Designing Good Neighborhoods One Commercial Space at a Time

Have you ever noticed a piece of prime real estate in your neighborhood that goes from restaurant concept to restaurant concept but never really makes it? Are you tired of being a passive spectator to the commercial development around you?

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could crowdsource the amenities that make your neighborhood … your neighborhood?

Welcome to HoodStarter, a startup that gives you, the mighty residents of your community, some say about what should go into that vacant commercial space around the corner. No more sitting by and wondering what might pop up next – HoodStarter gives you the megaphone for the voice you never knew you had.


A Spoonful of Good Design

My grandma Molly was an old school class act. Perhaps you know the type; she was a lady who dressed up for dinner and liked to set a proper table. But as she aged she suffered from tremors in her hands, and one of the things that changed was the ability to eat with nice silverware. She lost a bit of her independence and a bit of her dignity, and I remember how sad that made her. To be sure, for many of us picking up a spoon is among the easiest things we do in a day, but to someone whose hands face constant involuntary oscillations, digging into a simple bowl of soup isn’t that simple at all.

Because of those memories, it was hard not to think of Molly when I came upon this article via the Yahoo! News Digest app (which, by the way, has recently become one of my favorite hand-held news sources). It seems that some very smart, creative and caring folks have been putting time, money and effort into designing a utensil to help alleviate the difficulties tremors bring on.

Google is producing something called the Liftware Spoon, a utensil meant to assist those who suffer from uncontrollable shaking. Lift Labs, whose founder began to study motion stabilization in graduate school, originally designed the Liftware Spoon and this past September Google acquired the company and continues to fund the spoon’s development. (more…)

Stepping Away From the Blackboard and Sitting in a Desk Facing It

Great design not only comes from addressing an important need, but in responding to it with deep empathy and understanding from the point of view of a user. It’s true: walk in the shoes of your customer and try and assume where their head is at and you will have a much better chance of producing something that is truly valued, truly appreciated and truly lasting. That’s design thinking 101.

Perhaps that’s why it’s particularly painful to watch bad design, especially when the need that is being addressed is so important. Enter our traditional education designs of schools, classrooms, curricula and teaching. The whole tool set has huge impact but it is not a hot bed of empathetic design; at least if you agree that the “user” in this case is a student. From elementary school all the way up to post-doctorates, students spend hours upon hours sitting in their seats hurriedly scribbling notes so as not to forget what the teacher is saying, all in the quest of repeating it back on the next test. That’s but one typical example of a series of activities that students experience, and the data shows that the design just isn’t cutting it. Deep and lasting learning isn’t resulting from that activity nearly enough. Learning is the need, isn’t it?

Veteran high school teacher Alexis Wiggins decided to shadow two high schoolers for two days (one day per student), to learn a little bit about what her students’ days were like. She learned some lessons and wrote about them in a post that was read by hundreds of thousands of people. The Washington Post picked it up and it exploded on social media.

She starts off her post saying, “I have made a terrible mistake.” (more…)

A Weaving Factory That Strengthens Your Future and Your Community

I reserve this blog space for the purpose of highlighting people and communities that do cool things. Many are products that have a great social impact or people using their influence and talents to do good things. It recently dawned on me that I haven’t yet written about something that I personally have been spending a lot (OK a ton) of my mental fuel on – something called Studio/E.

The story goes like this: lifelong friend Tom Wiese (counsel & master deal architect) and I were out hiking in Colorado a few years back when we asked ourselves a couple of questions: we work with a wide variety of leaders across just about every sector, so what is the one thing that is stressing them out? And what could we offer to help them be even more fulfilled and successful on their journeys? (more…)

The Shape and Contour of What Learning Can Be

Last week while listening to my friend Olga Viso (director of the Walker Art Center) speak at Inside the Leadership Studio with the Urban Land Institute, she mentioned something that really caught my attention. Ever pushing the conversation of art – where to experience it and its societal importance – she mentioned the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Massachusetts and how they have teamed up with the nearby Lincoln Nursery School so as to provide experiential education to children. Naturally, I went home and did a little research. (more…)

Libraries Aren’t Just For Books Anymore

I could, and often do, rant about how fantastic libraries are for the obvious reasons: They promote literacy, they are safe gathering spots (for the most part) and many have some really cool programs for the community. They have and continue to be idea factories that weave our communities together for greater prosperity. They serve as a critical civic design. And like all good design, many libraries are changing in ways to make them more relevant to more people across the globe. In our digital age, libraries have also evolved into places where the underprivileged can go to have access to something most of us take for granted: the Internet.  (more…)


When you hear the term “design,” you likely think of things like logos, Photoshop and well-oiled machines. What you likely do not think of is government. But, whether it’s good or bad, our government is a design.  We know the blueprint of our government as the Constitution and Bill of Rights of course.  And lately it would seem that, like so many other institutions in our country, our government is failing us.  But what if it isn’t the design of government, but rather the design of our politics that is to blame?  We’re not used to thinking of politics as separate and apart from our governmental institutions, but separating the two just may lead to a better ability to redesign and make what’s wrong, right while not messing with what’s actually working.   (more…)


One of the pivotal concepts of Naked Civics is civic design, under which falls a slew of concepts. One such concept, community building, is of particular interest to me today.

My friend Greg Fuson wrote a piece in The Vine last month about rules and principles, and in the piece he posed a great question about homeowner associations. (more…)