Category Archives: Politics

A Call to Arms for Dramatically Improved Public Health and Safety

A Manifesto

By Dom Nozzi

There is an old, well-known Chinese adage that from crisis comes opportunity. The pandemic we are now in is a severe crisis, and for all of us today, a crisis that pushes us into uncharted waters.

Fortunately, we can leverage this health crisis to create significantly better public health and public safety through timeless transportation and urban design principles that were once nearly universal, yet have languished over the past century – much to the detriment of public health and safety.

A Time of Crisis

We face a number of crises that are growing in magnitude. At the top of our minds today is the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis arose lightning fast and we are all laser-focused on it as a result of the 24/7 coverage by all media outlets.

But there are three other enormous societal crises that seem less immediately important, but only because they have been slow-motion problems for several decades, rather than emerging overnight like the pandemic. These other societal problems are akin to the “frog in the slowly heating pot of water” syndrome, where most of us don’t notice the water slowly heating, so we don’t jump out of the pot in time to save ourselves. Those slow-motion emergencies include:

  1. Traffic Safety. For the past 70 years, the number of traffic fatalities in the US has ranged from 35,000 to 55,000 deaths per year. This is the equivalent to one hundred 747 jetliners crashing and killing everyone aboard every year, or two fully loaded 747s crashing and killing everyone aboard every week. This is barbaric, and a death rate no civilized society should tolerate.
  2. Physical Fitness. Our society is facing a severe public health crisis. Obesity and other significant lifestyle-related health problems have skyrocketed in recent decades. For the first time in history, the youngest generation is not expected to live as long as the generation that preceded it.
  3. Woefully Poor Financial Health. All levels of government and millions of American households are facing severe financial troubles. The United States, for example, is by far the world’s largest debtor nation.

The good news is that as the Chinese taught us, we can find ways to turn these threatening crises into exciting opportunities to create a stronger, healthier, happier future. We already know a great deal about these opportunities to move us out of these crises, and most of them are not difficult or costly to implement.

Misconceptions

For positive opportunities to emerge, we need to have the courage to boldly innovate. But to innovate, we need to be aware of misconceptions.

  1. Pandemic Infections. Conventional wisdom wrongly informs too many of us today that going forward, we will have lower infection rates and better public health if we continue moving toward more dispersed, lower-density land use patterns. But our best science informs us that this is simply not true. Data clearly shows that there is no connection between city density and infection rates or death rates. This is because a person’s likelihood of infection is largely tied to prolonged indoor exposure rather than the density of housing in a neighborhood. Prolonged indoor exposure (including being inside a car) is as likely in lower-density communities as higher-density communities – maybe more so. And recovery from infection is connected to readily available, higher-quality medical services. Such medical services tend to be more available in denser cities than in less-dense communities.
  2. Traffic Safety and Managing Congestion. Again, tens of thousands have died on American roads every year for the past century. Indeed, it is also arguable that after a century of improved safety efforts, our roads are now more dangerous than ever in many communities. This shocking, long-term traffic safety failure is largely based on a societal over-emphasis on single-mindedly promoting car travel, and our failure to learn that conventional congestion reduction tactics only make our roads more congested and less safe over time. Another factor is our century-long use of the “forgiving roadway” design strategy, which “forgives” an inattentive, speeding motorist in part by removing things such a motorist can crash into. The result is a large and growing epidemic of inattentive motorists who too often drive too fast. A third major reason for our century of failure in reducing traffic deaths is that we are suffering greatly diminishing returns in our century-long use of the ineffective “Five W’s.” To improve traffic safety, we persist in calling for more of the following: (1) Warning signs; (2) Warning lights; (3) Warning paint; (4) Warning enforcement; and (5) Warning education. These five things are not effective in promoting traffic safety, and are becoming less effective the more we continue to use them.

Opportunities

Fortunately, our society does not need to come up with major new breakthroughs for seemingly impossible-to-solve problems with no solutions in sight. For decades, individuals and groups have sought to advance tactics that are time-tested and known to be effective. We describe the effective tactics below.

