Tim McDonald, Onion Flats—Philadelphia, PA

Onion Flats

‘I come at it from an architect’s perspective.’

Tim McDonald runs Onion Flats with his three partners. Trained as an architect, Tim co-founded the Philadelphia-based design-build firm alongside his brother. “As a developer,” he says, “every project I’ve ever done has been an opportunity to explore something. I’m a design-driven developer, and I come at it from an architect’s perspective.”

As as Northern Liberties Zoning Committee Member

Map: Northern Liberties

Tim’s a longtime member of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA) Zoning Committee, so I begin by asking: What’s it like to work with other developers, while in your role as a community member? Continue reading “Tim McDonald, Onion Flats—Philadelphia, PA”

Machinebrain & Gardenbrain

Gardens of Democracy

I was quite excited to see Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau list The Gardens of Democracy as one of his two favorite nonfiction titles. This under-sung little book has deeply influenced how Brian and I think about urban development, using a concept called “Gardenbrain”. Here’s hoping that a big shout-out from Canada’s “little potato” will help get the word out.

The book has helped us frame the importance of exploring the culture of real estate development. In other words, it’s more than markets and regulation that influence developers. Think to your own work: are you just a puppet of money and power? You might concede that you’re also a bundle of feelings and dreams, deeply influenced by the people around you.


The thrust of the book is that, whether we support free-market libertarianism or careful government regulations, most ideologies today view our jobs as citizens to be the task of agreeing on the “machine” that will output the best possible society. In urban development, this reflects our heavy focus on regulators, code, and financing to create the cities that we want to live in. The authors call this form of thinking “Machinebrain”. Continue reading “Machinebrain & Gardenbrain”