Monthly Archives: November 2013

Should the Development Transect Include a Suburban Option?

By Dom Nozzi

The “Urban to Rural Transect” is an idea pioneered by the new urbanist movement. The concept acknowledges that individuals have a range of different lifestyles and forms of travel that they desire. Instead of having a community establish only one set of design regulations for new development in a community (a set which tends to offer only a suburban, drivable lifestyle), it is most equitable that regulations should be tailored to the full range of choices: walkable for the town center, suburban and drivable for the suburbs, and rural/conservation for the periphery of a community.

Not only is this tailored approach much more fair and equitable than the typical one-size-fits-all approach, it is also more resilient: The future is likely to be rather different than today, particularly due to likely resource, financial, demographic, energy and climate changes. It is obviously most prudent to have a full set of community designs so that a significant community shift to a new way of living and getting around will not be as painful and costly.

In addition, establishing a range of regulatory zones is more sustainable, politically. Conventionally, the community must engage in endless, angry philosophical battles to determine the most acceptable one-size-fits-all lifestyle preference (which inevitably means that the regulations must be watered down to a mediocrity that no one likes as a way to minimize objections). Instead, when lifestyle zones are established (urban, suburban, rural) and regulations are calibrated differently for each lifestyle zone, political battles are minimized and the regulations can be more pure and aggressive. “You don’t like the restrictive parking regulations we are applying to the town center? Fine. If you prefer less restricted parking rules, you clearly should be opting to live in the drivable part of the community.”

Given the clear fairness and prudence of the approach, I am always surprised when I hear people express reservations about the transect.

Many advocates of a “greener,” more “walkable” and “compact” lifestyle will claim that we should simply PROHIBIT the drivable suburban portion of the transect, since that form of design is inherently anti-socical, anti-environmental, and unsustainable. Several who subscribe to this position traffic jam on huge hwyargue that we will not be able to survive as a civilization if we retain the suburban designs of our community for the long term, given the likelihood of “peak oil,” climate change, or various forms of resource constraints in our future.

I believe there is some validity to this point.

 

However, for several decades, nearly every American community has established development regulations that seek to establish the drivable suburban lifestyle EVERYWHERE in the community (an anti-choice, one-size-fits-all approach).

For the first time since before WWII, thankfully, we are now seeing a large number of people and organizations saying NO!!!! to this one-size-fits-all approach. That approach is ruinous, they rightly say, and eliminating lifestyle choices!

The transect – which is a concept which wisely includes a suburban zone — is the only system I know of that can start to move us out of that downwardly spiraling rut of one-size-fits-all suburbia.

Given that communities have mostly applied only suburban development rules throughout the community for so long, it seems highly unlikely that we can abruptly eliminate the community-wide suburban approach in our lifetimes. It is strategically unwise to suddenly replace drivable regulations with walkable regulations community-wide. The vast majority of people are extremely supportive of a suburban lifestyle, as can be seen by the fact that this interest group has succeeded in inappropriately forcing suburban design down the throats of urban and rural areas, as well as suburban areas throughout the nation.

Given the common (albeit wrong) assumption that suburbia is a consensus desire, abruptly eliminating that lifestyle option community-wide is akin to vegetarians suggesting we should abruptly end the sale of any meat in a grocery store.

Clearly, it is appropriate that communities need to stop assuming that everyone prefers the suburban lifestyle. To stop applying suburban regulations everywhere in the community. But going from suburban regulations EVERYWHERE to suburban regulations NOWHERE is not politically feasible. Or fair.

If some people desire the relatively anti-social, inconvenient aspects of a suburban lifestyle, and are able to afford the expensive nature of such a lifestyle without harming others seeking another lifestyle, we are right to continue to allow it.

We need to fight community battles that have a chance of success, instead of squandering our efforts on something that will only happen via a pie-in-the-sky “green” dictatorship.

Striving to prohibit suburbia might also distract us and slow down our important, pressing need to politically gain acceptance of some of the crucial transect concepts. We must IMMEDIATELY start applying compact and walkable development regulations in our town centers.  We must IMMEDIATELY start applying rural/preserve development regulations in our outlying areas. And we are able to politically buy such changes by allowing suburban development regulations to remain – at least for the time being.

