Monthly Archives: October 2012

Converting a Shopping Center into a Walkable Village

By Dom Nozzi

When I was a senior planner in Gainesville FL, a friend in Boulder CO asked me about what I thought of Boulder’s plans to redevelop a shopping center (to transform it into a more walkable, mixed use village), and her concerns that densifying the shopping center would congest a federal highway that served the center.

I pointed out to her that it was a difficult issue. There are positives and negatives to a rejuvenated mall, I told her. On the one hand, it would be a problem if the new village attracted so many cars that the vicinity would become unlivable, thereby hurting the laudable objective of adding residential in the area.

But on the other hand, I can think of several positives:

First, making Highway 36 more congested would be a form of “planned congestion” that I support. Unless we make it more painful for people to drive a car, we’ll never be able to encourage a meaningful number of people to use transit. After all, is the reason that more people use transit in big cities because they happen to be more enlightened, or is it because they have gotten sick of the congestion and costs?

Because congestion is an effective way for people to opt to travel by transit, congestion actually reduces air pollution and energy consumption. While it is true that there are more direct and effective ways than congestion to get people to use the bus, such as increased parking fees, toll roads, reduced parking supply, etc., these strategies are politically suicidal.

Second, an enormous problem that a number of cities face is how to compete with the outlying big boxes and mega-malls. Unfortunately, this often means that you must compromise on getting retail that is scaled for livability and nearby neighborhoods – that is, you almost surely must opt for retail that is rather large in scale and just too big to be a good neighbor for a residential neighborhood. A big contributor to this problem is that investors are usually not willing to take a chance on a new project unless it is scaled for profitability — which generally means scaled for regional car trips. So until we can figure out a way to reduce the size of our overly wide roads and excessively cheap car travel and free parking – which induces a mega-retailer economy — we may need to continue to strive to make “core area” mega-retail livable.

As I was conveying these thoughts to my friend, my city of Gainesville was about to approve the construction of an expensive downtown parking garage as a way to attract a 20-screen movie-plex downtown. While such a garage and movie-plex would have been a problem with regard to the number of cars attracted, the downtown desperately needs to attract more 24-hour activity — especially by families.

Another compromise Gainesville opted to accept at the time (something that is not conducive to a walkable downtown, yet had other, compensatory benefits for downtown) was the decision to approve a mixed use, five-story retail/office/residential project downtown (to replace a deadening surface parking lot). The compromise there was a drive-thru.

Neither the five-story project or the movie-plex is perfect, but town centers in cities such as Gainesville need them both, and in my mind, they are net positives for pedestrians and livability.

Thirdly, for transit to work well, it needs concentrations of retail and residential and cultural and recreation and office — which the proposed transformation of a shopping center into a village will provide. Places like Boulder and Gainesville have nowhere near the concentrations of housing and retail needed to make transit work. A new, walkable, dense village can help.

Finally, I told my concerned friend, people in the vicinity of the proposed new village will need a good range of facilities in close proximity if we expect them to reduce the number of vehicles owned, and the number and length of trips made.

A concentrated village with a broad mix of uses is an important way to do this.

_________________________________________________

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 Economics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Light Pollution

By Dom Nozzi

There is an “invisible” — yet nevertheless important — quality-of-life issue that communities neglect at their peril. Invisible because it is rarely discussed as a problem.

Light pollution.

Light pollution hides the glorious, romantic stars in the night sky. Such pollution degrades wildlife habitat, and creates a frenzied, “anywhere USA” ambience that kills the authentic, quiet and sleepy charm of a community. Light pollution disrupts sleep for countless people in residential areas.

In my opinion, light pollution has become an epidemic in our county because, increasingly, retailers discover that excessive lighting is a handy way to attract the attention of the 40,000 motorists driving by each day on arterials. It is also a convenient way to evade those pesky local sign ordinances. Sign regulations are evaded in this case because excessive lighting allows the retailer to make her/his entire building a sign at night. It is the “building as sign” problem that we often see — especially with chain retailers.

This is done in at least two ways. First, a retailer lights up their building to make the structural elements on the property are so screamingly visible that we are compelled to look.

As an aside, one could make the point that the light pollution problem often worsens when city engages in more effective enforcement of the city sign ordinance.

A number of newer gas stations will use a high canopy over the fueling stations. The bright, glaring lights underneath the canopy makes the place look, in the words of Jim Kunstler, like a “UFO Landing Strip” which can be seen from miles around. Other retailers like to line their exterior walls or parking lots with lights that spill upward and across property lines.

Of course, retailers who are cited for light pollution are usually indignant, and commonly defend their ability to continue polluting. A frequent ploy is to grab the moral high ground on this issue by claiming that the sole purpose of all this excessive lighting is for “public safety,” or the “safety of customers.” It is claimed that the excessive lighting keeps women and children safe from predators (despite the fact that it has been shown that bright lights will create darker shadows where predators can more easily hide, and that glaring lights can cause traffic accidents).

The result is that citizens and decision-makers often look upon those concerned about light pollution as people who are insensitive to public safety.

It is only a coincidence for the retailer that this “safety” lighting happens to make the entire building a glaring billboard to attract customers. We all know that the only reason for the bright lights by our safety-minded retailers is to promote public safety.

