By Dom Nozzi
We have a love/hate relationship with walkable design.
Consider these comparison photos…
Most all of us love the idea of walking in places such as the images on the left in the first photo above, and the images on the right in the second photo. But in the back of our minds, when we think about how frustrating it would be to DRIVE in those places, we end up furiously opposing building new versions of those places – including the places that we all know are the most loved places in Boulder: the Mapleton Hill neighborhood, the Boulderado Hotel, and Pearl Street Mall.
As I often point out, cars and people have opposite needs. Cars need very low densities to avoid crowded roads and parking. They need bright lights. They need oversized, car-scaled roads and intersections to travel at high speeds. They need large signs and billboards. They need loud sounds to hear each other. They need buildings fronted by huge surface parking lots for ease of parking
By striking contrast, people not in cars mostly enjoy the walkable and charming convenience of compact development. They dislike glaring light pollution. They prefer slower, human-scaled streets and intersections for charming place-making. They like smaller signs and no billboards. They enjoy peace and quiet. And they like buildings close to the sidewalk for ease of walking, the sense of place created by the enclosure that sidewalk buildings create (as in Pearl Street Mall), and are repelled by the prospect of needing to walk across a large asphalt parking lot.
Therefore, when we think like a motorist – which we are compelled to do because our community is designed not for a pedestrian but for car travel, which obligates us to make pretty much all of our trips by car – we are compelled to OPPOSE the creation of a higher density, compact neighborhood with relatively small yards, such as Mapleton Hill. We fight like the dickens against buildings as tall as the Boulderado. And we furiously oppose the creation of a new Pearl Street Mall (via such things as right-sizing). When we are obligated to angrily oppose the most loved elements of our community, then, we find that thinking like a motorist makes us our own worst enemy.
We start hearing the slogans that Boulder is notorious for:
“Does Dense Make Sense???” (NO! As motorists, we hate density)
“Don’t Be Dense, Boulder!!”
“Greedy Developers Want to Develop Every Square Inch of Their Property!” (An odd expression, since the most loved neighborhood – Mapleton Hill – has more “inches” developed than any other Boulder neighborhood)
“Get rid of parking minimums? It’s delusional to think nobody will need a place to park in this neighborhood!” (this despite the fact that eliminating required parking is a powerful way to create affordable housing)
“More development here would create intolerable gridlock. People aren’t just going to stop driving cars!”
“We’re not just going to turn Boulder into Amsterdam!” (this despite the fact that Amsterdam was very car-oriented in the 1960s, and Americans tend to love visiting Amsterdam)
Because we have created car-oriented communities that require us to make all of our trips by car, we are trapped in car dependency for many decades into the future, and are therefore trapped into being our own worst enemies.
Indeed, who needs enemies when we have ourselves?