Lean Urbanism, a continuing story for successful cities

With the support of Knight Foundation, Lean Urbanism is beginning to make small possible in the U.S. 

As work gets underway, architect Andrés Duany attempted to demystify the topic during a webinar with me last week.

According to Duany, Lean Urbanism is a means of reducing the time, cost and morass of regulations that can make development and starting a business unnecessarily difficult. Lean Urbanism, he says, will devise tools so that community building takes less time. It seeks to reduce the resources required for compliance, and to circumvent the financial, bureaucratic and regulatory processes that frustrate well-meaning entrepreneurs with common-sense workarounds.

Duany says the intent is quite limited. Lean Urbanism “is not a reform movement,” he says. “It is smaller than that. It is actually a series of tools that would work around impediments at certain scales and in certain places.”

Experienced professionals—and their attorneys—understand how to negotiate these workarounds. But that takes time, money and know-how. Lean Urbanism is an attempt to collect and “daylight” the workarounds so that everyone can use them. “We need to level the playing field,” Duany says.

One early proposal to make Lean Urbanism a reality is the creation of “pink zones.” “One of our agendas is to see to what extent we can pre-permit things, have lean codes and create places we call pink zones,” Duany said in the webinar. “If you’re in a pre-negotiated pink zone, the red tape has been reduced, lightened to pink.” A pink zone, he said, signals, “Go ahead and start,” because a lot of things have already been worked out.

Duany and his fellow “hackers of regulation” from across the U.S. and Great Britain are working quickly on step 1 of the work—preparing a set of white papers to illuminate various workarounds and even laws being used today that simplify the making of our communities.  In fact, Duany says they are months ahead of where they expected to be at this point because there is so much enthusiasm among would-be contributors. We saw an outpouring of that interest during our webinar last week, which was hugely popular. 

Watch the full webinar posted above. And visit Knight Blog for updates on Lean Urbanism as the work unfolds.

Carol Coletta, vice president of community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation