Is Bicycling Without Separated Bicycle Paths “Suicidal”?

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 18, 2018

Someone responded recently to an essay I wrote. My essay mentioned the fact that the US has the lowest levels of bicycling in the world. He claimed that this low level was due to the fact that it is “suicidal” to bike when there are no separated bicycle paths.

As an asice, bicycle paths that are physically separated from the street, in contrast to bicycle lanes, which are in-street bicycle routes separated by car travel lanes by a painted white stripe.

My response…

I’m not sure why a person would consider bicycling on streets rather than on separated bike paths is “suicidal”?

I have been a bicycle commuter for about 50 years (about 2-6 bike rides every day during that time, and almost never on a separated path. I have never had a close call with a motor vehicle in all that time. In addition, I have been working academically and professionally in bicycle transportation for about 35 years, and know from that work the following: bicycling is far safer than most people realize (which confirms my own personal experience). I have long known a great many friends who are both motorists and who have ridden a bike without separated paths.

Of the friends who were killed in road crashes, nearly all of them have been killed while driving a car than riding a bike (admittedly, this is anecdotal). However, the data supports that anecdotal observation. For example, your life expectancy is longer if you are a bike commuter rather than a car commuter, and not only because you are more healthy.

My 35 years of academic and professional work also shows that separated bike paths are not an important limiting factor in the number of people who choose to become bike commuters. Even if it were, almost no city can afford to install a comprehensive system of off-street paths, and without such a system, paths are of little use to the bike commuter.

Much more important limiting factors in how many people choose to travel by bicycle are density of housing, retail and offices (a measure of how compact the community happens to be), distance to destinations, and available free parking for motorists. Each of those factors are enormous barriers to widespread bicycling in the US, due to the very low levels of compact density, the relatively large distances to destinations, and the enormous amount of free car parking provided in US cities.

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Stopping Growth in Boulder, Colorado

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 18, 2018

I will always remember a planning professor I had back in college who was enraged by the common thought many residents have in US cities: “I moved to this town. You can pull up the ladder now!”

In these sorts of conversations, I notice how common it is for many to not understand basic economic and development issues.

In the American legal and economic system, elected council members (and their professional staff) are almost entirely reactive. Council members almost never (if ever) proactively “invite” a business to move to town (particularly in Boulder).

Instead, it is the business that makes the decision about whether it is sufficiently desirable to locate a business in the town (such a decision is based on the quality of the workforce and the quality of life — both of which are very high in Boulder).

That business decision can also be influenced by taxes, fees, and development regulations, but if the quality of life and workforce is high enough, those things are unlikely to dissuade a business.

Therefore, to be somewhat proactive in reducing jobs (or slowing “growth”), Boulder should lower its quality of life and urge well-educated residents to leave (does anyone want to use that strategy?). I for one enjoy living in a community that has such a high quality of life and quality workforce that many quality businesses seek to be here (despite rather high fees and taxes, and strong regulations). Their wanting to be here is a strong sign that it is wonderful to live here. And that we have quality people living here.

It also needs to be pointed out that due to such things as the US Constitution, communities have little or no legal ability to stop growth. That may be why no US city has EVER stopped growth (a great many US citizens — not just in Boulder — would like their city to stop growth).

Given all of this, it seems unfair to blame city council members for inviting businesses to locate in Boulder (they don’t) or to blame them for not stopping population growth (they don’t have a legal means to do so).

One tragic aspect of the obsessive efforts in Boulder to STOP GROWTH, or failing that, to at least MINMIZE DENSITY, is that there is very strong evidence that higher densities catalyze higher levels of innovation in the community (not to mention the many significant benefits that higher density, more compact development delivers with regard to transportation, social health, public health, environmental health, and economic health). What this means, in essence, is that those in Boulder who have succeeded in putting a brake on innovation, reducing population growth, and minimizing development density have made innovation, transportation, social and public health, environmental health, and financial health much worse in Boulder.

As an aside, Boulder does slow growth rather effectively. But not because anything the City does directly. Growth is slower than it would be because relatively few people can now afford to live in Boulder.

As has been suggested previously, I have to wonder how many of those who complain about the 60,000 car commuters each day are themselves car commuters? And how many realize that lifestyle and travel choices allows one to be much less bothered by those 60,000 car commuters? (because in-town, car-lite living is much more affordable than remote suburban, car-heavy living)

How many realize that because the City Council has little if any ability to control which businesses move here or how many people move here, time is much better spent by citizens and City Council to work on adopting or revising existing development and transportation regulations and policies so that when the nearly inevitable growth of people and businesses comes to Boulder in the coming decades, we will have controls in place that will ensure the growth occurs in ways that enhance Boulder rather than degrade it.

In my opinion, Boulder has been so single-mindedly focused on trying to stop growth that it has been too distracted to work on adopting needed regulations and policies.

Which, by the way, are rather out of date.

 

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Is Walkable Design Possible in Our Age?

