Take Action: Reviving Third Places and Walkable Communities

Take Action: Reviving Third Places and Walkable Communities

Podcast Description

In North America, there are laws in place that make it more difficult to connect.

Zoning and parking laws impact the amount of foot traffic in a town, which consequently affects the number and kinds of third places in a town. People often talk about how these laws impact things like home values or crime – but rarely do they touch on their social implications.

Joining me today is Nathan Allebach, a creative director, marketer, and lover of walkable communities. He has a wealth of knowledge on this topic, and of third places; at the end of this interview, I felt like I’d taken a college course on third places and walkable communities – even though I’d already read up on quite a lot of this.

Want to see more third places? Listening to this podcast is a step. Build awareness for yourself. Follow the organizations Nathan mentions. Talk to local businesses about it. Big changes start with awareness, followed by small changes.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • How so many people are having to choose between their financial goals and social wellness – and how third places can be a solution for that
  • Our own “third places” growing up – Walmart, Target, the mall, a car – and what millennials have done to try to create their own third places
  • Mixed-use zoning, which means shops existed where people lived, and the affect Post World War II America had on this
  • Building regulations that impact third places: single family zoning, setback requirements, minimum lot size/square footage requirements; parking requirements
  • The roles of race and class in third places, and the impact cars have had on them in history and today
  • Guerilla activism, and small things you can do to make an impact: plant street trees; advocate for public art, new benches, zoning and parking reforms; pay attention

Reflection Question:

Much of the pushback against new zoning and parking laws involves people changing the ways they live. What would you give up to have a place where you knew your neighbors?

Notable Quotes from Nathan:

“What is the thing that you can change right now? And what is the thing that needs to be changed right now? And how can you get your neighbors and your friends sort of activated around that? And I think when you start with small things, they can very easily bubble up and become seeds, essentially, for bigger change.” 

“When you talk about zoning reform and bargain reform, it’s not a sexy topic. But when you look at the most successful cities, both in North America and just around the world, they share all these features. Go to any downtown, go to any historic district, go to any major city. Think about the things that make those places great. Quickly, you start to realize, there’s mixed uses here. There’s people living here right next to where they shop. They’re safe streets for people to walk around. They’re sharing the road, with cars and people riding bicycles and taking transit.” 

Leave Alex a voicemail!

Follow Nathan Allebach For More About Third Places!

@nathanallebach US and Canadian cities go from skyscrapers to sprawl because “missing middle housing” is illegal to build due to single-family zoning and minimum parking requirements — we can change that! #missingmiddlehousing #singlefamilyzoning #walkability #walkablecities #urbanism #urbanplanning #cityplanning #housingcrisis ♬ original sound – nathan allebach
@nathanallebach I think when we pass policies to quantitatively improve urbanism, qualitative improvements often follow naturally — but there’s definitely a dance. What do you think? #urbanism #urbanplanning #cityplanning #walkablecities #placemaking #nimby #yimby #carfree ♬ original sound – nathan allebach

Until next time…

Take the conversation beyond the new podcast on friendship! Follow Alex on Instagram (@itsalexalexander) or Tiktok (@itsalexalexander), or send her a voice message directly with all your friendship thoughts, problems, and triumphs by heading to AlexAlex.chat and hitting record. 

Want deeper friendships?

I'm giving away my secrets to better friendships.

Episode Transcript

Podcast Intro/Outro  00:02

Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!

Podcast Intro/Outro   00:18

Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too. 

Alex Alexander  00:50

Are you ready for the fire hose of information that is today’s episode? Today, my guest is Nathan Allebach. And Nathan is professionally a creative director, a marketer, a creator. He’s also a lover of walkable communities, a volunteer for various organizations for exactly that cause. And as you’ll hear in this episode, I found Nathan on TikTok, which honestly, is a place I find a number of people I would love to have as guests on this podcast. I was very excited when Nathan responded and said, “Yes, this is a conversation I want to have.” Now, you’ve heard me talk in previous episodes about the fact that there are structures and laws in place that are making it more difficult for us to connect with the people around us. And this episode is full of not only like a history lesson, because as I mentioned in last week’s episode, I am not an expert on third places. But it’s also full of incredibly tangible examples of what you can look for in your local politics, and local conversations. How you can use your voice to create stronger communities. With that, let’s get to today’s episode. Hi, Nathan. Thanks for being here.

Nathan Allebach  02:29

Yeah, thanks so much for having me, Alex.

Alex Alexander  02:31

So I found you, as I’m sure many people have, on TikTok. The algorithm brought me to you talking about walkable communities. And I had already read about walkable communities. I was like low key paying attention to this concept. But you had some amazing content that just immediately dropped me. I was like, okay, this guy knows what he’s talking about. So, thank you for posting those.

Nathan Allebach  03:03

No, Thank you for enjoying and thank the algorithm for bringing us together. That’s great.

Alex Alexander  03:08

So Nathan, tell me how you got into this while you’re talking about walkable communities online?

Nathan Allebach  03:17

Yeah, sure. So I started posting TikToks last year, as in 2022, around August or SeptemberI think was the end of August. And I just saw, I guess an opportunity in the Tiktok community for this type of content. I had been following what are sometimes called urbanist or YIMBY content creators, there’s a bunch of different sort of subcultures around these topics at all, you know, subtly different things from one another, more or less just people who are interested in building better places, reforming a lot of existing, zoning and parking laws. And yeah, just trying to make cities and towns more affordable, accessible, economically productive, sustainable, all the words really. So it seems… I’ve been on TikTok for a long time, I come from an advertising background. So a lot of my work over the past 10 years has been focused on social media, marketing and advertising. So I was familiar with TikTok, I’d run some TikTok accounts for other brands, but never done my own thing with my face in front of the camera talking to the camera, you know? So it was kind of new for me. But I saw the type of content that was out there and a lot of it was very vlogger centric, which is, you know, a common style on TikTok, where people just kind of pick up their phone, do a stream of consciousness on a topic. Maybe it’s 10 seconds or 30 seconds or a minute. So what I did is I kind of like bridged that style with a bit more prepared script. I took some time to write out different ideas and I… you know, when on locations, to kind of just find interesting backdrops and tried to make it like a semi, not necessarily like a full produced video like you’d find on YouTube. But like kind of somewhere in between, like a semi produced type of video on topics that I care about in relation to urbanism or new urbanism, what are we going to call, which I’m sure we’ll get into here.

Alex Alexander  05:20

Well, I will say, I was wondering if it was scripted. So now I know because you really just rattle off the facts on those TikToks. If anybody, I mean, we’ll definitely be linking your TikTok in the show notes, if anybody… I would suggest going to watch them, because you’ll watch, I don’t even… 90 second video and feel like you read an entire book. They’re very informative. And there are only a handful, about walkable communities, but you really cover so many details in just a few videos. So with that, before people I mean, maybe people are gonna hit pause and go find your TikTok right now. I’d suggest it. But they would find this question… the answer to this question, which is, can you tell us a little bit about what is a third place?

PODCAST EPISODE! What are Third Places? They are the “living rooms” of our community. Here all about them in this episode! Give it a listen!

