Passionate about cities and the potential to create better places at the intersection of Real Estate Development & Urban Planning. Twitter: @cobylefko

A once in a generation excuse to make our places better

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Pedestrians and bicyclists take in the scenes of outdoor diners in Lower Manhattan. Source: AM New York

Covid-19 temporarily suspended much of what makes urban life so great. Overnight, those things we enjoyed most —cross cultural connection through food & experience, nightlife & world class entertainment, serendipity in chance encounters, and general person to person contact — became the very things we could least afford to do. Temporarily.

As the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel appears to be shining brighter, we have an excuse to create better places. Excuse, because opportunity is so often overused, and so rarely taken advantage of. Opportunity requires…


How people are neurologically attracted to certain things, and why we should seek to make places as instagrammable as possible

Amsterdam Row homes along a canal lined with trees
Amsterdam Row homes along a canal lined with trees
Good materials, human scale, visual stimuli and nature on display in Amsterdam. Source: Amsterdam Stroller

Instagram should almost never be used as a metric to gauge success or self-worth. Unless you’re a city, in which case you should definitely care about your presence on the world’s largest photo-sharing app. But likes aren’t the reason why Instagram is important for cities, though, nor is the app all that useful itself either. Its importance comes from the representation of a like as an indicator of those places that speak to us the most. For anyone who’s come across architecture on Instagram, chances are it’s been from a select group of places; London, Amsterdam, Kyoto, Paris, Lisbon, Venice…


America’s cities were cut down with roads paved of dubious intentions. Now, with a chance to correct one of our most destructive legacies, will we rise to meet the challenge?

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Before and After Highways & Urban Renewal in Pittsburgh. Source: Brent Bellamy

3,000 men marched in a melange of military & civilian uniforms along the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan. Led by the calvary of New York City’s Police Force, these men weren’t going into battle, at least not in the traditional sense. After a raft of self-congratulatory speeches and requisite ribbon cuttings, the troops ascended the West Side Highway. Begun in 1929, with its first section completed in 1930, the West Side opened on November 13th as the first elevated expressway in the world.

Celebrations were in order for this global first. The roadway marked a triumph over a stretch of…


How Accessory Dwelling Units & Granny Flats can help solve the Housing Crisis

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An ADU in Portland, Oregon. Source: dwell

Sugar-coating is fantastic. As with anything that has potentially significant impacts when overused, though, there’s a time and a place for it. Hot churro coming out of the deep fryer? You bet. Sugar coat it. The greatest problems we face as a nation today? Not so much.

We’re in the middle of an extreme housing crisis that has only gotten worse since the Pandemic began. Problems of affordability, equity and overcrowding (a direct effect of too-expensive housing) have been exacerbated via job loss, tax revenue shortfalls and re-allocation of capital. In a country where nearly 11 million households (1/4 of…


What College Campuses Can Teach Us About Creating More Holistic Communities

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The Lawn, The Rotunda and Pavilions I & III at the University of Virginia. Source: News.Virginia.Edu

Upon reflection, many recall college as the best 4 years of their lives. Instead of exploring this (there’s way too much to dissect anyway), I’d like to understand what impact the collegiate built environment has in evoking so much passion, and how we might be able to translate these principles to evoke passion in, and shape the post-graduate form of, the communities we spend a majority of our lives in.

Far from being academic play pens for students of varying degrees of social awkwardness, college campuses are complex mini cities that have the power to anchor regional economies. The best…


How the power of sidewalks can offer considerable health, economic and equity benefits

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Champs Élysées promenade with pedestrians as the priority, a royal domain. Source: Book a Flat

Cities, as in life, are oriented around priorities. Just as we as individuals give more time to things we hold in higher value, our cities give more space & prominence to the things they value. In an ideal world perhaps parks, cultural & religious facilities and housing would enjoy the most land and prominence. But we don’t live in an ideal world.

It’s been estimated that up to half of the space in American downtowns is dedicated to cars. Of the entire incorporated area of Los Angeles County, nearly 25% of the land is taken up by parking lots and…


Why the Sun Belt’s Meteoric Growth isn’t Just about Warm Weather and Low Taxes, and How The Rust Belt Can Rise Again.

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Subdivision outside of Dallas, Texas. Source: Dallas Business Journal

Over the last decade, 13 of the 15 fastest growing large cities in the US have been in the Sun Belt. None were in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic or Midwest. Indeed, Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research estimates that half of the country’s growth took place in the 22 Sun Belt metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people in the first half of the decade; a trend that has since accelerated. The narrative surrounding cities like Austin, Nashville, Miami & Dallas has been inescapable for much of this time, and insufferable the last 6 months. …


Writing on the Intersection of Urban Planning & Real Estate Development

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Narrow commercial lane in Istanbul. Source: https://alleysofseattle.com/tag/istanbul-alleys/

At the start of every year I do my best to evade questions of resolution. Not for fear of failing to achieve what I’ve set out to, nor straining to avoid small talk, but for general indifference. Coming off two straight weeks of family, good food, sports, movies & cracking into new books from Santa’s Seattle division (and outposts more local, I assure those of you who don’t care for Pacific Northwest Elves), there’s little I’d resolve to improve. It doesn’t get much better than this sacred time. These past holidays were no different. Except, of course, in the essential…


The power of bold proposals and finding inspiration in surprising places

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Rochelle School at The Boundary Estate. Source: Michelle Mason for Design Exchange

Shoreditch is one of London’s most desirable addresses. Residents pay among the highest rent of all Londoners to enjoy award winning restaurants, buzzy nightlife, trendy boutiques, close proximity to jobs centers, and experience a creative lifestyle that permeates the neighborhood. Outsiders pay for the privilege to feel cool for a night.

It wasn’t always this way. In the 19th century, the slums of the East End offered an existence of immense squalor. In a struggle for basic survival, people lived on top of each other in unimaginable poverty. The death rate (40/1,000) was four times higher than that of London…


Why Good On Paper is Not the Same as Good in Place.

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High-end renderings can’t obscure the fact that this development is just a mall that goes by a different name. Liberty Center, north of Cincinnati, Ohio. Source: Stein + Associates

In the summer of 2018, the Canadian Asset Management behemoth Brookfield acquired GGP for $15 billion. This move was significant, even for a firm that owns the second most real estate of any company in the world. The need to grow in the eyes of Wall Street investors was clear, as markets demand growth above all other considerations. But the assets? Why acquire 125 malls? As the most derided real estate class of the last decade, their future looked even worse than its troubled past.

Brookfield’s answer turned many heads. Some, in admiration of their ambitious bet that an out…

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