By Dom Nozzi
June 14, 2000
Applying the same land development regulations throughout a community is a surefire way to degrade the quality of walkable urbanism in a town center.
Unless development regulations such as building setbacks and roadway dimensions are calibrated to appropriate locations – larger dimensions in suburbs and smaller dimensions in town centers – a community would need to water down various ordinances to make them palatable to suburban and rural interests.
If there were no clear distinction between urban and suburban regulations (if, instead, regulations were “one size fits all,” as is the case in most cities), it would be nearly impossible to adopt rules that would require sidewalks on both sides of all streets. In rural and suburban areas, this would be seen as less critical, and communities typically must water it down the development rules so that sidewalk installation remains optional citywide.
Another thought: I often lean toward thinking that if a community achieved quality walkable design in its town center, it would eventually stand as a clear indictment of the outlying, lower-quality sprawlsville. I think it would be desirable if sprawl residents started feeling some envy for the urbanism they do not enjoy on their low-density cul-de-sacs. So I like the idea of keeping the quality walkable urbanism in the town center, and accelerating the process of having the outlying suburbia lose its desirability due to the white elephant syndrome.
As an aside, annexation of outlying areas into a city can amplify the corrupting influence of one-size-fits-all suburban values I mention above. When you annex outlying areas, you almost inevitably make your local politics more suburban, since people with suburban values are more likely to live in outlying areas.
In addition, when you annex outlying areas, you tend to be annexing liabilities. You tend to be annexing high public service needs and high auto dependence, coupled with such low-density areas producing relatively low tax revenue that comes nowhere near covering the costs of such development patterns.