  1. Infections. Reducing rates of infection and deaths due to infection, according to medical professionals and science-based studies, is best achieved in communities that are designed for easy, pleasant, safe, and frequent walking and bicycling (because physically active people strengthen their immune system). That is, communities that are compact, human-scaled, and mix housing with offices and shops and schools. This design induces large numbers of people to engage in health-promoting travel and reduce health-endangering driving (driving that kills many Americans each year from crashes – not to mention the toxic car emissions, noise pollution, and physical inactivity that degrades our health). By being healthier through increased physical activity that comes from regular walking and bicycling, we strengthen our immune system, improve our lungs, promote neighborly “social capital,” reduce stress, and boost the effectiveness of vaccines. By contrast, those living in low-density residential suburbs are relatively inactive because most all of their travel must be by motor vehicle. This lifestyle weakens human immune function. And therefore makes our bodies more fragile and susceptible to disease. In a world where millions of bacteria and viruses are always near us in cities and suburbs, the key for avoiding serious infection problems is based on a strong immune system, not isolation. In sum, resilience against current and future infection is best achieved with compact, sociable places where it is easy and common to walk to shops and schools and other daily needs. A part of this is the growing interest in closing or redesigning streets to reduce infection and improve our quality of life. We know that infection rates go down more substantially when people are outdoors rather than indoors, which has led restaurant owners to ask that street space be re-allocated to non-car use by extending restaurant seating into streets. Many are noticing that during the pandemic, smog is clearing and cites are quieter due to lower levels of car travel. This has led many cities to redesign streets for more slow-speed people-oriented activity, or close streets to cars. Many streets are therefore becoming more like the shared, safe Dutch “Woonerfs” or European walking streets. This tends to induce a large community increase in walking, cycling, safety, conversation, and smiles. The good news for drivers is that lower-speed design means a reduced need for stop signs or other roadway controls, which means motorists need to stop less often.
  2. Traffic Safety and Congestion. There is a growing worldwide movement toward the keys to improved traffic safety. Those keys are centered on slowing down. “Slow Cities” and “Slow Foods” are two examples of this, and the results are impressive. Designing streets to obligate slower, more attentive driving by reducing the width or size of streets or intersections is effectively reducing crashes and traffic deaths. Traffic engineers must be given the authority to be flexible in the designs they use in street design, rather than be obligated to follow “conventional” dimensions – which tend to be excessive and induce excessive car speeds. Fortunately, the design manuals engineers use provide that flexibility, in spite of conventional wisdom. By creating slow, attentive “walking (or “open”) streets,” we are opening the door to a growth in the number of compact, convivial, front-porch oriented neighborhoods. This, in turn, results in more health-promoting community walking and bicycling, which strengthens our immune system. The more slow-speed, compact community also allows another essential benefit: It allows us to AVOID congestion (congestion that is inevitable in a healthy city). In a healthy city, the large size of cars in a car-dependent society leads to unavoidable congestion – congestion that only worsens if we widen roads, for example. Why? Because road widening induces people to drive more often. It is one of the Iron Laws of Transportation that you cannot build (or widen) yourself out of congestion. But you CAN avoid getting stuck in it with the proper community design.
  3. Finances. Low-density, car-based community design has bankrupted federal, state, and local government because the cost to provide and maintain the roads and parking lots and accoutrements for that lifestyle is fantastically high. Governments cannot afford the cost largely because density of development must be kept low to make car driving and parking reasonably tolerable. That low density does not come close to providing enough tax revenue to pay for the needed car-based transportation system. Indeed, strongtowns.org calls these low-density suburbs that cannot pay their own way a “Ponzi-Scheme.” Households also suffer significantly in a car-based community. In a community where nearly all travel must be made by car, a household must own a larger number of cars, and the annual cost to own and operate each car now exceeds $10,000 per year. This obligation to own several cars in an American household helps explain why the cost of transportation for the American household has gone from about two percent of the total household budget 100 years ago to 22 percent (and rising) of the household budget today. Reducing the number of cars a house must own – through compact, walkable design — is therefore an effective way to create affordable housing.
  4. Resilience and Strength. The car-dependent, isolating (low social capital) suburb is highly vulnerable to serious decline in a future where we experience severe and inevitable declines or disruptions in such things as economics, energy, and climate change. That is, a car-dependent community, like physically inactive people, is extremely fragile. By striking contrast, a community designed to be compact, low-speed, and sociable is comparatively strong and resilient. A community offering several forms of active travel (walking, bicycling, and transit) is relatively able to adapt to inevitable future change or survive impacts such as a pandemic.

The desirability and rarity of human-scaled, compact, slower-speed design  in American cities highlights that an important strategy we need for a better future is associated with our cities having too much space. Too much space allocated to car travel and parking. Too much distance created between destinations. Not that we have too much in the way of parks or squares or plazas or other “open spaces,” but that we have buildings that are set back too far from sidewalks. Too many “sea of asphalt” parking lots. Roads that contain too many travel and turn lanes. Intersections that have grown too enormous. Too much distance between the home and both neighbors and the corner store.

Our first and most important task for creating the walkability that healthy, strong, and happy people the world over love is to create modest, human-scaled city spaces. To make spaces to drive and store a car smaller in size by reallocating that space to “people-oriented” activities such as restaurants or strolling – particularly in our town centers.

What Is To Be Done in America?

To best implement what we call for above, these should be our top priorities for America.

  1. Reform Our Land Use Zoning. We need higher allowable densities. We also need zoning that allows the following by right: accessory dwelling units, mini- and micro-housing, small shops and small offices, co-housing, and duplexes. Relax or eliminate setback or landscaping requirements. This reform effectively creates more affordable housing, and has been accomplished in Minneapolis and Oregon.
  2. Slow, Attentive Streets. Particularly within town centers, make slow street design (mostly through modest, human-scaled street and intersection dimensions) the default design. Calm high-speed streets with smaller street and intersection dimensions. “Forgiving Street Design” preferences overallocation of space to cars, and substantially worsens traffic safety by promoting excess speeds and inattentive driving. Replace this philosophy with “Attentive, Slow-Speed Design,” which preferences slower, safer, more human-scaled streets and intersections. One beneficial change that would result from this revised philosophy is that our streets would more likely be gracefully enveloped by street trees (street trees abutting the street tend to be discouraged by Forgiving design). End our counterproductive, century-long habit of overallocating road space to cars by putting a moratorium on road and intersection widening. America has allocated far too much urban space to car travel and storage. This undermines an enormous number of societal health and safety objectives. The health and innovative creativity of a city depends on clustering (economists call this “agglomermation economies”), and over-allocating space to cars severely undermines clustering by dispersing the city into sprawl. We need road and parking lot diets, restaurant seating expanding into roads, landscaped bulb-outs, and smaller intersections. Widening increases per capita car-based travel, worsens traffic congestion in the long-run, imposes unaffordable maintenance costs on government, degrades public health, and increases the number of traffic fatalities. America needs far more welcoming, healthy, shared streets such as Woonerfs, living streets, open streets, walking streets, and give-way streets. Making our communities and transportation systems more compact and slower speed effectively improves our ability to reduce infection and death rates, significantly improves our physical fitness, and dramatically improves the financial condition of all levels of government as well as our households.
  3. Reform parking. We need to convert minimum required parking rules to maximum allowable parking, unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing, tax parking spaces, allow housing and shops and offices to replace parking by right, and replace off-street parking with on-street parking (this is a low-cost, quick way to calm traffic, enhance business health, and put over-sized roads on a diet).
  4. User Fees. For a much more equitable and societally beneficial future, revenue needed to provide for car travel should move substantially toward user fees (such as metered parking, road tolling, or Vehicle Miles Traveled fees) rather than unfairly relying on property tax or sales taxes.
  5. Restore Passenger Rail. Restoring America’s formerly impressive passenger rail system is a powerful tool for building great neighborhoods and great cities. If we are to soon see a massive transportation infrastructure stimulus in response to the pandemic, that stimulus needs to include a big expansion in American passenger rail. For the coming decades, the emphasis should be getting the most bang (mileage) for the buck by emphasizing slow-speed rail. High-speed rail is sexy and exciting, but it buys us very little rail mileage because the cost is enormous. Some of that slow-speed rail can later become, incrementally, high-speed.
  6. Reduce the Size of Service Vehicles. For better public safety, better public health, and a higher quality of life, street dimensions should be dictated bases on slow-speed, human-scaled, place-making design. Unfortunately, American roads tend to use a “design vehicle” to dictate road dimensions. This design vehicle tends to be enormous service vehicles such as fire trucks and buses. This is backward. And substantially undermines societal objectives. Reducing service vehicle sizes used in a community is a way to escape this unintended consequence.
  7. Reform Property Taxes. Nearly all American cities strongly discourage compact, mixed use, infill development with their tax structure. Instead of strongly discouraging infill (and encouraging surface parking for land speculation) by taxing improvements to land (renovations, infill, etc.), we should be taxing the land. This has been done in Pittsburgh. It is known as a “land value tax” (or “single tax”).
  8. Convert One-Way Streets Back to Two-Way. A great many cities are implementing this reform because one-way streets undermine several community objectives. They harm residential and retail health, increase the amount of inattentive and high-speed driving, increase motorist frustration, induce more wrong-way travel, produce confusion for out-of-town motorists, increase the distances driven by car, and reduce gaps in car platoons.
  9. Better Train Transportation Engineers to Speak Objective, Plain English. Too often, professional transportation engineers use so much jargon, biased language, and bureaucratic terminology that their presentations or written recommendations are nearly incomprehensible to a non-professional audience of citizens. This is an important problem, as it is essential for neighborhood citizens to be fully aware of what is being communicated to them as problems or options or plans from professionals. Without a full comprehension, citizens are not fully able to participate in transportation discussions that are often significantly affecting their safety or quality of life. They have less ability to express their concerns about transportation. This can give too much decision making to the professional staff – including missing important information about problems to be solved. An effective way to correct this is to better train professionals to speak plainly and speak without bias. We provide guidelines in the appendix of this document.

