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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

These are a few of my favorite . . . places!

Kaid Benfield

Posted December 22, 2008

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Herewith, readers, some of my very favorite smart, livable places that are contributing positively to the environment, as I've written about them over the past year. 

When NRDC's Ian Wilker first approached me about blogging, I'm sure that neither he nor I anticipated that it would lead to so much writing on my part.  But there are so many stories out there that I want to tell, so many good people whose work deserves to be known.  My favorites are the neighborhood success stories, the ones where I'm privileged to observe something and, say, "look - THIS is what it can be like, if we follow these great examples."

We environmentalists, as a breed, are still way too negative, in my opinion.  I fully understand why, but if more of us don't take the next step and present the positive alternative, we won't make the progress we need to make.  It's been an honor to tell you about some of these great places, and here is my top 10 (eleven!) from this space in 2008:

  Crown Candy Kitchen in Old North (courtesy of ONSL Restoration Group) 

Old North Saint Louis.  "Every now and then I run across a story that is so good, that feels so right, that I thank my lucky stars for the freedom NRDC gave me to evolve my career into working for better, more sustainable communities.  This is such a story, and it reveals an historic, diverse, inclusive neighborhood that is reclaiming its identity, restoring its infrastructure, empowering its residents, and securing its future . . ."

  rear of Project Row Houses (by: b2tse, creative commons license)  (courtesy of Edgar Arceneaux)

Project Row Houses (Houston) and Watts House Project (Los Angeles).  A two-parter:  "A heretofore unique success story of how art has catalyzed community development and identity is about to be unique no more, and that is a wonderful thing.  But first let me tell you, in words and pictures, about the amazing Project Row Houses in Houston . . ."

  Greensburg after the tornado (by: Daniel Bernasconi, creative commons license)  the vision (credit: Greensburg Sustainable Comprehensive Plan)

Greensburg, Kansas.  "No example is more inspiring, or more quintessentially American, than that of Greensburg, Kansas.  After complete devastation, Greensburg is now positioning itself to become the most sustainable community in America . . ."  (Part two of the story is here.)

  before and after (courtesy Atlanta Beltline) 

The Atlanta Beltline"My heart has been stolen once again.  The Atlanta Beltline, an ambitious 22-mile proposed loop around the city's downtown, will incorporate state-of-the-art transit, new parks and trails, workforce housing, and lots of smart, green neighborhood development, all taking place in the city rather than sprawling out on the fringe . . ."  (There's also a brief follow-up here.) 


Seattle's High Point.  "HOPE VI is by far my favorite government housing assistance program.  Few in my world know how it got its name (Housing Opportunity for People Everywhere, Title VI - thanks, Payton), but we all know its mission of replacing stigmatized, outmoded public housing ghettoes with walkable, mixed-income neighborhoods, most of them based on the principles of new urbanism.  One of the best I've run across is Seattle's High Point . . ."

  Wall St. in Asheville (credit: unknown) 

Asheville, my original home town.  "I have to say that it is more than a little disorienting to have the sleepy Bible Belt town that I grew up in, and couldn't wait to exit from, go all trendy on me.  But there's no doubt.  Asheville has become a sort of Santa Fe East, and I'm here to report that it's more good than bad.  Great music bars, better vegetarian restaurants than we have here in DC, galleries galore filled with really good stuff.  Even an interesting, walkable downtown . . ."  (This was another two-parter, and Part Two is here.)

  rowhouses off Logan Circle (by: ohad, creative commons license) 

The real Washington, D.C., my home town for the last 39 (!) years.  "Official "Washington" has very little to do with the city that I live in . . . The architecture of my city is not about white marble but red brick, mostly, either in the natural color or painted.  It's typically 3-5 stories high . . ."

  Hackesche Hofe, Berlin (c2008 by FK Benfield) 

Berlin's Hackesche Hofe.  "Is it urbanist, or just urban? Or just exceptionally pleasant?  East Berlin's Hackesche Hofe represents many of the things we want our city neighborhoods to be - architecturally impressive yet low-key; a place for living, shopping, playing, and visiting; highly walkable and transit-accessible . . ."

  Station Park Green (by: EBL&S, SMWM) 

Station Park Green, San Mateo.  "A stunning plan for transit-oriented development in San Mateo, California, south of San Francisco, has earned "gold" certification under the LEED for Neighborhood Development program founded by NRDC, the Congress for the New Urbanism, and the US Green Building Council . . ."

