.

The sketchbook is a very personal tool. The sketchbook is a visual journal where you can collect your experiences. You should not be afraid to draw, or just take notes. You can past and collage stickers, postcards, or photographs, of places. The sketchbook is personal, and you do not have to share these sketches with anyone but yourself. A sketchbook is a visual journal, and it cannot have any wrong answers. The sketchbook is a journal that captures the experience.

There are many options to choose from when buying your first sketch book. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1. Size. Sketchbooks come in infinite sizes and shapes. I prefer a sketchbook that I can fit into my pocket. I tend to use a sketchbook that is as large as my pocket will allow. This makes it easy to carry as I wander the city.

2. Binding and Cover. Sketching should be easy, so you will want to pick a binding and cover that makes it easy to draw while you are standing. I prefer having a hard cover for my sketchbook, and either a stitched or spiral binding.

3. Paper. Sketchbooks have infinite paper selections. I like a paper that I can use different mediums on. I like a thick paper so I can use ink or watercolor without having it bleed. I also like a smoother paper. If you go to an art store, the texture of the paper is descries at the “tooth.” You can also find paper that has lines, grids, music scores, cartoons, and colors. I prefer just plain white.

4. Writing Instrument. There are infinite tools you can use. Be sure to try a lot of different things to draw with. I prefer to use inexpensive fine tipped felt pens, or a pencil. Remember that most museums and libraries prohibit the use of ink in their collections or galleries. Be prepared to switch so you do not miss the opportunity to sketch.

You can purchase a sketchbook in any number of stores or online retailers. You can also craft your own sketchbook. One of my college mentors, and arguably one of the most talented illustrators I have ever met, created his own books. He simply used a paper cutter to trim a handful of watercolor paper scraps and stapled them to a ridged piece of cardboard. This was simple, ingenious, and resourceful.

Do not be afraid to try a couple of different sizes, brands, or styles. You will only find the right fit for you through practice and experience. The important thing is to continue to practice and experience.

Neighborly Homes


Orlando, Florida

Neighborly homes is both a noun and a verb. It is the term that best describes how homes fit well together. This term is that additional sense that we all have to know that the street is right. It is the urban design equivalent of the term umami from the food world.

Neighborly homes is a term first coined by Habitat for Humanity in their national Pattern Book for Neighborly Housing. This body of work was completed through a grant in partnership with the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art and Urban Design Associates. The Pattern Book took on the challenge of explaining how to build new infill housing.

It is quite a challenge to explain to two generations of suburbanites that it is ok to have variety on a street. It is a relatively new idea that a community or street would be composed of one house type, and constructed by one builder. Traditional neighborhoods are aggregates composing a whole.

Habitat Pattern Book

The Habitat for Humanity Pattern Book simplified the issue into an easily understood idea. There is no complexity in the idea, and therefore it is understandable to a large audience. Neighborly Housing is both a positive and desirable outcome for a community.


Portsmouth, Virginia

Neighborly homes include a variety of housing types of similar form. Its not about density, but about design. The American Urbanism Studio provides the opportunity to see this in American Cities.

The New Tradition

The New Tradition

Cottage_Court_002American Urbanism provides us many lessons on how to make great places. New development and buildings should recognize the local context and contribute to the living tradition of  the neighborhood in which it is built. This is the new tradition.

A Tradition is defined as a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices.  This is the sharing or the handing down of a behavior or activity. Traditions are living practices, and each generation adds and builds on these traditions. The same is true in our cities.

American Urbanism is historically rich and includes patterns that we can all learn from. As practitioners, we are part of this living tradition where we continue these urban patterns, and continue to add and enrich these traditions.

Traditional urbanism and architecture is not prescriptive. The traditions found in our cities provides us descriptive lessons that we can continue to grow and develop.


Concord Riverwalk

Concord Riverwalk in West Concord, Massachusetts, is new project that encapsulates the new tradition. Concord River Walk is a Pocket Neighborhood which grew out of the work and research of Ross Chapin. This pattern of housing is not new to American Urbanism.

Pocket Neighborhoods became outlawed with the adoption of Euclidian Zoning and the mechanization of the home building industry. Through the research of traditional urban patterns, there has been a revival of this housing type.


Urban Renewal

Urban Renewal

The study of American Urbanism includes both what to do and what not to do. This week the American Urbanism has been in Detroit, Michigan, engaging the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Detroit has many lessons both good and bad. One of these lessons is the impact of Urban Renewal on a city and a community. Below is a before and after image of the Black Bottom neighborhood. This community has been permanently deformed and destroyed in the name of progress.

The University of Michigan has written extensively on the history and impact of this and other renewal projects on the City of Detroit. I encourage you to read the article, where the above picture was found “Urban Renewal and the Destruction of the Black Bottom” 

There are very few words that can express the impression of this image, and the countless other images of the neighborhood both before and action. I would like to point out that these were publicly funded projects with the intent to improve a community. Billions later, we now can see the result. Compare this to the cost if this same money would have been used to improve and/or renovate housing one lot at a time.

Here is a map of all of the Urban Renewal projects in Detroit. In the 1960’s these policies were popular and very attractive to local government. We must never forget the impact and results of these projects.

American Civic

American Civic


American Urbanism places special attention to civic architecture. These buildings are located in prominent locations, utilize the finest architecture, and provide a home for civic activities. These buildings are commonly refered to as the special buildings.
ARCADIA CITY HALLLocation:121 Hickory St., In front of Fire Department

County: DeSoto
City: Arcadia
Description: The Town of Arcadia was settled in 1883, incorporated in 1886, and became the county seat in 1888. By the late 1880s the population was 300. On Thanksgiving night 1905 the town burned. Three brick stores survived. Using only brick or block, rebuilding began immediately. Most of those buildings remain today. During World War I with its two flying schools, Carlstrom and Dorr Fields, Arcadia became known as the “Aviation Capital” of Florida. The land for Arcadia’s first city hall (140×142) was a pineapple patch bought in 1917 for $3,000 from Fred and Ida Gore. City Hall was designed in the Mediterranean Revival style and was furnished in June 1926 at a cost of $45,216, including all furnishings. A section of the original nine-foot office counter and steel shelves for the vault are still in use. The fire station first housed a solid, rubber-tired, auto driven hose wagon with chemical tanks and a 1924 American La France fire truck which is still owned and running. The original 20-foot brass fire pole and the 400-pound siren are to be placed in the City Hall Museum. In 2004, restoration of City Hall began with funding from the Florida Division of Historical Resources and the City.