Monthly Archives: September 2003

State Leadership in Planning for Cities and Counties

 
 

 

By Dom Nozzi

 

State planning needs to be more directive than to just call for communities to establish a “vision.” Instead of taking a heavy-handed approach in which the state dictates how communities should be developed, there should be a strong statement that calls for communities to:

 

(a) Create plans and regulations that promote lifestyle choices. All communities must provide ample opportunities for living an urban, suburban, or rural lifestyle. Currently, nearly all communities only allow for the suburban choice. We must be clear that one size does not fit all. We need a tiered regulatory system that applies appropriate regulations for each lifestyle choice, instead of providing only suburban design regulations. We need to make urban and rural lifestyles legal again (in appropriate locations).

 

(b) Create a transportation system that is rich in transportation choices. Again, this needs to be a tiered approach where one size does not fit all locations. In core (urban, compact) areas, the pedestrian is the design imperative. Streets are modest in size, calm in design speed and no more than 3 lanes in width. Roads get progressively larger and higher in design speed as you move outside of core. State Departments of Transportation, in particular, need to radically change their approach to design so that state roads are context-sensitive when going through communities. DOTs must become a helpful partner with local communities, instead of an adversary only looking out for the needs of the state.

 

In many communities, being serious about controlling sprawl and protecting or restoring quality of life will require a long-term healing process. Damage wrought in the past by building monster high-speed roads will often need to be incrementally reversed by putting many of these roads on a diet (ie, removing travel lanes).

 

In the interim, as communities struggle to correct the design of their streets and roads, an urban growth boundary will probably be required. Without a strong boundary, no plans, regulations or strong elected officials can stop the sprawl tidal wave induced largely by big roads in a community.

 

(c) Many important efforts are necessary to reverse our long-standing pattern of being our own worst enemies. When the state laws require local governments to apply level-of-service standards mandating free-flowing traffic, such laws must be revised so that road LOS is not applied in urban areas. The concurrency rule that obligates LOS for urban roads is a powerful sprawl engine.

 

In addition, public schools must end the practice of inducing sprawl. In other words, there should be a curtailment of the widespread construction of new schools in outlying areas. An important element in this is to revise school standards that make walkable, in-town, neighborhood-based schools difficult or impossible (such as large ballfield requirements, which requires too much acreage to fit in many older in-town neighborhoods).

 

Emergency services must not dictate excessive road design standards that promote high and dangerous car speeds.

 

Similarly, modest, human-scaled streets and building design must be made legal again in the urban portions of a community.

 

In sum, a strong stand must be taken by planners that we stand for choice, and that one size does not fit all.

 

 

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

 

 

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Should We Fight to Save ALL Trees?

 

 

By Dom Nozzi

 

My understanding is that over the past few decades, the “environmental movement” has had great success in making most people feel “sinful” for “damaging” nature. Such guilt leads to an increased desire to, for example, recycle soda cans. Or object to cutting down a few low-value trees. We ease our guilty conscience—guilt felt because many of us know, in the back of our minds, that we lead environmentally destructive lives. So recycling a few cans is our way to do penance and avoid damnation.

 

Arm-chair environmentalists often naively think that making our world tidy and neat is a meaningful and sufficient form of environmental conservation.

 

For both the can recyclers living in sprawlsville with their SUVs and the tidy and neat “enviros”, we see that most in our society have internalized the idea that “protecting the environment” is good. It is a cultural norm that most everyone takes for granted.

 

The end result of such a cultural victory, unfortunately, is unintended consequences. Many seem to believe that a tree or a shrub is always a good idea in every possible location. It is inconceivable to this mindset that a tree is not a good idea in some places. That is, that nature is sacred.

 

Given this cultural norm, naive environmentalists who don’t see the big picture too often decide to exclude a design decision that has overall positive benefits for both humans and nature. For example, naive environmentalists will occasionally succeed in stopping an infill project by convincing decision-makers to save a low-quality wetland or woodlot.

 

Is it really true that we can afford to give up a retail space in a part of our downtown that is a scary, uninhabited prostitute- and drug-saturated no-man’s-land? (particularly at night) A part of our downtown where no one (except the homeless) walk, because there is nothing to walk to except empty parking lots and vacant buildings? (and a tired clump of trees)

 

The unintended consequence of saving every tree in a downtown is that the downtown ends up becoming, incrementally, a dead zone that no one wants to be a part of. Nothing happens there. It is not hip to be there, or be seen there. The hip, safe, happening places increasingly become the outlying areas—areas that are incrementally wiping out our really important woodlands and wetlands.

 

Smart Growth America seems to agree, as their website contains the motto of “Preserving natural habitat by creating better human habitat.”

 

Again, the campaign over the past few decades to make environmental conservation (however naively practiced) a cultural norm has meant that we end up unintentionally harming other societal objectives (an example of “knowing just enough to be dangerous”?). We often fight and win easy “environmental” victories (such as saving a scraggly tree or degraded wetland), and pat ourselves on the back. But we are either blind to, or have given up on, the real war: stopping auto-oriented sprawl.

 

Because there are few, if any, citizens or decision-makers who know anything at all about what the ingredients consist of for a quality, compact, walkable habitat for humans, we easily and blindly harm that habitat as we zealously continue winning tiny, trivial battles to save Bambi.

No one objects, because no one sees any harm.

 

 

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design