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 5, 2018

The question of walkability in our time is an enormous dilemma. On the one hand, designing for easier and cheaper car travel (which is politically essential in pretty much all US cities) is a zero-sum game. When we do that, we inevitably make places that are too dangerous, car-scaled, unpleasant, inequitable and dispersed for walkability (not to mention for bicycling and transit).

Providing bike lanes, sidewalks, or quality transit does very little to counteract those things. But adding such facilities is common, not because it is effective, but because it is politically easy.

On the other hand, to create the relatively high residential densities needed for viable, walkable retail (ie, retail with a neighborhood consumer-shed, rather than a regional consumer-shed) is nearly impossible in pretty much all US cities.

In too many cases, new urban neighborhoods are created in a vacuum. Too often, that is, they are not built at an important travel crossroads where retail and compact residential has historically been viable due to the high traffic levels such places naturally draw. By not locating in a place that contains a crossroads, a new urban neighborhood must somehow establish powerful “destination” retail — retail that is such a draw that community members are willing to go out of their way to regularly visit such a place.

And this is very difficult to achieve and sustain.

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Opposition to More Housing or Better Urbanism

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 19, 2019

Often, but not always, opposition to compact development (or more housing) comes from folks who either don’t like cities or don’t have a good understanding of what makes for healthy, safe, sustainable, diverse, convenient, choice-rich cities.

Other opposition, understandably, is based on the many of us who are appalled by the many newer buildings which are too often unlovable, boxy, jarring, look-at-me modernist architecture.

Still others oppose more housing because they believe that such development will make their car-based lifestyle more costly and difficult (a concern that is more suburban than walkable urban). But in a healthy town center, it SHOULD be costly and inconvenient for space-hogging, high speed motorists.

I’ve never been enthusiastic about “educating” people about the benefits of compact urbanism (such as adding more housing). I think there are different strokes for different folks, and that we should equitably accommodate all lifestyle choices (even suburban choices), as long as people choosing such lifestyles are paying their fair share. Of course, this is rarely the case with suburban lifestyles, which tend to be far more heavily subsidized by the community than any other lifestyle.

There is a place for every form of lifestyle, but I insist that we need to let the urban town centers be urban, rather than be degraded by suburban (car-happy) values (ie, the values that deliver design elements that are toxic to walkable urbanism, such as excessive open space or building setbacks, low densities, wider and higher-speed roads, large surface parking lots, required parking, “horizontal skyscrapers,” and single-family zoning).

Too often, this toxic degradation harms town centers, as America is a very suburban society with suburban values. Even many who live in town centers have suburban values they wish to impose on the town center, which is unsurprising, given the many decades America has subsidized and enabled suburbanism.

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The Hidden Costs of Suburban Housing

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 25, 2018

People understandably assign value to being proximate to things they desire or need. Walkscore.com shows this quite well, as does the real estate values seen in central cities such as Manhattan. Not only do the per square foot costs of real estate tend to be higher due to proximity, but centrally-located real estate also tends to be more resilient in economic downturns. We saw that clearly in the 2007-8 housing crash, where land in the burbs crashed significantly and many in-town properties were hardly affected at all.

Therefore, the burbs offer a “false economy” in many cases. Lower per square foot costs means you can typically buy a lot more house in the burbs than in a town center. But there are many (mostly hidden) trade-off costs. You tend to pay less in the burbs for your home, but in exchange you must pay the costs of less convenience, less free time (due to longer times needed to get to places), less “social capital” (in other words, less interaction with others), poorer health (due to your not biking or walking as much in the burbs), much higher travel costs due to the need for a household to own more cars and use cars more often, and much more aggravation due to the inability to escape traffic congestion. In my mind, all of these mostly hidden costs in the burbs far outweigh per square foot savings for suburban homes.

In a well-functioning economy, buyers of suburban homes would clearly see the above-listed costs, which would reduce the (artificially high) demand for suburban housing. Likewise, there would be higher demand for town center homes if the mostly hidden benefits of such housing were easier to see.

Fortunately for our society, the younger generations are placing more value on town center living and less value on suburban living. Unfortunately, America has spent several decades mostly building suburban housing (partly due to artificially high demand), which means that pretty much all US cities now have far too much drivable suburban housing and far too little town center housing. This inflates the per square foot cost for town center housing. Therefore, American cities need to devote a lot of effort toward better balancing the supply and demand of walkable town center housing by building a lot more of it — partly by incrementally making a lot of suburban housing more compact and walkable. Increasing the supply of town center housing will eventually reduce the per square foot cost of it. This will be a major task in the coming decades. Plenty of demolition and renovation jobs are on the horizon.

I am not saying suburban housing will disappear or that no one will want it or that it should be prohibited. There are likely to always be people in our society who greatly value a lifestyle featuring a lot of driving, a lot of social isolation, large private greenspaces, large homes, etc. (they place so much value on such things that they compensate for the downside costs). For the sake of equity, however, such a lifestyle must be better coupled with suburban homeowners paying higher fees to compensate for the higher detrimental societal impacts their lifestyle imposes on the community.