Please.

Controlling light pollution is an important element in retaining a pleasant ambiance for our towns, not to mention the needs of our wildlife and star-gazing public.

_________________________________________________

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

Are Smart Growth Ideas Still Ahead of Their Time?

By Dom Nozzi

I sometimes get a bit depressed about the fact that many of the walkable, compact, mixed-use planning strategies were being discussed at least 30 years ago.

It would be easy for people to learn that many of the “new” Smart Growth tactics are actually quite old, and just sadly conclude that it is naïve to think such ideas can ever become reality.

However, I believe it is important to keep in mind that, as scientists and engineers know (or should know), the underlying conditions (political, environmental, technological, economic, etc.) are much more critical and influential than “good ideas.” “Good ideas” don’t just magically become adopted because they are good ideas. In other words, lack of good ideas is not our problem (usually). We have plenty of good ideas to save ourselves. But we need to be patient with our ideas and wait for conditions to be ripe.

A couple of examples: Galileo invented the good idea of helicopters, but the idea was not implemented until the underlying conditions were ripe. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony came up with great ideas about equal rights for women at the turn of the century, but the conditions did not become “ripe” until the 1960s.

We have plenty of good ideas about reining in sprawl or creating compact cities or reforming transportation and land use, but many will not be implemented until the conditions for them are ripe. As a result, one of the most important tasks of those seeking to improve our communities — in both the public and private sector – is to modify underlying conditions so that we accelerate the ripening process. That is largely why I’ve always championed things like user fees, congestion fees, and model traditional developments.

By deciding, democratically, to do these incremental things, we can change underlying conditions that allow people to more easily see the need for positive change. Another way of putting it is that an important role for us in the public sector is to, as economists would put it, “internalize externalities”

For example, instead of having a company increase its profits by emitting polluting emissions from their drain pipe into a river – a form of externality – we charge the company a fee which is high enough to compensate for pollution so that the community will have more money to clean up the pollution. By charging this water pollution fee, we internalize the cost so that the emitting company pays for the pollution to be cleaned up, rather than the overall community (similarly, gas taxes partly internalize the externalities of driving a car so that the motorist pays more for their negative impacts to the community while driving).

After all, the better we internalize such costs, the better capitalism works the way Adam Smith thought it would work. That is because according to Smith, we need all the relevant information before we are able to make rational decisions in the marketplace.

I’ve always lived by the rule that I am a pessimist of the intellect, but an optimist of the will. Our situation as a society seems hopeless in many ways, but giving up is not an option. Persistence pays off. Overall, I’m hopeful because I think we are on the verge of turning things around in various ways (particularly with transportation and land use reform) to the point where positive changes are self-driven, rather than being forced on us by regulations.

_________________________________________________

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

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Recipe for a Vibrant Street

By Dom Nozzi

Dom’s Vibrant Street Casserole (serves…everyone)

Ingredients

  •  Elect wise, courageous leaders (cooks) who are well-versed in the creation of walkable street casseroles.
  • Select a “kitchen” staff that has high-quality knowledge regarding the creation of traditional, walkable street casseroles.
  • Add 4 cups of colorful building facades that abut the streetside sidewalk, with entrances on the sidewalk.
  • Add 3 cups of relatively high residential density on or near the street.
  • Add 4 cups of homes, offices and retail. Mix well. Be sure not to add too much office, as this will lead to a tasteless, boring casserole that is utterly unappetizing at night.
  • Layer 10 cups of on-street parking along the street.
  • Evenly sprinkle 8 cans of shading street trees along your streets and use a loper to limb them up. The trees should be placed along your streets in such as way as to have them be formally aligned. The trees should be spaced and limbed up so as to avoid blocking the view of at least the first floor building facades.
  • Cut and trim your streets so that they are short in block length, have modest turn radii, have square curbs, and are no fatter than 3 lanes of 2-way street (3rd lane is landscaped median with pocket turn lanes). Any street fatter than 3 lanes will need to be put on a diet so that it is no more than 3 lanes. Your street should be designed so that motorists are obligated to drive slowly and attentively.
  • Shape your street buildings for verticality. Your buildings should be at least 2 stories high.
  • Insert 2 tablespoons of street lights and traffic signals into your casserole that are modest in height (no more than 8-12 feet in height).
  • Trim your building lot widths so that they are narrow.
  • Provide a heaping helping of windows on at least the first floor of the buildings for your street casserole. Your casserole should strive for high levels of transparency by having abundant windows eye level. Minimize blank walls on the first floor of your buildings.
  • Add generous portions of streetscaping such as street furniture, and encroachment into the sidewalk by outdoor cafes.
  • Place and shape your sidewalks to offer ample sidewalk width so that there is room for sidewalk cafes, couples comfortably walking side-by-side, and street furniture. Be careful not to provide too much width, as excessive width coupled with insufficient pedestrians will deaden the flavor of your casserole.
  • Chop and mince your signs into modest sizes, modest heights, and do not allow them to be animated.

Bake until your casserole sizzles. Serve immediately.

_________________________________________________

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 Miscellaneous, Urban Design, Walking