Here Comes the Neighborhood

When a developer decides to do a project that involves many parcels and many buildings, they have to develop a “master plan” for the project. In this episode, I chat with Tim Magill of 5+ Design, who specializes in master planning some of the largest sites in the world. Cities often have comprehensive plans which they hope to use to steer the development of outside parties, but in this case we’re talking about master plans created by private developers, often for immediate use.

The background on my interest in this topic is an independent study I did in my last semester of my MBA program. I concluded that the best master plans seem to prioritize the design of the streetscape first, then the balance of public and private spaces. Finally, so that the buildings don’t look frozen in time, the constituent buildings of the development should be designed by different architects, lest they all look too similar. You can read more notes on my conclusions here.

As if this episode didn’t have enough content, here are some short breakout conversations I had with Tim about (you guessed it) driverless cars, and also about the heavy use of glass in places as hot as Dubai. Hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!

A Real Estate History of Berlin

Several friends are headed to Berlin this week to study a few real estate development projects there. That seemed like a good excuse to make a short video about the past century of commercial real estate in Berlin. This is a departure from my “interview” style, and won’t be the norm, but I think it’s a helpful introduction. The city has gotten a lot of attention lately and this is the background story to all that attention.

In case you’re headed there any time soon, here’s are a few things I also shared with them. My map of must-see, must-eat locations. A map of where the wall was. A somewhat cliché but nonetheless helpful article about Berlin in The Economist. A somewhat quirky video on the history of techno in Berlin (which reveals a lot about its recent history, even relating to real estate). My notes on some of the daily, surface differences one encounters in a first visit to Germany. And finally a hysterical article about their famed customer service. If you want to really deep regarding culture, pick up this tome, The German Genius. I’ve spent half a decade there and learned something new on every page. Incredibly well-researched.

Building Cities to Suit

In Episode 4, I chat with Andrés Duany, father of the New Urbanist movement and architect-planner for many huge developments. Duany has helped design and develop entire towns like Seaside, FL, and most recently Alyce Beach, FL (see video), as well as many other great “smaller” projects. But because his work and general views have been so well explored in his lectures, which are available online, I took this chance to get off the beaten path a bit.

The original interview was over an hour, but in this edited version, we start off talking about gentrification and 19th century Europe’s accidental solution to that issue, his decision to focus exclusively on innovative affordable housing now, then move on to talk about his views of Big Box Retailers (a subject which people think can’t be reconciled with New Urbanism), how to build large communities that look aesthetically diverse, and his view of real estate developers. There’s a lot of good stuff in there and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Here, briefly, are a few resources which would provide helpful background to Duany. Part 1 of this lecture (and subsequent parts also posted online) is a great introduction to his general mission. A recent article from The Atlantic’s CityLab publication discusses “lean urbanism”, his campaign to make regulations surrounding development less cumbersome. Here’s a recent lecture on the same topic.  Here’s a bit on his hobby, a four-volume architectural treatise called Heterodoxia Architectonia. Finally, the article linked on this page considers many critiques of the New Urbanist movement he started.


Bus Routes and Cash Flows

In Episode 2, I caught up with Memphis-based Urban Planner Nick Oyler to talk about the relationship between transit planning (i.e. where highways, bus lines, rail, bike lanes go) and development (i.e. what gets built). Which comes first? Do developers go where the transit is developing, do transit people look to the developers for clues, or is it some mix of the two?

Nick is from Memphis, where I was born, and he has spent significant time in Germany, where I lived for 5 years, so we are definitely on the same wave-length about a lot of things. Hope you enjoy our conversation!

Our Dream is to Leave

In Episode 2, we catch up with architect Philip Engelbrecht, a friend from Berlin who played a pivotal role in helping me sort out my thoughts about a career shift. In one of our last chats before my move back, Philip mentioned an article in which the architects of Marzahn, a gigantic post-war public housing development in Berlin, were being interviewed. Their designs were very homogenous “block housing.” As a result, tens of thousands of the apartments are now vacant in such buildings. I’ve seen similar results in huge public housing developments here.

So in our chat, we talked about how one goes about designing something on such a large scale without drifting into the kind of homogenous design which leads to fiscal disaster (thousands of empty apartments…). Along the way, we discuss German construction techniques, which I have always found superior, and also some of the industry’s current dilemmas. Apologies for the occasional freezes and low resolution. We had a poor connection that day. Hope you enjoy it!

The Best Planning is Illegal

For our first episode, I caught up with Norman Wright, urban planner for Adams County near Denver and instructor of a great course on “Form-Based Code” which I took from In this inaugural interview, I asked Norman to help us wrap our mind around who planners are and how to work with them as developers and architects. It was a great conversation and you can find a table of contents for the video below or just watch the whole thing!