It needs to be noted, too, that suburban development tends to be a Ponzi Scheme for cities. That is, their initial costs look attractive to elected officials, but cities tend to experience unaffordable, rising costs that suburban housing delivers over the long term — costs that are much higher than the relatively meager tax revenues that such lower-density housing produces. This helps explain why so many cities are severely suffering financially with things like road and bridge maintenance.

https://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme/

Communities need to grow the number of “YIMBYs” they have (YES in my backyard). That generally means the community needs a higher percentage of people who love cities (rather than drivable suburbs). This will be a slow process and take a lot of time, as cities have spent several decades cultivating and encouraging the values of suburbia. Therefore, even many who live in town centers are, oddly, holding suburban values.

Over time these suburban values will decline as such values have very little sustainable staying power (such a lifestyle is growing increasingly expensive, for example, for households and cities), and younger people with walkable values will constitute a growing percentage of the population.

Officials and staff can nudge communities to more quickly move toward having a higher percentage of citizens with walkable values by electing leaders who are willing and able to see to it that “on the ground” models of high quality walkable developments are created in the community. That allows people to “see with their own eyes and ears” how pleasant walkable design can be.

That can persuade a larger number of community residents to be amendable to walkable design, which then encourages developers to take advantage of that growing market by building more walkable developments. And gives elected officials more political courage to adopt walkable development regulations.

Elected folks can also show leadership by tweaking “price signals.” For example, leaders can adopt or increase parking fees, increase the gas tax, add a toll to roads, increase suburban impact fees, or adopt a land value tax. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax

Currently, almost all of our price signals are nudging people toward suburban lifestyles and value systems — mostly by pampering motorists and not having motorists pay their own way.

 

 

 

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Self-Perpetuating Doom

By Dom Nozzi

A superb, must-read article describing the grim, isolating future that a great many older Americans face appeared in the fall of 2018. The article noted that the suburban lifestyle will greatly diminish the ability for most seniors in the US to be able to make trips from their homes. They will, in effect, be trapped in their homes as they will be unable to visit friends, shop for food or other household needs, visit a doctor, or visit parks and cultural events.

Self-driving cars won’t be a remedy for a long time, if ever.

I have made many of the points in this article repeatedly over the years.

It is important to catch the point in the article that town planners do NOT have the ability to rectify this important crisis, as US planners have almost no power to implement effective tools. This is largely because most Americans are NIMBYs who fight aggressively to allow no change to their suburban lifestyle. In other words, planners are met with violent, raging opposition from citizens when tactics to escape this grim future are proposed. There is, for example, extreme opposition to more compact, dense development. More narrow, slower-speed street design. Retrofitting bicycling and walking paths. And mixing homes with offices and retail.

This is ultimately quite tragic, as many will regret their diminished lack of future travel independence.

As I have noted a number of times, I’m convinced that only a severe economic, environmental, climate or resource downturn will give us the kick in the ass we need to change. Unfortunately, it has also been said by someone else that throughout history, whenever a society had to choose between extinction (maintaining its lifestyle) or sustainability (thru making substantial changes in lifestyle), the society in question has ALWAYS chosen extinction.

What makes the extinction of the American way of life so likely is that unlike past societies, ours is uniquely locked into a self-perpetuating car-centric suburban land use pattern at the local level and the military-industrial complex at the federal level.

A recipe for essential reforms at the local level, once a severe kick in the pants emerges, includes…

Removal of required car parking requirements.

Elimination of conventional zoning-based codes with transect-based and form-based codes.

The use of more human-scaled dimensions for streets, intersections and building setbacks.

Putting many roads and intersections on diets (ie, removing excessive road lanes).

Replacing surface parking with buildings.

Replacing free parking and free roads with priced parking and priced roads

Unbundling the price of parking from the price of housing.

Requiring that employers offer employees parking cash-out.

Shifting to a land value tax (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax).

Adopting low design speed street geometries and ending the forgiving street design paradigm.

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Energy, Peak Oil, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

The Poison Pill of Requiring New and Relatively Affordable Housing to Provide Off-Street Parking

 

By Dom Nozzi

July 3, 2018

Eliminating parking requirements – and not just for smaller and more affordable housing – is being done by a large and growing number of cities, as doing so is a powerful way to achieve quite a few very important community objectives: walkable and compact urban form, much higher levels of transit/walking/cycling, achieving climate change goals, stormwater management, ecosystem protection, community equity, affordability, and safety…

It is incredibly unfair that the less wealthy subsidize the more wealthy – not to mention subsidizing motorists.

Shame on Boulder for dragging its feet on converting minimum parking requirements to maximum parking requirements. This parking reform should have been done at least 15-20 years ago. Even Gainesville FL – MUCH more conservative than Boulder – did so 20 years ago.