Nathan Allebach  06:04

So for people listening who aren’t familiar with the term, it was originally coined by the sociologist decades ago, named Ray Oldenburg used to define a place that is sort of away from home and away from work. So he defined like, you know, you have your home and your work, those are your first and second places. And a third place would be somewhere that is like ostensively, like a social environment where you would spend a significant amount of time then that isn’t either of those things. There’s a bunch of different ways to define it at the more granular level, it just kind of depends on what you mean. For some people, like there might be a restaurant or a bar, that would qualify as a third place. For other people, that might be not enough to qualify a place. Like we’ve all been to bars and restaurants, you know, it feels like a bit more like on the go, and it’s busy. And it’s not necessarily conducive to just like hanging out and like having spontaneous interactions with people. I like thinking about them through the lens of like, there’s either no barrier to entry financially, or a low barrier to entry. So I mean, you think about like cafes, or coffee shops, where there’s not necessarily a push to get you out the door. You can maybe buy a tea and sit down for several hours, and no one’s trying to kick you out. Or a public park or a library, different places where you know, you can spend a lot of time, not necessarily spend a lot of money. That’s, I think, a more applicable way of thinking about them.

Alex Alexander  07:37

The cost piece is so big, because people are always saying to me like, “Well, when I go out in the world, it just cost me money.” You know, so there’s this choice that people are having to make constantly between their financial goals, and their social wellness. And third places are a solution. for that. This is probably not an official definition. But when I think of third places, I think of third places as places where when you want to socialize, it is a dependable place to go. And hopefully, see a similar group of people, because they live in your community, or they are a part of that organization, or they share that same shared interest as you. So over time, it’s like everybody has gone to this place, because they want to connect. And so you feel more free to interact with the people around you, because everyone chose to leave their home to go to the third place for social interaction. Now, I understand that’s probably not the official definition. But that is the way I think about it when it comes to connection.

Nathan Allebach  08:58

Having regulars at a place is a major component of what would qualify something as a third place. And I think you laid it out great there. I mean, when you think about great third places, maybe in your hometown or places you visited, they tend to have a sort of spectrum of engagement, where when you are in them, you can kind of choose what your level of engagement is with that place. Like you can be someone who sits in the corner and is maybe just kind of like people watching or observing like other interactions around you. And you could also be someone who pushes for those interactions a bit more. There’s just a lot of space because like you said, when you have regulars that come through, it’s kind of on you. Like if you’re seeing the same people or person every day, you can develop a rapport with them if it’s nonverbal. So there’s a lot of ways you can get a sense of… again, it’s a spectrum. You can get a sense of community. It’s not like depending on your personality and the environment. Obviously not every person is going to be able to just build relationships, but there’s opportunity there to do tha. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to taking public transit. You know, like, if you’re someone who rides the train into work every day, or you take a bus route every day, oftentimes you’re with the same people. So you know, there’s opportunity there where half of the bus or the train might just have their headphones in, and they might just be there to chill out. Other folks might be trying to say, “Hi. So you might just have like, hello basis with somebody. And then for other people, you might, you know, develop a friendship or a relationship with them through that. So there’s a spectrum of engagement, that I think a good third place will offer those regulars as they come through.

Alex Alexander  10:39

Yeah, it’s like you get to opt into the frequency that you show up at the third place, but other people have also opted in. So whatever your spectrum of engagement is, you still are there with people who have opted in to partake for the most part. Because if they wanted to be alone, they would probably stay at home. But they have made the decision consciously to go out and be around other people. Which is why I think it makes… you know, that’s why they’re important to me. 

Nathan Allebach  11:09

Yeah, absolutely. And I think with that, you can get into a whole conversation about extroverts and introverts and what social engagement means for different people. And again, I think having that spectrum is just so key for a healthy community. Because otherwise, you’re in positions that are always putting downward pressure on social engagement, you know, like you’re at work. Obviously, you have to be there, it’s a job. So like, the types of relationships you have, you might not want to be engaging with these people, you’ve got to be there, there’s the downward pressure. Same with family. Like if you’re home, you know, whether you’re married, or you’re a kid, and you’re dealing with your parents like, these are interactions that you have to deal with at a certain level, whether you’re in the mood or you’re not in the mood. Whereas you can imagine, like a couple… like my wife, and I used to live in this really tiny one bedroom apartment on the main street of a town. But being in the middle of town, it wasn’t difficult to just step outside and go for a walk. And there was a diner 50 yards from where we lived. You know, it was like, pretty easy to go out if one of us needed space, or if we both needed space to get out of the house, and kind of figure out whether… there was also a record store right across from where we live. So we were friends with the guy who owned the record store, and he still owns it and easy to just go in there and say hello, and maybe chat for like 20-30 minutes, these are all things that kind of help. It’s like a pressure valve. Like it helps kind of explore, like, again, whatever level of engagement you want with those social interactions. Whereas you know, if you’re just stuck at home, or you’re stuck at work, and those are the only two environments you’re constantly rotating between. It’s really difficult to build, like a healthy level of engagement with other people socially.

Alex Alexander  12:55

Yeah. And then there’s pressure. And we could go off on a whole tangent on this, let’s not do it. But I just want to acknowledge like, then there’s this pressure that if you want to meet new people, you have to very specifically find activities and things where people have decided they want to go for social engagements. You have to go to… I don’t know, like a Bumble BFF group or meetup night. And that’s fine. But there’s again pressure there, that when you just go and exist in a third place does not have the same pressure.

Nathan Allebach  13:28

Right. So I think that was kind of the answer that the suburbs drew from the decline of their places a long time ago, like post World War II , where you had a lot of families that were moving out of city centers and out of downtown’s into these, you know, big neighborhoods full of other single family homes. All had a relatively equal income bracket, and all separate from commerce. So you just have like, you know, acres and acres or miles and miles of houses with no shops, essentially. So what the people do then is create these social clubs, where it’d be like, okay, we’re gonna have rotaries, we’re gonna have, you know, private bowling teams, we’re gonna invest our kids into a local sports league or something like that. There’s all these different things that became like a way to socialize since we lost those natural mechanisms from third places in more urbanized communities. So I think to your point, almost all of those mechanisms are either privatized or semi privatized. Or like, if I think about, you know, neighborhoods where I grew up, and even where I live now, I live in kind of like a smaller neighborhood of townhouses, but it’s surrounded by just single family homes, like there’s no shops near where I live. So, I think about how the community engages with itself. You know, besides people seeing each other walking down the street, they’re walking their dogs or whatever. You’ve got things like private parties and barbecues and, you know, there might be like… I had graduation parties, I’m going to after school event. Or it’s always like, you know, there’s a potential for it to kind of be open to some of the other neighbors and people that might be nearby. But again, it’s like it’s a specific event, it’s a specific team, it’s a specific club, that you have to have some connection or admission to that in a third place, you know, traditionally anybody can just kind of drift in and out of at their own leisure. So, it’s much different.

