By Dom Nozzi
May 1, 2001
I’m making the point in my upcoming book that some of the biggest opponents these days to compact, walkable development are often those who should know better and be our allies because they care about the common good.
An important problem we face is that because developers have largely designed for happy car travel since WWII, citizens are understandably fearful of their proposed projects. Not only do they not trust developers anymore. Because of this abysmal track record, they also tend to distrust professional government staff and elected officials.
Guilt by association?
The problems we face are greatly confounded because, given this state of distrust and hostility, even developers, staff, consultants, and elected officials who are well-intentioned, have the best interests of the community at heart, and are promoting pedestrian-oriented (instead of car-oriented) projects are vigorously attacked by these crusaders.
The origins of our distrusting, angry, NIMBY epidemic is designing for cars, yet crusaders are so angry that they lump the car advocates with the walkability advocates. ALL are evil, even if some have the remedy we need. It leads to gloom when one thinks about our prospects.
What this brings us to is this: ALL change is now feared. Even the changes our relatively enlightened leaders are convinced are good. It is feared because we cannot TRUST anyone anymore.
At last night’s Gainesville FL city commission meeting, the commission considered adoption of a future land use section I authored for the Gainesville long-range comprehensive plan. I wrote that land use section to be strongly influenced by my “the pedestrian is the design imperative” urban design philosophy. Here are some of the Gainesville citizen comments about the element that exemplify how foreign and feared walkable, compact development has become.
“We should not be so strongly promoting pedestrian travel because it is not safe for women to walk at night in Gainesville.”
“We should not require buildings close to the street/sidewalk because it is dangerous for women to use parking lots behind buildings. Same for alleys and cross-access mid-block crossings.”
“We should realize that Gainesville has a hot climate, which means that few will want to walk in this town.”
“If we allow the walkable “traditional neighborhood development” ordinance “by right” in our single family neighborhoods, the allowed mixed uses will destroy our neighborhoods.”
“Promoting bicycling and walking is not a good idea because people will be hot, smelly, and sweaty when they arrive at work.”
“The policies in your plan are “punishing” car use.”
“Infill and higher densities will “destroy” our neighborhoods.”
“You’re rushing this plan through adoption and not giving us enough time to understand it or comment on it. (This comment was submitted despite the fact that I had held at least 12 heavily-advertised public workshops on the land use plan throughout the city over the past few years.”
An enormous irony: These comments came primarily from local environmentalists and growth management advocates…