Snapshots of good urban design: A loft apartment building in downtown Los Angeles. A campus village at Ohio State University. A free-WiFi space for entrepreneurs in the heart of London. An internationally themed public market in Minneapolis. In more than 1,100 blog entries over the past four years, Neil Takemoto has been offering up examples of what he calls “CoolTowns”—well-designed city projects, the kinds of things that produce a frisson of exhilaration and desire in economist Richard Florida's famed “creative class.” (In the late '90s, Takemoto and Florida were at a meeting where someone suggested to Florida that he write a book; a few years later, The Rise of the Creative Class appeared.) And Takemoto, 38, knows from design: A graduate of the University of Oregon's architecture school, he worked with Andrés Duany to create the National Town Builders Association in 1997, a trade group of smart growth/new urbanism developers. Several years later, when his interests turned to infill, Takemoto left the association to start CoolTown Studios and pursue cutting-edge urban development.
Within two years, an investment group took notice and told Takemoto he was focused on the kind of market they wanted to invest in. Now, Takemoto is able to help developers tap into a $150 million fund to create projects like the ones he researches and writes about. (Read more about it at www.cooltowninvestments.com.) His efforts are already bearing fruit: A five-story warehouse in Syracuse, N.Y., is being transformed into a live/work space for artists and musicians. There are also a few smaller projects under way in Washington, D.C., which Takemoto has called home for several years.
Now that CoolTown Studios' website has achieved a certain critical mass—it gets more than 27,000 unique viewers each month—Takemoto is ready for his next step: creating beta communities. Basically, says Takemoto, with beta communities “we establish a group of customers [for developers] before [they] develop a product.” His beta community website, www.cooltownbeta.com, will be ready to roll soon.
So what can architects do to help? “There's been a bar-raising movement of people working and building things collaboratively,” says Takemoto, who would like to see the profession become more engaged in teaching the public about the principles of good design. And beta communities offer designers a direct connection to urban dwellers. “I think if architects take the charrette approach and apply that to [individual buildings],” he says, “and developers hire these architects to help transform the beta communities' ideas [into reality]—I think that's how you innovate.”