Random Thoughts Regarding Town Planning

By Dom Nozzi

We must avoid further subsidizing dysfunctional suburban locations at the financial and quality-of-life expense of urban residents (for the sake of equity, among other reasons). And stop throwing good public money after bad.

Congestion, in cities, is our friend. It effectively delivers infill, redevelopment, multi-story buildings, less car use, more walking/bicycling/transit travel, healthier in-town retail by smaller and locally-owned business, more density, more compact development, more migration from remote to in-town locations, less severe crashes, less speeding, less air pollution and gas consumption (at the regional level), and more political support for non-car travel.

I like the idea of passively letting dysfunctional suburban development become white elephants that are increasingly abandoned. I like the idea of people increasingly looking upon urbanists as saviors for our cities.

I like the idea of leveraging envy. Having suburban folks increasingly look with desire upon a walkable lifestyle.

Having worked as a city planner for 19 years, there is little that is more naïve than the idea that we can create more connectivity in suburbia by buying Right-Of-Way and demolishing homes to build new, connecting roads (both of which are essential in creating travel choices). With the exception of places wiped off the face of the earth by hurricanes, has this happened ANYWHERE?

I am concerned that urbanists might squander scarce resources fighting, in a futile way, for such things as more connectivity or other efforts against the suburban juggernaut.

I believe we are rapidly approaching the time when we can no longer afford the road fly-overs. The road widenings. The sound walls.

I’m a materialist. I don’t believe we can convince a meaningful number of people to agree to progressive change (such as increased connectivity, compactness, or more transit) through education-based persuasion. Such change in values comes from changes in material conditions. Effective persuasion and meaningful behavior change comes, in this case, from dramatically increased financial costs and inconvenience associated with our transportation system.

Until suburban auto dependency becomes intolerably costly, there is little that can be done to shift our system toward a sustainable, equitable way of doing things. We’ll continue to privilege cars. The habitat for Fords and Chevys will “improve” while the habitat for Dick and Jane declines.

Given all of the above, the best I can do is work to equitably increase the costs of auto dependency. And establish envious urbanism. An urbanism that, as Andres Duany once said about Winter Park FL, stands as an indictment to Kunstler’s suburban fiasco.

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