I am so disappointed and surprised by how much Boulder remains in the Dark Ages regarding transportation.

Much lip service is paid in Boulder about retaining small businesses or providing affordable housing. But the fact that Boulder has dragged its feet for so many years without taking such a no-brainer action makes it self-evident that Boulder is not serious about meaningfully striving to retain small businesses or correcting the extreme affordable housing crisis. Many in Boulder talk about these things but are not willing to take effective action to address.

Because required parking is often extremely costly to provide – particularly for smaller, more affordable properties, and particularly in Boulder, where land is crazy expensive, requiring parking as a condition for development approval is, in effect, a “poison pill” that makes the provision of affordable housing technically “legal” but in the real world financially impractical.

This state of affairs exemplifies a lack of leadership and a lack of being serious about promoting travel choice, affordable housing, and small businesses.

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Moses and Modernism and Motor Vehicles

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 14, 2018

After re-watching the Jane Jacobs documentary last night (Citizen Jane) about the epic battle by Jacobs to save New York City from Robert Moses and his ruinous, anti-city plans, this is part of what occurs to me, tragically:

A hundred years after the catastrophe of Le Corbusier (and the deadening, sterilizing disease of unlovable modernist architecture and “towers in a park” he brought to cities toall over the world), and 60 years after Robert Moses destroyed much of New York City with his “slum” clearance and Superhighways for Happy Cars, the large majority of architects, citizens, and Boulder City Council members are STILL strong proponents of “innovative” or “compelling” modernism – a modernism that prides itself in not fitting in with the neighborhood, designing “towers in the park,” and being cheerleaders for oversized happy-car roads.

Recent examples in Boulder: Boulder Junction, the senior housing project at 311 Mapleton, and what we here in Boulder are likely to get for the hospital redevelopment at Alpine/Broadway/Balsam.

I, on the other hand, side with Jane Jacobs. I am deeply depressed by how little people in Boulder (and elsewhere) know about or support the essential ingredients for a healthy, lovable, sustainable city: Slow speeds. Compact development. Timeless/classical architectural design. And human scale.

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An Important Cause of the “No Growth” Movement

By Dom Nozzi

December 11, 2018

Cities across the US – particularly cities such as Boulder, Colorado – have seen a significant rise in citizens aggressively fighting to stop growth. Terms such as NIMBY or No-Growther describe such people.

What are the origins of this movement?

I believe an important source originates with the car-happy world we have created, which is a self-perpetuating downward spiral in which a growing number of people find themselves obligated to be so car dependent. Cars consume a huge amount of space, 40 people BWwhich leads to significant inconvenience when other motorists are in one’s vicinity. You and your neighbors are jostling for elbow room with each of you owning and trying to maneuver a very large metal box. Therefore, such a lifestyle inevitably compels most such people to fight to either stop growth or at least minimize density and building height.

Because their car consumes so much space, motorists are also compelled to demand that the human scale in their community be replaced by an unsafe, unpleasant car scale (ie, oversized roads and parking lots). In other words, a great many people in a car-oriented society become their own worst enemies. They also tend to become enemies of what makes cities wonderful (compactness, sociability, slower speeds).

My question is this: Why do people who dislike cities choose to live in a city?

 

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The Failure and Unpopularity of Modernist Architecture

 

 

Audun Engh

Secretary, Council for European Urbanism. Co-Organiser, The European School of Urbanism and Architecture

Many modernist architects believe they are the representatives of the March of History, that modernism is a successful revolution of the 20th century, and that it is their obligation to defend this revolution, especially against any counter-revolutionary, reactionary attempts to reintroduce the defeated, deplorable architectural styles and urban design principles from before the functionalist/modernist inventions of the 1920s and 30s.

Architects can be experts at psychologically manipulating clients and the public to feel ashamed of their secret, personal preferences for traditional architecture. In an interview, the Norwegian architect and Pritzger Prize winner, Sverre Fehn said: “You have to smash the dreams of your client”.  The architectural establishment will laugh at any suggestions for a traditional design, or if that does not help,  attack aggressively or even use the legal system to ban traditional architecture (large new urban developments in Oslo have regulation plans requiring modernist architecture).

These control mechanisms are supported by an internal organization of the architectural establishment that has been compared by Nikos Salingaros to pseudo-religious cult movements. The techniques used include the initiation of young devotees in architecture schools, via ideological teaching programs (some would call them brainwashing), and the shaming and expulsion of traitors who question the hegemony of modernism (as many traditional architects have experienced – they are often victims of “Berufsverbot,” or effective professional disqualification).

The message from opinion polls, referendums and the housing market across Europe is that 70 – 90 % of the population prefers traditional architecture, if they are given a choice. …

You will find the domination of modernism in sectors where decisions on design are made by bureaucracies, experts and committees… People in these positions are more likely to abandon their personal aesthetic preferences in favor of what is “accepted,” “required” or “normal,” and design that will give them praise from the architectural profession and the cultural media. Developers are told that a mixed-use block structure is not “modern” and “of our time,” but mono-functional concrete slabs in a “park” setting are.

