Gaining Support for Walkable Urbanism and the Threat to Cities

By Dom Nozzi

I’m convinced that one very important way to build more citizen support for compact, walkable, loved urbanism is to insist that building architecture move back to timeless, traditional design. I believe modernism is a failed architectural paradigm that is giving urbanism and compact development a black eye due to the large number of us who find it to be jarring, non-contextual, and ugly. Here is a recent essay I wrote on this.

A friend then asked, “Why not move to a big city?” To which I replied…

There are a great many things I dislike about bigger cities. I’ll mention a few: They almost always tend to go WAY overboard on providing gigantic, car-based infrastructure such as high-speed and oversized highways and highway overpasses.

Human scale is obliterated.

I also find it much more difficult, as a result of this gigantism, to find a sense of community. Additionally, bigger cities tend to have big noise pollution problems due to either a lack of political will or lack of noise pollution knowledge.

I have always, by contrast, enjoyed living in smaller “college town” cities for a great many reasons. My biggest fear is that such cities — such as Boulder — will wrongly conclude that the way to protect “small town character” is to stop development (in other words, stop population growth), stop compact and mixed-use development, and demand huge suburban building setbacks. Doing this threatens cities such as Boulder with the Threat of Car-Based Suburbia.

Too many in Boulder equate happy car driving and parking with quality of life. This leads to the political demand that densities be kept at levels that are far too low to support anything but car travel. It makes housing unaffordable since too much (expensive) land is allocated to each home. Suburban objectives – which center around easy, unobstructed car travel and car parking – inevitably leads to oversizing roads and intersections and parking lots (all of which kill “small town character” far more than anything else).

Europe shows us many cities that are the size of Boulder yet have fantastic, lovable, walkable urbanism. Boulder, in other words, can be far more compact and accommodate far more people, while still retaining lovable, prideful small-town charm, if we design for people rather than cars. Here is one of my essays on this topic.

In other words, a city needs to resist the strong temptation to over-build for happy cars. Striving for “happy cars” is one of the most dangerous temptations — one of the most dangerous threats to our quality of life. It is so dangerous because it can garner a juggernaut of nearly universal, bi-partisan, unstoppable political support from a community that does not realize doing so is a powerful yet initially unrecognized way to foul your own nest.

Cities can grow and develop and infill and become more compact without over-designing for easy car travel and easy car parking.

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Filed under Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

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