  Arlington's Orange Line corridor, with single-family neighborhoods on both sides (underlying courtesy of Reconnecting America; lines and text by me) 

Arlington, Virginia.  "With amazing foresight and gifted planning, Arlington has transformed itself in about three decades from a declining inner-ring suburb into a thriving, bustling and immensely livable community.  This was done by coordinating the county's (under Virginia law, Arlington is a county, not a city) redevelopment and growth with the region's Metro subway system . . ."  (In two parts.  Go here for Part Two).

  Sumney St. in Mixson (courtesy of the I'on Group) 

Mixson, in North Charleston, SC.  "One of the best redevelopment projects in the Neck is Mixson, which is putting over 900 homes and 150,000 square feet of shops, offices, and amenities on a 44-acre tract in North Charleston.  That effectively displaces what would likely be the development of around 300 acres of countryside if it had been built on the fringe to typical sprawl dimensions . . ."

Every one of these places has been blessed with a bit of genius and a lot of skill and determination.  Their inhabitants and neighbors are the better for it, and so is the planet.


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Sean ThomasDec 22 2008 12:42 PM

That's a great list, Kaid. Thanks again for including Old North St. Louis along with these other inspiring places. As always, you and your readers are welcome to come visit us to see the community in person (we do offer tours). And if you can't make it to St. Louis, feel free to visit us virtually by checking out our new & improved website at

Kaid @ NRDCDec 22 2008 03:08 PM

My pleasure, Sean. And I look forward to taking you up on that invitation.

Judy LewinDec 22 2008 06:04 PM

We are so proud of ONSL - Old North Saint Louis because in the 1950's it was near the infamous and disastrous, but now destroyed Pruitt Igoe complex. It took years for St Louisans to overcome the stigma. But, today, ONSL is a shining example of how a group of volunteers with some seed capital, invested time and skills to make a desirable community again. THANK YOU KAID. we appreciate your post about us.

Judy Lewin, Realtor and Developer

Kathryn WoodardDec 23 2008 10:19 AM

Thank you Kaid for your kind words about ONSL! I have been their Neighborhood Stabilization Officer for over ten years (community liaison with the City). ONSL has always had my heart, from the moment I met the dedicated group of urban volunteers who inhabited ONSL in the 1970s. They transformed over 30 vacant lots into urban garden spaces, and consistently fought for historic renovation of their housing stock, even when many were saying that the houses should be demolished. The group had a community, not just a group of people living in a neighborhood, and had regular potlucks, house tours, spring clean up days, and maintaining vacant lots and boarding up vacant buildings.

With the influx of a new group of younger residents, among them a young architect, and many new urban residents, the vision of the original group of ONSL residents was finally realized, and new housing was built along with renovated housing. Of course, the Alderman and RHCDA - a local housing development company contributed significantly to this revitalization.

I often compare the neighborhood to the movie "Batteries Not Included" because every one of the people who have been involved in this process are loving, kind individuals who are willing to persevere and bring about the needed changes to revitalize their neighborhood.

I am honored to have been associated with all of these individuals, the Eisenbrauns, the Bratkowskis, the Tschetters, the Stanleys, the Smiths, Alderman Ford, the Burses, the Ochoas, the Winters, Sean Thomas and Karen Heet and many others too numerous to name.

Kathryn Woodard

Kathryn WoodardDec 23 2008 10:35 AM


I would also like to say thank you to the Gates, Johnnie Owens, and the Leones for their work in ONSL.

Kaid @ NRDCDec 23 2008 03:02 PM

What great testaments to all you guys have done. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

Tino OchoaDec 24 2008 01:55 PM


We should be so humble to have others recognize the hard work many residents and the Restoration Group have put into reviving and keeping ONSL a thriving community over the years. We live in a truly diverse neighborhood with strong community values that have clearly developed to show who we are. My wife and I moved into ONSL for all the reasons you have stated and from what others have commented. Thank you for your recognition of ONSL, and to be recognized with such other great places across the country!

Tino Ochoa
ONSL Resident since 2003
ONSLRG Board President

Peter LowittDec 29 2008 01:12 PM

I share your passion for the excellent planning and work done by the staff and citizen planners of Arlington County. I have the good fortune to know and work with Terry Holzheimer, FAICP and his hard work and experience have played a huge role in the acclaim Arlington County so justly deserves.

Cristina GarmendiaDec 29 2008 02:45 PM

Here are the links to a short film of mine from April comparing the redevelopment of Old North St. Louis to another northern neighborhood, West Florissant.
Part One:
Part Two:

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