Sure, while we do that, we can continue to believe that we will probably need to bulldoze suburbia in the future, or see it be abandoned on its own because corrected price signals make such a life undesirable for most.

But in this interim period, politics and the on-going lifestyle desire for many requires that we retain the suburban option.

Similarly, when it comes to transportation, it is clear that we must eventually put some suburban roads on a diet – taking, say roads that are five lanes and dieting them down to three lanes. But rather than calling for suburban road diets NOW, I believe it is politically wise and fair at this time to do no more than put a moratorium on widening those roads (i.e., let’s not let them get worse than they already are). In the meantime, we can let residents of those suburban places voluntarily ask for road diets (and traffic calming) if they so choose (after seeing the obvious benefits of diets in other parts of the community).

Of course, this “moratorium” approach can also happen on its own, as we are increasingly unable to afford to widen roads.

In the meantime, we DO put in-town, walkable areas on the right path. In those places, we happily put roads on a diet and employ lots of traffic calming and sidewalk installation and walkable development requirements.

And we do so with less political opposition because we have retained the suburban option.

Such an approach allows us to minimize antagonism. Suburban advocates can have their suburban utopia as long as they give us what we desire outside of those fiasco locations. Locations that will increasingly be seen – even by today’s suburban advocates – as a failed paradigm compared to the increasing value, profitability and desirable nature of the walkable locations of the community.

We will more quickly see walkable locations become shining and enviable preferences to suburbia if we follow the savvy approach of allowing suburbia in the interim period. By allowing suburban advocates to opt for suburbia, we give ourselves the ability to employ the politically unhindered road diets and strong walkability development regulations in the walkable locations of the community.

A transect that includes a suburban option, in sum, is the preferred approach.

_________________________________________________

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

Regulating Big Box Retailers

By Dom Nozzi

My thoughts about how to make Big Box retailers such as Wal-Mart behave themselves…

First, a list of reasons why Big Box retail (such as the Wal-Mart Supercenter) is deadly for communities and should be prevented from ever being allowed in a community.

1. Big Box retailers do not create an improved retail environment for a community or result in a net increase in jobs. Instead, they tend to cannibalize existing, in-town retail sales and in-town (often locally-owned) jobs. This is true at both the local level and the regional level. No net increase in retail sales or jobs. Just a geographic shifting from existing businesses to the Big Box retailer.

2. Big Box retailers drain dollars from a community. Instead of cycling those dollars within the community, Big Box steadily impoverishes the community by forever removing wealth from the community and pouring it into the bank accounts of out-of-town executives which have no allegiance to our community — nor any care for our welfare (since they don’t live here).

3. Big Box retailers promote extreme levels of car dependency for those who live in the region — which is a deadly, downwardly spiraling trend.

Excessive car dependency destroys community quality of life, significantly harms community sustainability, increases our dependence on oil, outside corporations, and foreign nations, bankrupts households and local & state governments, wipes out our downtown, transforms us into an “anywhere USA” kind of place that eliminates civic pride and a unique community character, and ruins our natural areas.

Big Box retailers powerfully promote car dependence by being placed in locations (and have site design) which make it impossible to travel to the store without a car. As a result, an increasing proportion of community residents must make an increasing number of trips by car (thereby increasing car dependency).

In part, this increased car dependency is caused by the fact that the Big Box wipes out in-town businesses that were accessible by means other than the car.

4. Big Box retailers, by wiping out local businesses, reduces consumer choice in products, since increasingly, the only products available are those that are sold by the Big Box.300px-Wal-Mart_in_Madison_Heights

5. By being so excessively car-dependent and designed to serve a regional “consumer-shed” of motorists from up to 10 miles away, Big Box retailers enable a sprawl lifestyle. That is, life becomes more feasible, and therefore BREEDS more sprawl households because sprawl is now more attractive.

 How can Big Box retail be prevented from locating in a community?