There is a lot of sociology at work here: People are given a clear message that acceptance of modernism will give access to the cultural establishment.  You could even get an award for being “bold” and “innovative.” Honesty regarding your true preference for traditional design will only result in ridicule and embarrassment.

A good example is the treatment of Prince Charles by architects and cultural journalists. As an unquestionable member of the elite, his opposition to modernism was of course dangerous. To prevent his message from infecting people high and low in society, it was regarded necessary to depict him as a ridiculous, reactionary figure, and a threat to social progress. Ten years ago there were signs that he had been “advised” to tone down his engagement in the architectural debate. But the last years he has returned, stronger than ever, with sustainability and public participation as new and very good arguments for traditional building and urban design…

For some reason, even after a sustained modernist campaign, the majority is still true to their aesthetic preferences in the private sphere (homes and summer houses) [for traditional design]. But within the financial elite we see clear signs of a tendency to prefer architectural design that will give you recognition from the cultural elite. Luckily, most people still care more about their personal well-being than the opinions of architects and critics in the cultural sections of newspapers.

But modernist ideologists are far from giving in: In Norway, the architectural establishment has recently started a campaign against the traditional design preferred by most people when they are in charge (building a house for oneself and even paying for it). We now have government-funded programs to educate the population in the blessings of “innovative” architecture, combined with the labeling of traditional design as pastiche, nostalgic, not of our time, copies of a society that no longer exists, etc.

Modernism is replacing Lutheranism as the Norwegian State Ideology.

… Bologna in the City Hall of Oslo, the curator, Gabriele Tagliaventi, shocked people by saying in his speech that the 20th century had been plagued by three totalitarian, Utopian ideologies; fascism, communism and modernism, and that it was about time to expose and dethrone the only one still in power, modernism. Even some traditional architects thought Tagliaventi went too far. But he was right. To repair the catastrophic destruction of the European urban and cultural landscape in the 20th century, by war and modernism, and build all the new sustainable urban settlements needed, we will have to expose the responsibility of modernist ideology, especially in urban planning, reintroduce education in well-proven design skills, and empower local communities and the end users of architecture. Modernism should be reduced to the position it deserves: A failed ideology, but also an architectural style that should compete on equal terms with other styles on the market place.
Andres Duany

3/19/01 New Urbanist Listserve

Given only one chance to bet, I would place it on traditional architecture. The basic win-loss ratio is simply much better. I understand and appreciate the 3000 or so modernist masterpieces as well as anyone (some people argue that a rigorous interpretation would yield no more than 300 masterpieces).

What I can’t abide are the concomitant 30 million (or so) modernist buildings of “regrettable” quality that have destroyed the world’s cities and marred landscapes that looked just fine with traditional buildings. There are so few good modernist buildings that when asked to visit one, it usually requires a long time to think of one, and some substantial distance to travel. To find a bad modernist building it is usually possible to stay put and turn your head a bit. On the other hand, to find a bad traditional building requires real research. The ratio is utterly lopsided. In no other endeavor would such a dismal record be tolerated. A lawyer losing cases at that rate would have no clients, and a doctor would be considered a mass murderer, but architecture is somehow exempt from that sort of assessment.

To me, it is a simple win-loss ratio. When given the chance, I bet on the likely winner.

Dan Zack

7/25/02 New Urbanist Listserve

…architects can attract street life, thus contributing to safety, by making their buildings interesting through ornamentation. Pedestrians tend to neglect streets that are boring. Modernist architects generally hate ornamentation and often have little desire to create something that is interesting to the pedestrian, opting instead for something that looks exciting for half a mile away and stands as a totem to their “genius” rather than creating something that embraces the street and the pedestrian. A blank wall of glass, concrete, or even marble just doesn’t cut it.

It doesn’t matter if the architecture is Victorian, or Beaux Arts, or Mediterranean, or Art Deco. I guess you could even accomplish the desired effect with Modernism, but that would require following some rules—and modernist architects HATE rules. If the architect breaks these rules, and fronts the sidewalk with blank walls, focuses all of the apartments inward on a courtyard, and sticks the ground level merchants deep within the building accessed through a mall-like setting rather than through storefronts accessed from the sidewalk then he isn’t contributing to city safety, and in fact may be damaging it.

Michael Mehaffey

4/12/09 New Urbanist Listserve

In the quest for sustainability… and summarizing some of the science on the ecological weaknesses of much neo-modernist design…

Large smooth surfaces.   These expanses do not age well over time; small dents and accumulations of dirt detract significantly from the pristine aesthetic at birth.  At worst, such structures can become blighted and obsolete, and may have to be torn down prematurely.  At best they require frequent, costly and energy-consuming maintenance. Presented to the public realm, they can be exceedingly anti-urban, and disruptive of the pedestrian realm.