Alex Alexander  15:29

I think these are very important distinctions for people. Because when I talk to people about third places, we have such few third places anymore, that when I talk about this concept, people give a lot of examples that are kind of a third place but not quite there. And you’re like, “Yeah… 

Nathan Allebach  15:52

Like a Starbucks. Or you’re like, okay, it’s a place we can go hang out and walk around. Then it’s like, okay, well, what are we doing when we walk around? Oh, we can only shop basically. That’s the goal. Like, okay, we’re gonna go into these big box stores, or big retailers, or even with Starbucks, this has been a more recent turn of events for them. Because decades ago, as part of their leadership and marketing strategy, they very intentionally leaned into the concept of a third place where they were trying to essentially monetize and streamline like a… not a franchise, but like a larger model that would go into towns, whereas more recently, they’re doing the opposite. And their retail strategy is much more geared toward getting people in and out, on the go, not encouraging loitering, essentially major key for a thriving third place. So it’s interesting, like, these are the places that we have, because of the way our North American society has become structured. And like you said, it’s very subtle. Like there might be… again, when I was growing up, you know, me and my friends or my sisters, like we want to go out to Starbucks, or you might want to go to this mini mall. Or maybe we ride our bikes to the Walmart. And you think in your mind, like we’re seeking the ethos of a third place in doing the things. But when you get to those places, there’s really nothing to do other than to buy things and then probably get the police called on you for loiter.

Alex Alexander  17:26

Yeah, I mean, I grew up in a suburb of Seattle, about 45 minutes outside the city. I live in the city now. But I grew up outside the city. And before this episode, I was trying to think of my third places growing up. Target, we would go just wander the aisles of target forever. But you can’t really sit and you cannot buy something but also then you’re inundated with things to buy that you probably don’t need. I grew up on a lake. So the dock, public parks on the lake was a big one. Parks are third place. But again, Seattle weather. So part of the year, that really wasn’t it. We’re going to talk about cars in a little bit I’m sure but the main third place I could think of was my car. Which is kind of sad. But that’s like what we had right as a kid? If we didn’t want to hang out in our parents homes, we weren’t at school, it was too rainy to go to the park. We were tired of wandering through Target or the grocery store. We would just drive and hang out in our car. And that was our main third place.

Nathan Allebach  18:35

That’s so interesting. I’ve actually never thought of that. And that, at least in that context, and I totally share the experience with you there from growing up in the suburbs. Me and my friends, when there’s nothing else to do, just drive around and see if something comes up along the way. But like, you’re not really… there’s no destination. It’s kind of like, let’s just see what happens.

Alex Alexander  18:55

Yeah, like he just didn’t want to be in your parents house. And you wanted to go do things. And if we drove far enough, it was like a 20 minute drive to get to a mall. So, sometimes we would go there. And again, if it was rainy, we couldn’t go to the park. So it really was our car. So that’s what we’re left with. That’s kind of sad.

PODCAST EPISODE! How to Make Friends as a Grown-Up. Give it a listen!

Nathan Allebach  19:19

But I think too to where we’re at now as an adult. I mean, my wife’s stepdad at their house, he’s got your, your very classic man cave set up in their basement where it’s full of the taxidermied deer heads and funny signs and all the sorts of like good stuff that you want in a man cave. And it’s interesting because that’s been one of the stereotypical ones in my mind again for people that lack a third place and you’re trying to kind of carve it out of what you have, like a car would be one as a teenager. Because when you’re a teenager, you feel like you don’t really have any privacy. You’ve been in your bedroom. So it’s like you want to get out somehow. For a lot of like suburban dads, The Man Cave has become like an answer to that. Or it’s like, I’m gonna build an ADU or convert the garage, or I’m gonna convert the basement into something like this space that is just for me and my friends. As you were talking, I was thinking, it’s interesting, because I think a lot of millennials have started to do this with video games, or rooms. You know, like my wife and I, during 2020, when the pandemic was raging, we converted the room that I’m in right now into this kind of game room with both of our desks and PCs. And we would always game together. And that again, it kind of became like, you know, okay, we’re hanging out in our living room and our kitchen, whatever, doing our thing. And then when we intentionally go to this space, it’s supposed to kind of be away from everything else. And obviously, like, it’s actually not, but it’s something to kind of fill that void in a way that makes you feel like you’re venturing outside of your your sort of your home paradigm, you know? So it’s bizarre how like, no matter what stage of life you’re at, like people do crave these places, and they’ll find ways to make up for it, or try to make up for it when they don’t have access to them.

Alex Alexander  21:19

And per our earlier conversations, a car and a gaming room or a man cave are not really third places because people can’t freely show up, people have to be invited in. You know, it’s kind of like a set time, when you’re done driving, you drop everyone off at home. Besides the driver, people can’t stay. So it’s not really a third place. But you’re right, I think instinctually trying to create these because we want them.

Nathan Allebach  21:45

Yeah, and I think it’s interesting, because particularly with the video game thing. The man cave one is a little separate, because I think for a lot of man caves, the men who build them or spend time in them often are seeking solitude. Like sometimes you have a man cave situation where like they use it for their buddies to come over and watch the game or whatever it might be. But I think the video game one is interesting, because I think a lot of millennials are just folks in that rough age bracket. They kind of feel that the video game setup has some of the features of the third place, only because of the access to social media. And video games, like online video games, you can get a lot of that sort of interaction through the screen, which can feel like spontaneous encounters with strangers or with friends. And when you get done, your brain is tricked in a lot of ways. Because like you’re getting some genuine interaction from people where that is fulfilling, like, obviously, you have a phone call with a loved one who lives far away. You’re gonna get something out of that. It’s not purely manufactured in your mind. But it’s missing the sort of in person human contact element that I think creates a much more healthy, psychological and sociological environment for people that it’s very easy to opt out of now with access to social media and online video games. So a lot of millennials, I’m sure in their minds, you walk away from some of those times, like where you’re talking to your friends on social media or game, you know, whatever, you might feel fulfilled. But I think a lot of the underlying issues that you’re dealing with both psychologically and sociologically aren’t being fully addressed the way they would be in a more in person community.

Alex Alexander  23:37

Yeah, people can’t see me when I’m listening to the audio of this, but I’ve been like frantically shaking my head yes.as Nathan is saying this. I have multiple episodes in the works about the internet as our third place. And I totally think you’re right. And we were definitely gonna cover that in episodes. But I love that we acknowledged it here. I do want to talk about physical therapy cases, because I feel like that’s really where you thrive here. So can we talk a little bit about the demise of the third place? Like kind of how we got to where we are?

Nathan Allebach  24:08

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s a very… there’s history to this. Like, it’s not like one of those issues where it’s kind of ambiguous. And you know, people theorize and look back on like, oh, how could this have happened? Like, it’s been a very intentional decline over deck that I think, like a lot of things throughout history, you can point to actors who, at the time, maybe believe their intentions were good, and they’re trying to build something new and push society forward. But in the midst of all that, there’s also a lot of bad actors. So I mean, with these issues, you can trace a lot of it back to post World War II. It’s one most of… all these sorts of different things started to converge, where you had a huge amount of vets coming back from the war. There were a lot of huge, huge government programs that were being divvied out. Things like the GI Bill where you know, which excluded black veterans but like for white veterans coming home from the war or their pay status getting handed a ton of money to go out into these brand new suburbs that were being built everywhere. So you had all these economic issues that were tied into racial issues, and then these things compounded over time, trying to think how to streamline this because there’s a lot of different ways. 

