By Dom Nozzi
Isn’t it necessary to segregate noisy, smelly or potentially toxic office or industrial activity from residential areas?
It is absolutely true that activities that are toxic, noisy, or are associated with big truck or motor vehicle activity are incompatible with residential areas. But there are three things to know about this commonly-expressed objection to Smart Growth advocates calling for “mixed use” development.
First, such businesses have dramatically declined in number since the turn of the last century (with the exception of big-truck businesses), which makes zoning-based segregation much less necessary.
Unlike 100 years ago, it is fairly easy and common today to design most all businesses and offices to be compatible with residential areas. Why continue using an anachronistic regulatory scheme that was designed to confront problems that society faced 100 years ago, but are almost never faced today?
I suspect that the response from most elected officials is that maintaining the old system is a way to make misinformed, distrustful neighborhood residents less concerned about the re-emergence of community design mistakes we suffered from several decades ago.
But if we are paying more than lip service to making it feasible for people to walk or bike regularly, we need to get serious and largely dump zoning-based regulation to dramatically reduce trip distances. Fortunately, despite the strongly suburban value system of most all communities in America, a great many communities are slowly increasing the proportion of properties carrying a mixed-use zoning.
Second, the new urbanist Smart Code recognizes the existence of locally-undesirable-land uses (LULUs). Despite what I’ve said above, there remain a relatively small number of business activities that are perhaps inherently incompatible with residential areas. The Smart Code therefore assigns such uses (airports are a good example) to “special districts” remote from the community. As a result, the Smart Code can provide a nearly complete elimination of the need to separate land uses, with the exception of a tiny fraction of uses.
Finally, even if it were true that we must have zoning-based separation for a large number of activities, such a need would be just another sign that our society is unsustainable (because it is inherently car-dependent). Unless we start building a more sustainable world, we’re heading for a train wreck.
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.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
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