1. Keep your roads small and human-scaled, not Big Box scaled. Do not modify nearby roads to add road capacity (for example, by adding turn lanes at intersections or adding travel lanes). If nearby intersections or roads (or interstates) are already “overweight,” put them on a diet by removing turn lanes and travel lanes. Admittedly, this is a very long-term strategy. But the terrible reality is that this nation has spent several decades spending trillions of public dollars to build HUGE interstate highways and huge local arterial roads. The predictable result of this enormous public subsidy is that it gave birth to a nation-wide epidemic of Big Box retailers. Such retailers can only exist if they are able to gain access to an enormous, regional “consumer-shed” of customers (customers from multiple counties). The big roads and interstates have created that opportunity, and Big Box executives are taking advantage of this opportunity by building Big Box throughout the nation. With small roads, Big Box retail is impossible. With large roads, Big Box is inevitable. In essence, we are now paying for the sins of our forefathers and foremothers, who chose to squander ungodly sums of public dollars to widen roads, and therefore indirectly and heavily subsidizing Big Box retailing. It is naive to think we can stop Big Box until we start reversing the blunder of building these monster roads and interstates.

2. Enact a size limit for the retail square footage allowed in your community. Many cities have created a maximum retail floor area allowed in their community. Usually, this maximum is applied in a more walkable location such as a town center. A maximum size is more legally defensible when it is applied to a location in the community where walkability is the community objective. A place, in other words, where excessive car travel is detrimental to the objectives of the community.

What strategies are NOT effective in stopping Big Box?

1. Environmental regulations. They tend to be very weak and very easy to evade — particularly by a well-heeled developer.

2. Generous landscaping and open space requirements. These are minor “window dressing” items that are trivial when it comes to the problems that Big Box brings to a community. And again, they are easy to provide for a well-heeled developer.

3. Restrictive building design requirements. Again, these are minor window dressing items that are trivial in the overall picture. The problem with Big Box is not that the Box is ugly. Granted, the typical, formulaic Big Box building is not pleasant to look at, but on a list of 100 problems that a Big Box inflicts on a community, ugliness is about #99. And well-heeled developers will often provide aesthetic improvements if push comes to shove.

4. Appeal to the harm the Big Box will bring to “poor people.” In public meetings, the Big Box will always have the moral high ground when it comes to “poor people.” After all, don’t they provide “Low, Low Prices” that “help” poor people? Arguments about how the Big Box provides “excessively low-wage jobs with no health care” or how they “promote sweat shops in Mexico” are too abstract and complex for the sound-bite conditions of a public meeting.

5. Requiring the Big Box to have huge, multi-turn lane intersections or huge, multi-lane roads to serve them and avoid “gridlock congestion.”

Several problems here: First, it is pocket change for Big Box to come up with the dollars to increase the size of nearby roads/intersections. Second, it is often the local or state government that ends up (further) subsidizing the Big Box by using public tax dollars to increase such road capacity.

Third, such big capacity roads enable Big Box. They must  have such roads to be successful. It is therefore not a “punishment” to request they provide such roads. Indeed, I suspect that the Big Box often deliberately lets the perception arise that “nearby roads need to be enlarged to avoid congestion,” when all along, the Big Box was secretly hoping that this “concession” would be “demanded” of them. The Big Box cannot exist without the Big Roads and Big Intersections. For the local government and its citizens to insist on such roads is playing right into the hands of the Big Box. Fourth, in urban areas, traffic congestion is our friend. It promotes many things a healthy community desires: infill development, less single-occupant vehicle travel, higher residential densities, more mixed use development, lower regional air pollution and fuel consumption, taller buildings, less asphalt parking, healthier transit, healthier small (and locally-owned) business, and less suburban sprawl.

If Big Box cannot be stopped, how can they be made more palatable?

1. The Big Box must be required to be “mixed use.” That is, high-density residences should be incorporated on site and adjacent to the site. The site should be developed to contain a gridded street network with narrow streets, on-street parking, multi-story buildings, street connections to adjacent properties, and compact building arrangement so that it mimics a walkable town center (open-air “lifestyle” center shopping malls are becoming quite popular throughout the US these days).

2. The Big Box must not be enabled by enlarging the road capacity near it (do not add additional turn lanes at intersections near it and do not add travel lanes on roads near it). If any road modifications are made, they should be to reduce such capacity.

3. The Big Box must not be enabled by allowing it to install an enormous asphalt parking lagoon to attract tens of thousands of car-dependent shoppers. The parking must be kept modest in size (no more than 1 space per 500 feet of floor area) and must not be allowed between the store and the roads that serve it.