Nathan Allebach  25:31

Like at the time, there was issues of segregation. So like, you had a lot of these issues were like, as white families left city centers, which, you know, again, historically, sociologically, there’s debate over this. There’s obviously a racist element to that where a family wants to move out of city centers, there’s also a crime element, or like, as there was an integration between classes, between races. There was a lot more unprecedented crime at the time. So a lot of different rationale and things to kind of tease out there. But the moral of the story is that white families fled cities to live in these segregated suburbs. And as we talked about earlier, these suburbs were all not only segregated by race, they were also segregated by class, and they were also segregated by land use. So unlike any point previously in history, when you think about like how the… I don’t know, like older European towns or Japanese villages, when you look at how beautiful these places look even to this day, they all have a few things in common. One of them being that they have mixed use zoning, or prior to even the invention of zoning, you know, people just naturally built their shops nearby where people live, because it was before the invention and the aggregation of cars. So, you know, if you were wealthy, or if you had resources, you might have access to a horse or a camel or something to get you place to place. But chances were for the 90 plus percent of your daily tasks, you were walking to places. So it just meant that the vast majority of people lived near the vast majority of local businesses and public squares, and it was all kind of integrated together. So post World War II, when our new suburban experiment as strong towns call it was sort of enacted and growing, we separated those uses so that only in these neighborhoods where these new houses were going up, it could only be single family homes constructed. Not only were they not allowing shops to come in, but they weren’t allowing duplexes, they weren’t allowing townhouses or any kind of like… you see today, like buildings that maybe three or four storeys above a shop at the ground level. So, that started. And then over decades of that, like again, we mentioned earlier, there was this problem, where you know, people that otherwise in the past had easy access to social infrastructure like third places, they were lonely, they had nothing to do. You see this on a lot of period pieces during the 50s, 60s, and 70s, where, like American housewives would just kind of be home with literally nowhere to go and nothing to do and their husbands are coming from work. And they’re like, “What did you do today?” And they’re like, “I hate it here. Like there’s nothing to do in our neighborhood. Where am I supposed to walk the kids? Where are we supposed to go when you’re not home?” The solution to that in North America was a mall. So we started to see malls pop up everywhere as this kind of replacement of the traditional downtown or the traditional public square where people could go spend all day at the mall if they wanted to, walking around, shopping, seeing their neighbors that they hadn’t seen in a long time probably. As we’ve seen, since that time, malls have been on the decline, not just from the rise of online shopping. But I think just because they failed. I believe… I want to say that the grand architect, I forget his name, but the guy who concept the idea of the modern mall, he actually publicly stated that he believed that the malls were a failure in the sense that they never could live up to traditional third places. Again, because of the things we’ve been talking about, a mall is structured almost exclusively around buying stuff. Consumerism. Like the object of a mall is not to go and just to sit and hang out and spend time. It’s literally 100% centered around commerce and typically big stores, like big retail shops that don’t necessarily favor small businesses or they’re just interested in places that maybe you’d want to spend time and you know, like when you think about, I don’t know, like you ever go on vacation or you visit like a downtown or historic district. And you think about the places like the small businesses that are there. You might find some antique shops or like weird niche little bookstores or craft stores, or just just kind of like interesting places that you otherwise probably wouldn’t find and like your local suburbs, mini mall, you know. So like those places have not traditionally thrived in the mall model, because it’s always favored these larger retailers. As that declined, you know, now we’re where we are currently, which is this weird space that more people are trying to manufacture new third places with things like you got the Starbucks is of the world, you got places like target that are trying to almost create like a semi internal courtyard with maybe some shops like a Starbucks or areas to sit, you know, while people shop. You’ve got lifestyle centers, which are essentially an attempted rebirth of the mall. I grew up near one. And I remember the time when it was being constructed, everyone was so stoked. It was like, “Oh my gosh, like we got this.” It was called the promenade. I think that’s not what was officially called, but it became colloquially referred to as that. And I remember everybody growing up in high school was like, “We got to go to the promenade.” And like, it was literally just a mall, but outside with an archway and some nice plants and like a little bit more, I guess, to enjoy your walk as you’re shopping. But even to your earlier point about living in Seattle, I mean, anytime you’re dealing with adverse weather conditions, whether it’s winter, snow, or rain or anything, or just humidity, you know, people in general aren’t super stoked to be walking around outdoor places, you know, so it’s tricky. So now we kind of are where we are today, where most towns, particularly suburban towns, they don’t have any kind of social infrastructure that favors third places, because so much of our societies since the World War II era through now have been remodeled around car travel. So there’s a lot of movements right now. I’m sure you’re aware and I’m sure several people listening would probably be aware of like the… can we curse on here?

Alex Alexander  32:16

Yeah, go for it.

Nathan Allebach  32:17

So like that. There’s like the fuck cars subreddit, which is, I think, probably the most popular subreddit in the subculture. And that sentiment has gone viral a bunch since 2020. And I’m with it, I’m with a lot of it. I mean, I think like, the way I frame it is less like, fuck cars, which I think from like a political or like a effective messaging strategy isn’t great at getting people in the door. Like 99% of people in America, that’s their primary form of transportation. So if you don’t bridge them into these ideas, and you just start off by being like, yeah, cars are ruining society, you’re probably not gonna get super far. I do think it’s important as we talk through all these things, and you kind of build out the case and the history for how we’ve gotten to where we are today. Most of it can be traced back to the fact that, yeah, we took this sort of new suburban model of development, started to build places outside of city centers, we completely separated the residential housing from virtual retail land uses, and then made it so you essentially have to have a car to live. And over time, obviously, when you think 100 years ago, even up to 50 years ago, in North America, there was much more comprehensive transit systems via trains and bus routes and street cars and other forms of getting around that didn’t necessarily mean you needed a car. But as cars have gotten more and more popular, our streets and our roads have just become more and more centered around that form of transportation. So now, when you look at any given neighborhood street or big commuter road, there’s not like a place… like there’s not like a lane for buses, there’s not a lane for bikes, there’s not even a sidewalk for people walking most of the time. So we’ve completely restructured society around driving as the primary form of transportation. But now decades later, we realize how atomized we’ve all become. And we’re lonely. There’s all these mental health crises and there’s always financial crises from the unsustainable growth of suburban development that isn’t necessarily sustainable because as we develop new suburbs, they’re often really spread out. They require a ton of infrastructure. So in the beginning, everything seems totally cool. It’s like alright, yeah, we got a new development. It’s geared toward middle, upper middle-class people that are going to pay into the tax base. It all sounds great, but over decades, as we found city after city and town after town, that mode of transportation is not economically sustainable. And we still find that after the ’08 recession and during COVID that a lot of these downtown districts, they become the places that they sort of center robust economic activity where people can walk around and spend time, but again, enjoy local small businesses in an environment that actually caters to them versus when you think about driving along a big wide road or a highway and you see these massive signs for Target, or JCPenney’s. I don’t even know if they’re still around.

Alex Alexander  35:45

Oh, yeah. There’s one near my house. 

Nathan Allebach  35:47

Okay, beautiful… I heard they went bankrupt.

Alex Alexander  35:50

They probably are. Nobody knows. Yeah.

