A shift in perspective delivered big results in a Midwestern suburb.

Photo by Jeffrey Eisen on Unsplash

Cycling makes economic sense if you design for it as comprehensively as you design for cars.

If you were to imagine the person who said that last sentence, what would you see?

Probably not a suburban Republican mayor, right?

Yet, that quote came from James Brainard, the mayor of firmly-red Carmel, Indiana. A city of roughly 100,000 residents, Carmel has some of the most extensive — and beautiful — bike infrastructure in the United States, due in large part to a shift in perspective about active transportation.

Building off the Monon Trail, a former railway bed that was converted to…

It will never be easier than it is right now.

image via Street Lab

“For cities to return to the pre-pandemic status quo would be a historic blunder,” Janette Sadik-Khan wrote last month in The Atlantic. “Last year’s innovations provided a road map — no pun intended — for undoing the planning sins of the 20th century.”

I wrote a couple of weeks ago on my personal website about my conviction that one of the most important things city builders can do today is aim to take space from cars and give it to people.

My hope as we slowly emerge from the pandemic…

A few ideas that have guided my career as an urban planner for more than a dozen years.

Photo by Olivia Hutcherson on Unsplash

I’m fast approaching the 13th anniversary of starting my career as an urban planner. That milestone, coupled with the disruptions and changes to daily life we’ve experienced over the past year-plus, has me getting introspective about what city building could be all about in a post-pandemic world.

Below are six principles that have shaped and guided my work. I believe they can be helpful starting points for figuring out how to move forward and build communities that make people’s lives better.

Know who you’re planning for

Is it cliché for an urban planner to quote Jane Jacobs? Yes, it absolutely is. Am I going to…

Some reading to help the shift to a slower time of year.

Photo by Tereza Hošková on Unsplash

The calendar page has turned to October.

Here in the Great Lakes region, overnight temperatures are dipping into the 40s (or even the 30s in some places), leaves are beginning to change colors, and the sun is setting earlier and earlier. Sweaters and jackets are being unpacked, pumpkin patches are springing up along the sides of roads, and rakes are being brought out of the recesses of garages.

I point this all out as a way of mentioning the undeniable fact that another summer has waned and autumn has arrived to take its place.

This time every year, I find…

What might help the places we live, work, and play rebound in these uncertain times?

Photo by magic-8ball.com

It’s been a little while since I published anything here on Medium dot com. A whole lot of tragedy, confusion, and, quite frankly, callous behavior has been on display across America these past few months (not to mention heroics, selflessness, and a little bit of hope), and I’ve been doing my best to process everything.

If you’ll allow me to get slightly personal for a moment, I can tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on my mental health. …

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the folly of four decades of disinvestment in shared resources.

Photo by Alex Simpson on Unsplash

I didn’t write last week, and I was barely able to write this week. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has become so all-pervasive, it’s tough to think about anything else.

It’s especially tough to think about the future of cities when we have no idea what sort of future we will emerge into when the worst of this is over. It’s certain that our cities will endure, though, I’m reminded, as Richard Florida noted on Twitter, “Our cities have been reshaped and re-designed by previous health crises.”

What that reshaping and redesigning will look like, however, is not a question I’m…

As disruptions spread, it’s plain to see we need to invest more in community organizations and institutions.

Photo by "My Life Through A Lens" on Unsplash

I was debating whether to write anything this week given what the world is encountering in the COVID-19 outbreak. We’ve all seen, in ways both major and minor, disruption to our institutions and lives, and in times such as these, the truly important things tend to come into clearer focus.

Among the truly important things, I’m fairly certain blogging isn’t one of them.

On Friday, though, I read an interesting piece from Lee Chilcote for Cleveland Scene, and after ruminating on it for the better part of a day, had a small inkling of an idea I wanted to express…

These fixes won’t take years and millions of dollars to implement.

Video via Fast Company

I could watch that video of Copenhagen on a loop for hours. It’s like witnessing an urban ballet. But there isn’t a city in the United States that is on a par with Copenhagen when it comes to transportation.

In researching this piece, it was infuriating how awful mass transit in the United States compared to the rest of the world. It’s embarrassing to try to put even our best transit cities in the same league as mediocre ones in Europe and Asia.

Before any American city becomes the next Copenhagen, there’s a ton of work…

The urban planning luminary, who passed away in December, left a legacy that still impacts the profession today.

Photo by Baron Cole on Unsplash

Three houses in a row had plywood nailed up over the windows, their early spring yards already showing signs of overgrowth. It was a cool, damp Saturday morning in Cleveland, and the few people who were outside in the neighborhood had skeptical looks on their faces as a group of a dozen students walked by.

At the head of the group, markedly, was an elderly man, wearing slacks and a windbreaker. He did not move quickly, but whether that was due to age or by design for this walking tour, it’s hard to say. …

Ohio’s urban centers are economically vital, why aren’t they better connected?

Photo by Jordan on Unsplash

The popular narrative of the Rust Belt is one of decline, one of yesterday’s thinking and hollowed-out cities. The idea of economic vitality is regularly dismissed out of hand, and the region must struggle to change the minds of people who are not paying close attention.

Challenges still exist throughout the Rust Belt, to be sure. But progress is steadily being made, as cities throughout the region embrace the emerging facets of the 21st century economy.

New research points to one such point of progress in the state of Ohio.

According to a forthcoming report authored by Richey Piiparinen, director…

Benno Martens

Community development and city planning. bennomartens.com

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