4. If #1 above is not achieved, the Big Box must be required to sign a legally-binding agreement that it will be financially responsible for demolishing the structures it builds on the site and restoring the site to its original condition after the inevitable day in the near future when it abandons the site (usually to build something even bigger somewhere else).

5. The Big Box must not be allowed to select a site that is environmentally significant.

Big Box retail will be unable to survive the coming big increases in the cost of energy and the cost of enlarging roads. They are therefore a short-term phenomenon. It behooves communities to prepare for this by either requiring the Big Box to be designed for its re-use as something else in the future, or to prevent the Big Box all together.

______________________________________________

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, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

On Being “Forced” to Live in a Walkable Place

By Dom Nozzi

I find it peculiar that often, in response to a recommendation I or others make to make a proposed residential development more walkable (or to design streets so that motorists “behave” themselves), we hear people make the red herring argument that we should not force people to live in a compact, walkable area of the city, or that we cannot “get rid of all cars.”

In fact, the proposals to make residential development (or travel by car) behave itself is simply a way to create more equity and provide more choices for both residential development and travel.

For about 50 years, we have built little other than low-density, single-use, large lot residential (“conventional”) subdivisions in outlying suburban areas. In addition, we have focused almost all of our efforts on making cars happy. The result, of course, is that throughout America, we have little choice in strip6terms of what kind of place to live in, or how to travel. Nearly all of us are pretty much forced to live in conventional, “drivable” residences in outlying areas. Places that are utterly unwalkable and require nearly every trip to be by car.

What about the large and growing number of us who would enjoy the pleasures of a more urbane setting, where we would have easy access to a nearby grocery store, various forms of culture, a pleasant public realm, civic events, retail, jobs, schools, parks, sidewalks that lead somewhere, sociable neighbors, and calmed traffic? What about those of us who want the choice to be able to walk, bicycle, or bus to those destinations? Do many of us have a choice to enjoy such things?

Do we really “force” people to live in more traditional core area settings, or get rid of their car, if we simply make other residential and travel choices more of an option?

As for “behaving,” it is my opinion that residential areas are “misbehaving” when they, for example, generate a large number of car trips. Such areas tend to be “single-use” (only single-family residential land use), and nearly every trip is too far to travel except by car (let’s not forget that the reasonable travel distance by car extends out to about 10 miles, roughly 3 miles for bus and bicycle, and about one-quarter mile by foot). The result is that instead of a reasonably self-contained subdivision with a reasonable amount of internalized trips (due largely to a mix of land uses in the area or development), those trips and costs are externalized on all the rest of us.

What are the “externalized” costs that we must bear when a new subdivision does not “internalize” a large number of car trips?

Well, within a 10-mile radius (see above), that new, conventional, car-only residential subdivision will deliver to our neighborhoods more traffic, more air pollution, more water pollution, more noise pollution, more strip commercial development, more decline in neighborhood value, more loss of small business in the core area, more sign pollution, more danger on our streets, and higher taxes to pay for public services like parks, schools, police, fire protection, sewer, water, environmental protection, etc.

It becomes a matter of equity.

Is it fair for a new, outlying residential area to impose those costs on us? Isn’t it reasonable to ask that new residential development “pay its own way,” by locating in appropriate areas, designing for livability, and paying for some of the costs for new or expanded public facilities and services they demand from us?

I recommend that we try to steer clear of red herrings. It tends to polarize us. I also believe we can all agree that providing residential and travel choices, and insisting on equity, are good things. To me, the debate should center around what constitutes equity, and how much our local, state, and federal government should put into creating travel choices.

As it stands today, nearly all of America provides no housing or travel choices. If you seek a walkable place to live, you will have vanishingly few options to choose from. And because such an option is so rare and the demand is high (and growing), you will be paying a large sum of money to live in a walkable place.

The current state of affairs in our car-happy world is not fair, as there is very little choice but to live in a drivable, suburban way. Rather than “forcing” people to live in walkable places (or not drive a car), America is more accurately forcing us to be suburban motorists.

An utterly unsustainable condition.

____________________________________________

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, Walking