Nathan Allebach  35:53

But you see all these big signs, and it’s like, okay, I’m gonna pull my car off. And, you know, get all my shopping done at Walmart or Target or go to the mall, or whatever it might be. Of course, none of those environments, whether it be a mall or a strip mall, are conducive to small businesses. Like for a small business to thrive, you know, you need foot traffic, you need people that are in proximity to that place that can be regular patrons of it, everybody needs a car to get around constantly. It’s very difficult for places like that to thrive. So, that’s a long ramble. But yeah, there’s a lot in the history. And there’s more that I left out, I’m sure.

Alex Alexander  36:27

Yeah, I think there’s so many factors and like listening to you talk about that whole thing. Because obviously, my brain is always thinking about like, the community connection piece, right? The 50s was a huge shift in the messaging of like, what it means to be, quote unquote “successful” in North America, right? You want that single family home, you want to find a partner, have 2.5 kids, have two nice cars, be able to do it all on your own. If you have to ask for a little help, you have to pay someone and if you can do all that, you’re successful. So this was appealing, like people wanted this, that was the way to be, quote unquote “successful”. Now we’ve done it, we’ve built the entire infrastructure around it. And people are in their big homes, screaming, where’s my village? I’m so lonely, whatever, and the car peace, you know, they can get in the car, they can go to those cute little downtown centers or the mall or whatever. But the interesting thing about that, when I think about it, is like, there’s not really a lot of consistency, because we have so many people going to this one central point that is not really built for them to hang out in. But they’re still going there. But you don’t go to that place thinking that you’re going to see any of the same people, it’s so unlikely, because people are going there once a week, once every two months. Yeah, like you just kind of pop in. So there’s no consistency in that. Like the places are consistent, the stores, the shops, or whatever. And you might see the same bar owner, store owner when you drive to that place, but you’re not really getting that sense of community, you’re just there. And then you go back in your car. 

Nathan Allebach  38:22

Yeah, because it’s like people, they want to have their cake and eat it too. Which obviously is understandable. Because like you said, I mean, over decades, when you think about how this whole sort of suburban experiment has evolved, there’s an idealized picture people have in their heads where they’re going to own a big house in the yard, and they have all this space and all these things that in their mind equates to freedom. And for some people, that makes sense. And I think for my sort of ideological leanings, with all this, I do believe that people ought to have the freedom to have that if they want it. The issue is that those people over decades, especially when you think about older property owners, people that are 50, 60, 70 years old right now who like were very… they were the young new property owners and all these laws and these these norms are being changed. They are basically shutting the door behind them and saying, you don’t have a choice in how to live. It’s honest enough to say like, okay, I bought this acre property, I got the yard, I got the house, all this stuff. It’s not enough to have that. For people that are in this mindset, they need to have everyone on their street or everyone on the block to have the same model. Like they don’t want to allow other models near them. So it becomes really… it’s a really interesting issue because when you start talking about property rights and individual rights and zoning laws. Like these are like government restrictions. You get into really interesting conversations because you get people who identify as libertarian, sort of, like locking arms with people who identify as communists or liberals or whatever, over this issue, because you know that there’s kind of something in it for everyone. And you’re somebody who wants housing to become more affordable, it’s like, okay, well, there’s only one way to do that. And it’s to build more of it. There’s different ways to build more of it. I mean, like, there’s obviously some people who identify on the left will push much more for social housing, for subsidized private housing to kind of like attack or like to meet the needs of people at the sort of lower rungs of society quicker, then you have people who are just like, well just build more housing, like private housing, like that also lowers prices, when you think about the housing crisis that we’re in currently, so much of it is just predicated around that simple fact that, you know, we have not been building that the pace of population growth, particularly in areas where people want to live. And the reason for that is because the previous generations of property owners have fought against building for literal decades. You know, when you look at the places where housing is the worst right now, like New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, like these are the kind of poster children for the insane prices of housing. These are the places with the strictest zoning laws, the strictest parking laws, when you look at the houses that go for the prices they do in these places, it should not make sense. But it only makes sense because tons and tons and tons of people want to live there. And the land is super limited. So it’s like, if you got land, if you got a neighborhood in Brooklyn and it’s a bunch of either single family homes, or like fourplexes, whatever, but like millions of people want to live in Brooklyn, it’s like, okay, you got an acre plot of land, what’s the better land use? They’re like, do you build 50 apartments on that piece of land? Or do you just let one person live there? At a certain point, there’s debates people have over land use and the kind of nuances that go into it, like per policy per city. But ultimately, it really does just come down to those like massive discrepancies in supply and demand that date back for a long, long time, and their attitudes that just really sneak up on people because of how normalized they’d be. In society, it’s like you don’t even really think about it. Like if you grew up in a suburban neighborhood, we all single family homes, and then suddenly someone wants to build a duplex in that neighborhood and it essentially looks just like the single family homes, but there’s going to be now two families that can live there, you can watch all the neighbors get up in arms and fight against it. And it’s like, why are they fighting against it? Like half of them don’t even know. You know what I mean? Like they have sort of pre loaded antiquated ideas about like crime and all these things like multifamily housing equals crime. And it’s like, man, like, chances are, if something’s getting built in a preexisting suburban context, it’s not going to be like a low income housing complex. It’s probably going to be a brand new house that’s near your income bracket is going to be able to afford anyway. 

Alex Alexander  43:16

Yeah. For better or worse. Yeah. I mean, the thing is, with this whole thing, right, everybody is making choices, when they are voting, when they are being active in movements or not being active in movements, ignoring things. Like we have gotten ourselves here. The home values, the crime, that stuff like commonly talked about, but the impact it’s having on our ability to connect is not often talked about. And then I bring that up, I tell people that structurally, in North America, laws are in place that actually make it more difficult for you to connect. Because you’re more separated. You don’t live in as much density, there’s not as much foot traffic, these three places don’t exist. And people think I’ve lost it, they’ve never thought about that. And we all have to make our choices. If you make your choice to protect your home value, fine. But at least you would know what you are not choosing.

Nathan Allebach  44:21

Right. And I think too, it’s interesting how, again, like you mentioned, a lot of these wake up calls have come in the past few years. And I’ve even noticed a lot of this with older generations, including my own grandparents, where there’s this sort of realization where as people move into retirement, they start to think like, okay, I’ve lived X amount of decades in this single family home, I’m getting older. I don’t want to maintain this big property anymore. So, I’m going to downsize. Then what do they do? Well, there’s not really options for them in most parts of America, so they can’t stay in their own communities, their choices are either move to a nearby Retirement Home, which most people, if they can avoid it, they will, or they move out of state to somewhere that will cater to their needs somewhere like Florida, or it’s like all these planned sort of retirement communities in Florida, which has been like a major selling point for that state. But it’s so interesting because like, yeah, what if we just allowed that type of building? 

Alex Alexander  45:27

That type of building, right? We’re talking about townhomes, we’re talking about duplexes, and specifically when you are talking about elderly, I’m thinking of those, what is it? The shop on the bottom with the apartments on top, because then they can just walk down on their same street and have access to some of their every day places, things. Like I live on a street. Again, I live in the city. Within two blocks, I have a market, I have a coffee shop, I have a taco shop, there’s a little clothing store. There’s some hairdressers. So if I was somebody with limited mobility, that’s not me, but if I was within two blocks, I would have access to a lot of my every day needs. That’s what we’re talking about, like what if that could exist everywhere in the suburban places? Because the other alternative, like you’re saying is they get moved into a retirement home farther away, more dependent on a car, they can’t leave, they can’t do anything for themselves.

