Recently, Andres Duany has been floating the idea of "Lean Urbanism" publicly -- in Sarasota and High Point. While it isn't entirely clear what "Lean" might be, on-line discussions are starting to give it some form.
One major aspect, perhaps the major aspect, is to reduce onerous regulation. It is a "regulatory barriers to entry" that make it hard for small players to get into the market. Yet, especially immediately following the unregulated demolition that led to the deadly collapse on Market Street in Philadelphia, the challenge is find a way to ease permitting without harming health and safety. I have proposed two major approaches: Platforms and Cultural Associations.
The first approach grows naturally out of governance. If we want to grant an exception to a regulation, then we need to create a policy by which we grant such exceptions. Otherwise, it's just favoritism -- bad government. So we create some platform on top of which an exception can be granted.
For instance, when officials in Chicago first had to figure out policies to allow people to renovate shopfronts into residences, they had to interpret the building code. Were interior windows sufficient for light and air? What fire separations were necessary? The officials wrote an interpretation of the building code. It became a platform for converting shops and lofts.
When cities helped build food markets in the last century -- such as Cleveland's West Side Market of 1912, they leased space to vendors, chose them according to equitable rules, and curated them. They supported them with an infrastructure of coolers and loading docks, not to mention the market hall itself. The City of Cleveland didn't just build a market building. It built a market in the economic sense too.
It's entirely apt to think of a city's rules as an operating system or "platform." Tim O'Reilly has been fostering "Government 2.0" or "Government as a platform." That concept is entirely compatible with this type of platform. Instead of one-size-fits-all regulations that favor big players, a city could carve out regulations favoring small ones. It could help the little guy in much the same way that the City of Cleveland supports its small merchants in the West Side Market.
This is an exact inversion of the normal top-down thinking. If we think top-down, then the high authority devolves only what it chooses to to the lower level. But if we think of platforms supporting neighborhoods and small players in the market, we have an entirely different demand to make: not just autonomy, but the means to make use of it.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about civic associations in Democracy in America. These are different from political associations. In fact, they are from a different "estate" from the governmental one. They are religious and philanthropic. Although they have been celebrated by the right, there is nothing inherently right-wing about them. Perhaps such cultural associations could be brought to bear on the situation.
In fact, some cultural associations look decidedly liberal, although not partisan. To become partisan is to give up some moral power. Those groups' function is at least partly to be government's and business's conscience. It is to shorten the distance between what is and what should be.
A particularly useful form of Cultural or religious/philanthropic group might be a Community Interest corporation (pdf),* as it is called in the UK, or a Public Benefit Corporation, in the US. These are companies formed with a responsibility to the public interest either in addition to, or instead of, their fiduciary responsibility. They recall the sort of corporation that used to be formed by a government for a specific purpose -- e.g. the Niagara Canal Company, which was formed for the Erie Canal.
These corporations, if they are formed for the public benefit (or community interest) may be able to act as a kind of platform. They might answer one problematic question about "Lean." If it is characterized by small-scale or Tactical interventions that are by nature tentative, then how do we build the armatures supporting them. For instance, such an arrangement might smooth some of the bumps for Steve Mouzon's Sky Method,.
Supports for Lean
We'll need other tools to work out Lean Urbanism, but these two -- platforms and cultural associations -- seem especially necessary to it.
* Thanks, Hank Dittmar of the Prince's Foundation.