Long unbroken lines, angles and joints.  Again, these do not age well and slight imperfections over time show up disproportionately, requiring excessive maintenance and repair — or, just as bad, suffer a decline in perceived value and appeal.  That is clearly not a desirable occurrence when one is seeking sustainability over time.  Another potential problem is that the high typical tolerances can be very expensive to produce accurately.  A feature that was originally intended to reduce costs (minimalism) can in fact have the opposite effect.

Glass curtain walls.  Even with the most energy-efficient assemblies, the insulation value of these is a fraction of solid assemblies.

Large-scale, deep-plan buildings.  These limit daylight and natural ventilation, sever connections with the outside, and disrupt urban connectivity.

Large-scale sculptural objects.  One key problem is that such structures are difficult to modify and adapt to new uses.   This means that obsolescence is more likely if conditions or fashions change – not a very ideal strategy if one is seeking resilience and sustainability.

Tall buildings.  Not exclusively a modernist type, but certainly embraced by modernism, they have a number of serious drawbacks: high exposure of exteriors to sun and wind, high ratio of exteriors to common interior walls, tendency to promote heat island effects (which increases cooling demands), inefficient floorplates due to egress requirements, excessive shading of adjacent buildings, undesirable wind effects at ground, high embodied energy in construction, and expensive, high-energy maintenance.   Tall residential buildings have also been criticized on social grounds as forming, in effect, “vertical gated communities” – isolated pods that do little to activate the street or energize the larger urban network.  While they can provide helpful density, there are more efficient low-rise forms that can deliver suitable densities too.

Reinforced concrete structures; steel frame structures.  Both concrete and steel have high embodied energy and high associated carbon emissions from manufacture.   The more exotic modernist structures – very tall buildings, very large cantilevers, complex shell structures and the like – have a proportionately high reliance on these high-energy materials.

Limited morphologies of repetition, abstraction, uniformity, and the large scale. Recent cognitive studies have shown that the minimalist form language of modernism, while of interest to other architects and making for dramatic photos in magazines, can be annoying or even stressful to ordinary people going about their daily activities.  More research is needed in this area, but there is enough evidence to warrant a much more precautionary approach.

Steve Mouzon

12/10/08 New Urbanist Listserve

By insisting that buildings be lovable by the citizens as a whole, the “Original Green” concept repudiates most Modernist buildings without ever using the words “tradition,” “revival,” “history,” etc. Rather, it gets to the root of the issue: why is it that most Modernist buildings are not loved by the people who live nearby? And, why would you want to design in a way that your buildings will not be loved?

By insisting that buildings be durable, it repudiates most of what we build today, which is designed only to last the length of the mortgage. This includes entire palettes of materials that have long been favored by Modernists, but which perform poorly over time.

Steve Mouzon

11/25/05 New Urbanist Listserve

A tradition begins as a great idea by a single person, who then builds the idea. If the built idea resonates with enough other people (“I care what the people think”) they repeat it and it becomes a local pattern. Loved enough by the regional culture, the local pattern becomes a part of the regional tradition. That which is traditional is therefore that which is most worthy of love. And that tradition lasts for as long as the conditions that created it remain relatively constant, whether only for years or for as long as millennia. It’s not a yearning for something past… it’s a physical manifestation of something working IN THE LONG RUN. Isn’t that what we’re [new urbanists] all about?

Things that work in the long run? That which is most intensely “of our time” today is BY DEFINITION the most quickly outdated tomorrow.

One of the fatal flaws of the Modernists (big “M”… I’m a modern architect, but not a Modernist architect) is their insistence on all things being new. Because in their view you’ve sold your soul if you create forms ever seen before, they have no honorable way of maintaining a tradition, or even of starting one. They are incapable, to be blunt. And here’s where that gets really cancerous for the big-M Modernists: the “never-seen-before” dictum has a dark underbelly, which is that the easiest way to produce something never seen before is to produce something that you’re certain regular people will hate.

So you find the things that obviously resonate with people (head-shaft-base arrangement of the human body, variable bilateral symmetry of the human body, proportions of the ideal human body, buildings that reflect the law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, etc.), and then you design buildings that fly in the face of those principles. Not every Modernist who ever practiced intended that their work spit in the face of the average person, but it’s clearly the quickest, most efficient way to follow the Dictum.

The bottom line is that the SOLE reason that the New Urbanists could go to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and produce the work we did in a week is precisely because we are like-minded concerning traditions we hold in common with each other and that resonate with the public at large.

Ben Brown

4/25/11 New Urbanist Listserve

Look at the shelter mags with the largest circulation (that is, the most popular).

Look at the features on homes, all of which are driven by editors’ understanding of what will evoke the wish-I-could-live-there response from readers (that is, which design approaches are most dependably popular).

Note how many of those features are variations on traditional design and how many are modernist.