Nathan Allebach  46:29

And it’s so tricky, because the way a lot of these suburban neighborhoods have decayed over decades, it kind of creates this overwhelming sense of helplessness. And like, you know, well, we can’t change it overnight. And like, that’s true. I mean, like, you know, if you’re a person looking to retire right now or if you need to find a house as a young person right now, you can’t necessarily expect a town to dislike all of its social norms and political norms overnight to make these changes. But they do have to start somewhere. They start with local zoning, parking, permanent policies, local street design policies, like these are all things that have to be intentionally taken into account by local government officials, local stakeholders, like business owners, investors, developers, and so on. And then at the base of all that is just the local residents. Awareness. Residents have to be on board with what’s happening, because if they’re not, over time you just build out essentially just more polarization than there was before where they don’t feel like they’re part of what’s happening. It’s so tough, because that really is the crux of a lot of these issues is what we call in urban spaces the community input problem. Because community input definitionally, is basically just people like local residents that will go to city council meetings, or meet with public officials in some capacity to air their grievances. And I say grievances because 99% of time, that’s funny. Like it’s not usually people with great ideas for like something new. It’s usually like a complaint about…

Alex Alexander  48:07

But somebody could show up and say they appreciate the changes, though, by clause, you could also do that, people.

Nathan Allebach  48:13

Precisely, and those changes go so far, because public officials are just constantly, no matter where you live, they’re just constantly and it’s like social media. They’re inundated with like the worst people complaining about the worst things constantly. So it’s interesting, because historically, those community input meetings have been essentially the cause of a lot of these issues. Because as places like suburban neighborhoods, self segregated via class, and along single use land lines, where you had, again, like just places that you could only build single family homes, and the only people who could afford this single family homes were white people, and for a long time, they were the only ones who could legally live there prior to those laws being repealed. So when you think about how, over time, like after the Civil Rights Movement, when a lot of these laws were repealed, and you had different families of color, trying to integrate into the suburbs, the first thing that people in the suburbs did was tape to the city council’s and the public officials and be like, we don’t want black people in our neighborhood. We don’t want these changes, and there’s just so much documented history. You know, you’ve got cases where, you know, white families or white neighbors would fill in public pools with cement, you know, to prevent black families from participating in that third place environment because they just didn’t want to integrate with them. There’s tons and tons of cases of this. So like, historically, there’s always been a racial element and class element. When you think about I don’t know, like a given city council meeting in your town, if you look at your town’s website right now and see, when the next meeting is, they’re often at the worst times. I mean, sometimes they’re at 2pm. Sometimes they’re 8pm. It’s just like, when you think about the people who have the time and the resources to show up, it typically is the most affluent people who have nothing else to do. They got endless time on their calendars to just show up and complain and make their voices heard. So it’s difficult, not impossible, but difficult to organize at the local level. But I think when you look at a lot of the national movements, since maybe like 2018-19, especially the past couple years, it’s been picking up, you look at the zoning reforms and the parking reforms that have happened in cities across North America, it starts with that. And then it starts with grassroots movements of people organizing, not just to show up at city council meetings, but you know, writing emails to their public officials, you know, creating Facebook groups to aggregate this information out, doing newsletters. Like there’s tons of other ways to get involved and to try to start the process. Because the reality is, I’ve seen this several times, even just in towns near where I live, the reality is that people no matter what the change is, no matter how empirically beneficial it might be, there’s gonna be people that complain and people that hate it, and people that don’t want it. But then once it’s normalized, like once the thing like… let’s say a road closes itself off to cars, or maybe they removed some parking spaces and put a bike lane there or something, once the thing is normalized for six months, for a year for two years, eventually, all the naysayers just go away and it becomes the new normal. That’s also I think, important to remember, because there’s a top down and a bottom up approach to this stuff where you can’t let the tyranny of the majority necessarily steer discourse around it. But I think it is important to win over hearts and minds as much as you can, you know, so people feel bought in to the reforms as they come through? 

Alex Alexander  51:58

I think there’s definitely like, an emotional undercurrent piece of this, when you start talking about the connection and the lonely. Like, why? What would you give up to feel connected to people again? And we’ll talk about that later.

PODCAST EPISODE! Do you know the definition of loneliness? What about the 3 types of loneliness? In order to solve a problem we need to know what we are battling. Listen Here.

Nathan Allebach  52:10

Exactly. Would you give up a parking spot?

Alex Alexander  52:13

Would you give up that to not feel, they say this on… all the time. My DMs are like a confessional. I hear the saddest stories from people, like the loneliness epidemic is real. So people make choices based on feelings quite often. What would you give up to not feel this way anymore? What would you give up to have a place where you knew your neighbors? That’s my question to you all people listening to this podcast. Now, you’ve mentioned a lot of things off-hand that people can do, and I kind of made a list. So let’s see how my list is. And maybe you have some stuff to add to it. As far as making a change, bringing third places back, some things I wrote down. Zoning and parking laws. You want to give us like an explanation… oh, my gosh, I know how passionate you are about this. So you could probably like to talk about this for three hours alone?

Nathan Allebach  53:09

Yeah, I’ll try to keep it brief. There’s a handful of like… there’s… I mean, when you think about zoning laws and how they’ve evolved in the past 50 years, it is actually ludicrous. Like when you think about… think about your favorite European city or city somewhere, like an old part of the world, that city was built without zoning laws, you know? And granted, there are issues with the cities, obviously, like there’s accessibility issues. It’s not like people 100 or 500 years ago, were building places with people in wheelchairs in mind. So they’re not without flaw for sure. But there are things that we’ve obviously liked that, that we’ve learned to adapt, when you think about the way new buildings are constructed, where we know we’re doing at this point with ramps and elevators, or whatever it might be to ensure that accessibility. When you think from the advent of zoning laws to now, we’re talking about towns and cities with books that maybe start with 5 or 15 pages of laws. And now you’re looking at 2000-3000 pages, like just obscene amounts of laws that make it incredibly, incredibly difficult to just build anything other than what the status quo is. And some of the most common ones that people probably aren’t aware of, would be single family zoning, which is the one that we’ve been talking about this whole show, which is the idea that only single-family homes are legally allowed to be built on a parcel of land. That’s one of the most common ones in North America. You’ve got setback requirements, which is another super common one where if you want to build a house, let’s say it’s along a street, you are legally required to build that house maybe 20 or 30 feet back from teh street. So when you think about like, maybe some old… I live outside of Philadelphia. So you think about some of the historic alleys in Philadelphia and how they’re absolutely gorgeous and they’re tourist destinations with really narrow streets, with trees, and you can walk right out your front door and you’re just already in the street for people to walk and spend time. That type of building is illegal in the vast majority of North America. And if you want to build something like that, you need to get an ordinance, which could take months, it could cost you 1000s, or 10s of 1000s of dollars, we’re in delays for construction. Another really common one would be minimum lot size and square footage requirements. So again, I got a buddy of mine is looking for a house right now. And the town he wants to buy in, there was this parcel of land, really tight parcel of land, like not a huge, maybe like a third of an acre, something like that. And if he was allowed legally to build a smaller house on that piece of land, he could have bought it and would have been able to afford to live there. But the local minimum lot size requirements… so it had to be at least 1400 square feet on that piece of land. So you think about like, not everybody needs 1400 square feet of housing to live in. So there’s laws like that all over the place that require certain size houses to get built, which is essentially decimated what used to be known as the starter home. When you think about smaller ranchers and styles of houses like Cape Cod’s that really just don’t exist anymore in terms of new development. So…

Alex Alexander  56:29

The single family home also doesn’t allow any townhouses, mixed use anything like that, like none of that other stuff we talked about, can exist there.

