Education Works When the Conditions are Right

By Dom Nozzi

I’ve always believed that because quality urban design is essential to quality of life, local elected officials tend to be strongly in need of a lot of education in urban design. As a city planner in Florida, I strove to provide officials with as much urban design education as I could when I wrote plans and staff reports for them to read, as well as when I gave presentations at meetings. I arranged to regularly have my city run a series of nine urban design videos on public access TV for citizens. In addition, I worked to have several urban design stars – such as Victor Dover, Andres Duany, and Walter Kulash – be hired on projects that required outside consultants. Each of them is spectacular as an educator on the design practices I advocate. Each has taught me essential urban design lessons. In sum, I think the need for urban design education is always important on an on-going basis for commissioners and citizens. But as my writings and speeches point out, the most effective education is based on our environment and our economy. We can “educate” till we are blue in the face, but we will accomplish little unless economic price signals (such as the increasingly intolerable cost of gas, the cost of road widening, the cost of sprawl homes, the cost of parking, etc.) are providing proper price signal education. As for the environment, in my experience, a community usually does not engage in quality urban design until inconveniences and other difficulties of day-to-day life induces the political will that DEMANDS needed change. For example, consider a community experiencing high levels of road and parking lot congestion. Study after study has confirmed that conventional “solutions” (road widening and the provision of more free parking) are counterproductive and utterly unable to solve congestion problems. What to do? It seems obvious that given the studies, road widening and more free parking should NOT be used as a solution. Yet nearly all communities stubbornly disregard these studies and end up wasting millions and billions of public dollars to “solve” congestion with road widening and more free parking. Fortunately, some communities (mostly bigger cities) eventually come to realize (after much pain, suffering, wasted time, and wasted public dollars) that the conventional tactics are failing to eliminate their congestion. And at that point, even the most pro-car, anti-transit citizens are often forced to conclude that their only hope for addressing congestion is pricing roads and parking, providing better transit, and creating alternatives (such as closer-in housing) so that people can avoid the congestion.ROADRAGE1 Given this, it was not education from books or speeches or videos that was the key to convincing the community that better urban design (or better transit) is needed. No, it was clearly the aggravation felt from the congestion that drove the needed change toward effective tactics. Education alone is not a painless shortcut to doing the right thing, unfortunately. Yes, books and speeches and videos are important education tools, but such information needs to be in the right place at the right time to have an impact. Words and data can be a call-to-arms catalyst if conditions are right. Take Leonardo da Vinci. In the 15th Century, he described the design of a helicopter. Over one hundred years ago, a number of far-sighted folks spoke eloquently about women’s rights. Yet such ideas generally fell on deaf ears because the conditions were not right. My hope is that the urban design and transportation ideas I support can be in the right place when conditions are right so that the revolution can occur more quickly and less painfully. _________________________________________________ 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: Or email me at: dom[AT] 50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = Hardcover = My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: is the Enemy book cover My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here: My Adventures blog Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog My Town & Transportation Planning website My Plan B blog My Facebook profile My YouTube video library My Picasa Photo library My Author spotlight

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Politics, Road Diet, Urban Design

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