David Brussat

4/25/11 New Urbanist Listserve

Although I know of no surveys broadly based enough to be conclusive, several recent narrower surveys are suggestive [on how traditional architecture is much more popular than modernist architecture]. They include the AIA’s survey of America’s favorite buildings, a recent survey by a Paris newspaper of the city’s least beloved buildings (which were all modernist), and several surveys sponsored by newspapers during the blowup over the Chelsea Barracks, in London, a couple of years ago, all of which demonstrated the public’s preference for a design by Quinlan Terry over one by Richard Rogers by margins ranging from two thirds to three quarters, if I recall.

I’m sure there must be more, but I can’t think of them right now. You can imagine why doing a survey of public taste in architecture would be the last thing most architectural organizations would want to do. Most evidence of public taste is anecdotal, but very persuasively so. The only people who like modern architecture more than traditional architecture are design professionals and people who feel that some sort of personal advantage can be had by appearing to be on the cutting edge of taste, however damaging it might be to their comfort.

Robert Craig

PhD, History of Architecture and Urban Development, Cornell University

Modern architecture has often been unpopular with the general public, especially Modern residential design. The public complains that glass walls are impersonal, the steel-frame or concrete construction is not traditional, that modern forms are unfamiliar and visually uncomfortable, and that a stripped-down building made of such elements is certainly not beautiful. Modern domestic buildings say more about high technology than about home values, and clients seeking character and art in architecture reject Modernism’s blank walls as offering no visual interest, cultural reference, spatial enrichment or meaning.

Jonathan Jones

6/16/09. Writes on art for the Guardian in the UK

Yes, modern – or to be accurate, dogmatically modernIST architecture was unpopular in the later 20th century. There was, I believe, quite a reaction against it among architects themselves. They came up with alternatives and invented a wacky proliferation of architectural styles…People hate drab tower blocks.

Prince Charles

May 12, 2009

“For far too long, it seems to me, some planners and architects have consistently ignored the feelings and wishes of the mass of ordinary people in this country,” Prince Charles warned.

Focusing on the plans for the National Gallery, Charles added: “Instead of designing an extension to the elegant facade of the National Gallery which complements it and continues the concept of columns and domes, it looks as if we may be presented with a kind of municipal fire station, complete with the sort of tower that contains the siren.

“I would understand better this type of high-tech approach if you demolished the whole of Trafalgar Square and started again with a single architect responsible for the entire layout, but what is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.”

Charles also attacked plans to build a huge glass tower in Mansion House Square as “another glass stump better suited on downtown Chicago.”

Gerald Warner

June 26th, 2010

The architectural establishment is renewing its efforts to demonise the Prince of Wales, following the Pyrrhic victory of the Candy brothers in the High Court on the issue of the Prince’s intervention to block the appalling Chelsea Barracks project. The litigants were not awarded the £68.5m damages they sought; but the strident apologists for the excesses of modern architecture are taking the opportunity to denounce the presumptuousness of the heir to the throne – or anyone else on earth – in opposing their divine right to reduce Britain to a lunar landscape.

The architect Lord Rogers had proposed building, on the site of Chelsea Barracks, 640 steel-and-glass flats in 12 tower blocks, more than 118 feet high, blocking the light and requiring the demolition of the 1859 Garrison Church. The Prince was far from being alone in opposing this hideous project. Hundreds of residents lodged written objections and Kit Malthouse, the deputy mayor of London, denounced the project as “urban vandalism.”

“The current proposals by Candy and Candy are nothing short of urban vandalism,” said the deputy mayor last year. “Pavilions of glass and steel, they would not look out of place in Frankfurt or Shanghai, but in the heart of Chelsea, next to a Wren masterpiece, they look monstrous. What is wrong with stone, brick and slate? Why have we abandoned the classicism that served us well for centuries?” The answer to that is: because classicism is beautiful and elegant, which goes completely against the grain of modernist anti-aestheticism.

Modern architects are élitists possessed of gnosis, just like modern artists. To anyone of natural taste and discernment their products are grotesque: that view is sneered down by the cognoscenti as betraying lack of understanding and sophistication. It would be a brave man, at a dinner party in artistic circles, who would frankly proclaim the nakedness of these emperors. Their buildings and art are a reflection of the uninspired, godless fatuity of artistic endeavour over the past century, a period iconically initiated in 1918, on the demise of the cultivated old order in Europe, by the fetishisation of a urinal as a work of art. Tate Modern is a more repellent junkyard than Steptoe’s premises. But one must not say so.

The problem for modern architects is that real human beings are expected to live in the landscapes they have raped and within the ghastly buildings they have constructed. Empiricism has exposed their failure. Lord Rogers has never enjoyed quite the extravagant adulation lavished on Sir Basil Spence in his day: more recently, two of Spence’s tower-block monstrosities have been demolished by controlled explosions – arguably the most constructively artistic event of modern times.