Nathan Allebach  56:38

Exactly. When you think about like, again, using my own sort of area as an example, there’s a suburb next door I live and there were signs. I don’t think they’re there anymore. They were there on the road for about a year that were protesting the new development that was going in, they would say… the signs that say ‘No more high density’. Like say no high density, we’re meeting City Council tonight, whatever. The high density they were talking about was literally clusters of triplexes and duplexes. So that is what people have come to. Not even mixed-use, just straight-up residential clusters of duplexes and and these are granted again, mind yo, brand new homes. Like these are, you know, something that you would see falling apart from the 1960s. So, yeah, you got those ones. And then the other big one that I often talk about is parking mandates. These are referred to as minimum parking requirements where you know, if you want to build a house, or if you want to open a business, laws and every US city require some percentage of that land go to parking, depending on the square footage of the house, or depending on the occupancy of the business. So a great example of this, there was this brand new pizza shop going into the town where I work. It’s an awesome historic downtown, a lot of great, dense urban fabric to it. And the company, the shop that was going in was renovating this whole mixed use strip to make it happen. They were already like three quarters of the way through when they got hit with this parking law where the inspector came in, and they’re like, “Hey, occupancy for this building is 144 people.” I want to say it was. The law on the books was requiring 1.5 parking space… no, no sorry, 0.5 parking spaces for every person in there. They would have needed somewhere around 70 parking spaces for that to be in accordance with the law. And there were literally no… like there was no law, like it was a mixed use strip of downtown’s. There’s nowhere to put a lot. And they just went back to the township. And they’re like, “Look, we’re renovating this building. Like it’s gonna bring business and there’s street parking on every corner of this town, we have four spots behind the building. That’s all we got.” And the town was just like, whatever. We’ll make it happen, because construction was almost done at that point, they might have got fined a little bit. That it was like five years ago. I’ve never heard a single person complain about parking. At this place, people always find a spot, you might have to walk a block or two blocks to get to this pizza shop. But at the end of the day, if you’re a business or you’re a homeowner, why should that law be imposed on you, if one, say you don’t own a car, or say you live in a downtown area that has access to transit or you bike to work or something, and you just don’t need it? You know, so it’s like, all these laws in sort of conjunction with each other, they create a legal environment or unless you have a huge amount of capital to transcend them and to override them and to petition them over weeks or months or even years of time, you’re just not going to do it. So you’re just going to conform to whatever, you know… you’re just gonna build the single family home, you’re just going to build the parking lot, you know, and all of that just continually perpetuates the car centric development pattern we’re talking about here where if you want to build a town or a neighborhood that’s conducive to third places and places that you want to walk to, bike to, spend time in, you can’t really do that when your entire neighborhood or town is completely centered around cars, as the main form of transportation. It is a land use issue.

Alex Alexander  1:00:19

Yeah. And there’s like… there’s layers to this, obviously. So you can change the zoning laws, you can allow reforms in place, you can allow duplexes, triplexes, whatever, let’s say in my neighborhood. But then there might be a law in place that says that for every unit, there needs to be two parking spaces available. So that is their barrier, they no longer can build that because they can’t do that. Again, I live in Seattle. So buying the land for these parking spaces not only takes away from the opportunity to maybe actually just build a second building for people to live in. But it’s too expensive. They can’t do it. And so, that just falls by the wayside. And I’m just pointing that out. Because this really is a problem that people need to be paying attention to in general and see that there are layers of it. And you can’t just knock down one thing. You have to stay actively engaged to voting out multiple.

Nathan Allebach  1:01:19

This was the exact case I believe that was in Minneapolis during 2020. I think that was the year that… it might have been 2019 that they reformed their zoning to allow duplexes, triplexes up to fourplexes on any plot of land in the city. And it obviously made huge headlines. They’re a major city to do this. It was the exact thing that you just said, I believe, that they didn’t repeal their parking mandates. So they were used in a lot of NIMBY. And when I say NIMBY, I mean, not in my backyard, folks who are basically opposed to literally everything Alex and I are talking about. So a lot of NIMBYs used that use case about a year after the laws were reformed to be like, “Well, look, not a ton of housing got built the past year since they reformed this law.” And everybody pointed out exactly what you just said, which is like, okay, well, they legally allowed you to build it. If you’re a developer, or homeowner, you could build a duplex if you want. But now you’re running into this other permitting issue where you’re mandated for parking, essentially. It’s a whole slew and they’ll all feed into each other. And that’s why you know, it’s important, those are the big ones I would say is that like, single-family zoning, and parking mandates are the main ones. I think things like minimum lot size requirements and setback requirements, they would fall like dominoes much easier if you can manage those first two issues. A lot of it again, it’s just like, it’s centered around norms. So once you start, like, develop those new norms, and you start to show people what is possible with it, those other things can change, especially just at the local official level. Like if local officials feel like it’s a winning policy proposition to then repeal or reform a zoning law, or whatever it might be, and it’s winning, and their constituents feel good about it, they’re going to be much more likely to then just repeal those other old zoning laws or permitting laws or parking laws or whatever it might be. That’s also preventing the development from happening.

Alex Alexander  1:03:23

Just one domino at a time, that’s what we’re working hard towards. I mean, I get it, people are gonna listen to this and be like, “Wow, this is an overwhelming problem.” It is. That’s why there are vast movements trying to talk about it. The other two things I had written down our transit, which I think is pretty self explanatory. We’re gonna be a little less dependent on cars, we need to make it easier for people to be able to move around. And then the other one was accessibility. So paying attention to laws and city council regulations, when it comes to sidewalks and ramps, the ability to again, move around from one place to another when you don’t have a car.