The unforgivable offence committed by the Prince of Wales was to have challenged the right of the modernist architectural establishment to ravage our landscape; its sense of entitlement is comparable to that of climate alarmists – though, unfortunately, HRH is on the wrong side in that controversy. The Prince declared war on the architectural establishment as long ago as 1987, when he said in a speech at the Mansion House: “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe. When it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble.”

Quite. There could be no more appropriate cause for our future King to embrace than saving at least a few corners of civilised architecture in our otherwise devastated urban environment, ravaged for too long by unopposed Brutalism.

A visual preference survey done in Bentonville AK:

http://www.bentonvillear.com/DocumentCenter/View/339/Downtown-Master-Plan-2007-PDF?bidId=

John Hooker

4/25/11 New Urbanist Listserve

…a survey of one modernist architect: Mies van de Rohe lived in a Victorian-era apartment building in Chicago that had a great view of his Lake Shore apartment buildings completed in 1951.

Stewart Brand (1994). How Buildings Learn

Pg 58:

“Does the building manage to keep the rain out? That’s a core issue seldom mentioned in the [architecture] magazines but incessantly mentioned by building users, usually through clenched teeth. They can’t believe it when their expensive new building, by a famous architect, crafted with up-to-the-minute high-tech materials, leaks. The flat roof leaks; the parapets leak, the Modernist right angle between roof and wall leaks; the numerous service penetrations through the roof leak; the wall itself, made of a single layer of snazzy new material and without benefit of roof overhang, leaks. In the 1980s, 80 percent of the ever-growing postconstruction claims against architects were for leaks.

“Architects’ reputations should rot if their buildings can’t handle rain. Frank Lloyd Wright was chosen by a poll of the American Institute of Architects [AIA] as ‘the greatest American architect of all time.’ They all knew his damp secret: ‘Leaks are a given in any Wright house. Indeed, the architect has been notorious not only for his leaks but also for his flippant dismissals of client complaints. He reportedly asserted that, ‘if the roof doesn’t leak, the architect hasn’t been creative enough.’ His stock response to clients who complained of leaking roofs was, ‘That’s how you can tell it’s a roof.’

“Wright’s late-in-life triumph, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, celebrated by the AIA poll as ‘the best all-time work of American architecture,’ lives up to its name with a plague of leaks; they have marred the windows and stone walls and deteriorated the structural concrete. To its original owner, Fallingwater was known as ‘Rising Mildew,’ a ‘seven-bucket building.’”

Pg 66:

“I recall asking one [modernist] architect what he learned from his earlier buildings. ‘Oh, you never go back!’ he exclaimed. ‘It’s too discouraging.’…In a remarkable study of 58 new business buildings near London, researchers found that in only one case in ten did the architect ever return to the building – and then with no interest in evaluation. The facilities managers interviewed for the study had universally acid views about the architects. One said, ‘Their primary interest is in aesthetics rather than practicality; it is a ludicrous situation. It’s no good if the building looks nice and doesn’t work.’ Another: ‘They design it and move on to the next one. They’re paid their fee and don’t want to know.’”

Adam Architecture Magazine

October 14, 2009

YouGov survey published this week suggests people prefer traditionally designed buildings

In a YouGov survey to determine whether the public prefers traditional or contemporary buildings, 77% of respondents who selected a design, from a choice of 4, chose traditional architecture over contemporary styles. Only 23% chose contemporary buildings. This is thought to be the first time that a survey has been conducted to find out the people’s preference in relation to non-residential buildings.

The YouGov survey asked 1042 respondents to select a preferred building from a choice of four, in answer to the question;

“Please imagine a new building is planned to be built near where you live. Four different designs are proposed. Please look at the designs below. Which one would you most like to be built near you?” The illustrations show new buildings of a similar height, size and orientation to the street.

Two of the buildings shown are highly regarded examples of a very contemporary style and two are traditional in design.

12% declined to make a choice, but of those who did 77% selected buildings numbered 2modernist vs traditional and 3 (see image) with just 23% preferring the contemporary buildings numbered 1 and 4 (see image).

Robert Adam, Director of ADAM Architecture, said of the YouGov result:

“This long overdue research by YouGov shows that individuals do have a strong view on the style of non-residential buildings in their area. This interesting result follows previous surveys which have consistently shown that traditional homes are more popular with the public.”

Why you hate contemporary architecture: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/10/why-you-hate-contemporary-architecture

The Quest to Liberate Architecture from Modernism’s Evils: https://www.archdaily.com/397653/meet-the-man-liberating-architecture-from-modernism-s-evils

The neuroscience of traditional architecture: https://www.traditionalbuilding.com/opinions/neuroscience-architecture?fbcli

How We Can Stop Building Ugly Architecture: http://plazaperspective.com/can-stop-building-ugly-modern-architecture/?fbclid=IwAR0u9nO0FoPreszpScBMu63zfpALnovDuCng4vjfit0qBGvxKSPo4RDyaKA

 

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