Nathan Allebach  1:04:08

For both of those things in my mind, I’ve kind of come around to this point, I didn’t start here, but like, what I’ve come to realize is that fundamentally, most people across the political spectrum, when they think about how to build better places, a good sort of starting point within all this is just to think about how to build more economically productive places. Like places that not only generate more tax revenue for like the city to then have the money to do these things, but also just places that are more conducive to just being productive and having people spend time there, patron small businesses that are there, and all that. Because if you can start at that point, that’s going to then create a sort of ripple effect for a lot of these other issues. You know, like when you think about what it costs to build new sidewalks or what it costs to build, maybe like some sort of handicap accessibility feature, whether it’s like a ramp or a railing, or putting more benches, places like that people can sit along like a path or something like that. Or even just when you think about street design features like mid-block crossings, or speed bumps or curb bump outs, where it kind of narrows the road so that pedestrians have more visibility to cross the street. All of these things, ultimately, when you think about, like how they get proposed to a given town or city will come down to budget and demand. So when it comes down to an individual person’s passion or interest in all this, I think, we have to figure out depending on your town, or your city or your neighborhood, what is the thing that you can change right now? And what is the thing that needs to be changed right now? And how can you get your neighbors and your friends sort of activated around that. And I think when you start with small things, they can very? easily bubble up and become seeds, essentially for bigger change. Because I think about like what’s often referred to as tactical urbanism, which is basically like a form of guerrilla activism that people will do in their neighborhoods, it could be something impermanent, like, you might put out like a temporary speed bump on a neighborhood street to slow down traffic. And then through that, you might get neighbors talking about like, “Who put that there? Why is that there?” And then start to talk to other parents and be like, “Hey, you know, like, our kids are out here playing. I’ve seen cars going 45 miles an hour down this neighborhood street, would love to slow traffic.” Starting that conversation, seeing how it goes, and then eventually raising the eyebrows of a public official enough to be like, “Yeah, you know what? Maybe we need to do something to slow the traffic on that street.” There’s so many things like that, that different organizations advocate for. There’s an organization in LA, I think it’s called Crosswalks LA. They basically, on their own, it’s just like, it’s like a nonprofit, just group of activists. I don’t think it’s a nonprofit, I literally think it’s just volunteer activists. Like they’re not taking donations or anything to my knowledge, they literally just go to intersections that don’t have crosswalks, and they paint crosswalks. So it’s created a ton of buzz in LA, where the LA Department of Transportation has actually started to remove them, which then even created more buzz, because then residents are like, “Well, you guys were taking yours, or you had no intentions of putting these safety measures on our streets. Now somebody did it for free. Like it didn’t even cost any taxpayer dollars and it looks good. Now, why are they getting removed?” You know, so it’s actually been putting pressure on the T dots, and local public officials to do something about that. So there’s lots of different ways. And that’s more tactical stuff. So it’s not… maybe not everybody wants to be a disrupter on that level. But there’s other things you can go to city governments with propositions, whether it be planting street trees, or advocating for public art, or wanting to get new seating, like benches, and stall places. These are things like, you can even start with just one person. But it’s especially great if you got 3 or 5 or 10 people who are on board with this. And you can either go to an in person meeting, or CC them in an email to public officials, and just get the conversation started. Because that’s literally how all this stuff gets done. Like it starts, like, you know, the snowfall becoming an avalanche type of thing, right? It’s like you have to have some form of demand for that change. Eventually, it catches wind. And eventually, the bigger stuff follows. Of course, there are organizations doing the bigger work like you mentioned before. There’s an organization called parking reform network that is tracking like all the different reforms to parking laws across North America. I do work for an organization called Strong Town. They’re one of the bigger ones that is just mostly like a media advocacy organization that just pushes for writing and podcasts and videos and all this stuff around. So there’s lots of groups out there that are doing everything from awareness to public policy, to guerrilla tactics. It’s really just about figuring out individually or locally with residents like what makes the most sense for your town or your neighborhood and just starting because that’s really the thing that I think is the most difficult for most people. It’s just actually doing the work. 


10 Friendship Belief Reframes Cover and screenshots of pages


Reinvigorate your friendships and learn how to create stronger ones by incorporating my Top Friendship Reframes into your life. BONUS! An exclusive look at my upcoming book. Want to bring more purpose and value to the relationships that matter to you? Download the guide now. 

Alex Alexander  1:09:43

Well, and I would say to anybody listening to this, because we do need to wrap up this episode. Unfortunately, I say that because I would love to keep talking about this. Listening to this is even just a step, right? Building awareness for yourself, maybe sharing this episode with somebody else going to seek out Nathan’s content, maybe following one of those organizations he mentioned, I follow Strong Towns, and slowly building up this conversation. If you hopefully get involved or get involved in local politics, talk to local businesses about this, there’s so many ways you can do it. But the beginning is just paying attention. And this has been a great place for people to start. Nathan, I want to thank you so much for coming on here. I think that this discussion about third places is so important for people who are starting to pay attention to their social wellness and their connections. And social wellness and connections is such a layered issue. A lot of people listening to this podcast probably didn’t know we were going to be talking about local politics. Like, I don’t have a podcast where we just talk about, like, how to make friends? No, that’s not what this is. We really try and dive into the issues. And I can have the depth of knowledge in all these areas. So I’m just so grateful to you for coming on here and sharing your depth of knowledge.

Nathan Allebach  1:11:09

No, I really appreciate the time. Alex, it’s been fun chatting with you. Yeah, like I say, on my TikTok, all these things feed into each other. You know, like, if you’re someone who is interested and passionate about rebuilding third places in our society, there’s very intentional concrete laws, policies that go into that. When we talk about land use regulations, it’s like the most boring thing. Like, it’s not something that excites people, you know, it’s not like we’re… we’re not like fighting racism, or talking about immigration, or gun rights or whatever. Like, there are all these hot button issues, right, that like get people fired up to argue and go to the mat for and when you talk about, zoning reform and parking reform, it’s not a sexy topic. But I think, you know, when you look at the most successful cities, both in North America and just around the world, they share all these features. I mean, go to any downtown, go to any historic district, go to any major city, think about the things that make those places great. And quickly, you start to realize, like, wow, okay, there are mixed uses here. There’s people living here right next to where they shop, you know, there are safe streets for people to walk around. They’re sharing the road, with cars, and people riding bicycles and taking transit. There’s.. like you said, there’s accessibility for people with different modes of transportation, and different abilities. And all these things, they fit into each other. And they are a result of intentional policy decisions that are almost always dictated at the local level. It’s very rare that we see statewide or national reforms when it comes to how to design streets or legalize certain houses. Like it’s a very… for better or worse, it’s a very localized issue. Like I say in my videos, I mean, if we want to… we want third places to thrive again, you need walkable communities to do that. So if you think about how do we get walkable communities? Well, this is where we start. So I appreciate you letting me ramble and your passion for the topic and social well-being with all this is super key to the conversation. So it’s been fun.

Alex Alexander  1:13:24

I couldn’t agree more. Thanks, Nathan. How we feel? Like you just took an entire college course? Because that’s how I felt at the end of this interview. I learned so much. And this is already a topic I had read up about quite a bit. So thank you, Nathan, for taking the time, for sharing your wisdom with all of us. I would imagine that there are a number of people who listen to this episode, and we’ll go back and re-listen so they can take notes on the various topics, the places you want to get involved, the things you want to be watching out for. Now, we tried to accumulate as many of the resources as possible in the show notes. So head on down to those to find some links. And most importantly, go give Nathan a follow. Stay in tune, stay in touch with the idea of walkable communities and third places by following him or any of the other organizations that he posts about. Because again, the first step to changing this is awareness. And luckily, we live in a world with social media and access to people who can help give us the information that we need to start leaning in our own communities and making an impact. With that, see you next week. 

Podcast Intro/Outro  56:56

Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.

Profile Photo for Alex Alexander a blonde haired white woman smiling at the camera. She is in her 30s with her hair down and curled and wearing a grey sweater.

Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

Ask questions, leave comments, share critiques or give advice. All are welcome.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

Every new episode... straight to your inbox.

We don’t like SPAM either.