Many of these design practices were followed for most of human history (in America, up until approximately World War II). It is time to start returning to that tradition. There is no better way to address pandemics, loss of physical health, financial woes, traffic safety, improving our transportation system, or promoting our quality of life.

Plain English and Objective Language Guidelines

https://domz60.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/plain-english/

https://domz60.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/unbiased-terms/

 

 

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Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

The Dilemma and Difficulty of Designing Our Streets for Safety and a Healthy City

By Dom Nozzi

In my work over the years in town and transportation planning, I have learned that for cities to be effective in delivering one of their most important, desirable outcomes — exchange of products, services, and ideas via agglomeration – they must be designed for low speeds and human scale. That means dimensions and distances need to be modest.

The dilemma – which is the most enormous dilemma I have struggled with for most all of my professional career — is that because cars consume an enormous amount of space, and because nearly all of us have grown up and spent our entire lives traveling by car in a car-based world, we are strongly conditioned to believe that larger dimensions are desirable. That smaller dimensions are not only extremely frustrating and congesting for all of our car-based trips, but that they are, as a result, a direct threat to our quality of life – and, surely, to the quality of the city.

Nearly all of us are conditioned by our world, in other words, to believe that easing car travel and minimizing congestion is essential. Unquestionably essential. Even in a town center.

The problem is that while this is almost certainly true in the drivable suburbs, it is certainly not true in a walkable town center.

Again, to be healthy, a town center needs small dimensions and low speeds. But when nearly all of us get around in huge metal boxes, that design seems impractical and exceptionally unacceptable. Nearly all citizens, elected officials, and too many transportation staffers live a car-based life, which means there is a near consensus that even town centers must allow easy, congestion-free travel.

Many of us in the field of town and transportation planning now know this is mistaken. We know that a town center context is vastly different from a suburban context, which means the design needs to be vastly different. We know that in a town center, we have achieved an appropriate design only when large metal boxes do NOT experience easy, congestion-free travel. Large metal boxes SHOULD experience congestion in what should be a human-scaled, low-speed town center. If not, it is a clear sign that we have over-allocated for cars. Either that, or our town center is dying from abandonment.

But if nearly all of our citizens, elected officials, and staff almost always travel by car, it is extremely difficult or impossible to agree that slowing cars or higher levels of car congestion are a desirable outcome. Even though it IS desirable if our objective is a healthier town center.

We must not start with the solution – particularly in a society such as ours, where today we are unsustainably distorted toward extreme car dependence. In today’s world, that ruinously leads people to immediately conclude, by default, that easing car travel is unquestionably the solution to nearly any transportation problem.

That is backward and presumptuous.

We must start with the problem, and have the engineer (working with a designer or informed by an urban design background, if our context is a town center) recommend the best ways to solve the problem.

Again, in our car-dependent world, it is too much of a temptation for the engineer to recommend what all “right-minded” citizens (all of whom get around by car) know are the solutions from the beginning. Every day, when we drive our huge metal box, we are frustrated by slow downs and congestion. Is it not screamingly obvious what needs to be done? Why waste our valuable time by asking to solve the problem when we can cut to the chase and deploy the common-sense solutions we are all aware of? We all know that wider lanes, turn lanes, more travel lanes, slip lanes, synchronized traffic signals, lower density zoning, larger intersection turning radii, or converting to one-way street operation will ease car travel and reduce congestion. We are, in effect, stuck in the bind of an “Overton window” (a place where there are only a very limited number of politically acceptable outcomes or solutions that are allowed to be proposed). The only question is how to find the money, Mr. or Ms. Engineer.

And in the highly unlikely event that we CAN manage to start with the problem to solve rather than starting with the solution, the temptation tends to be too irresistible to avoid recommending problem-solving tools such as road or intersection diets or more narrow lanes. Nearly always, such tools are immediately shot down because they will clearly slow down or congest our driving (they are, in other words, outside of the Overton Window). They are direct threats to our way of life. They can’t possibly be good for our city. Go back and rework your numbers! Who has the courage or thick enough skin to want to propose smaller street dimensions when the nearly inevitable result will be angry opposition by citizens, officials, and even fellow staff?

As I’ve said in the past, I see only a few ways out of this trap (what I call a point of no return): We reach a financial crisis where we can no longer find enough money to keep harming our town center and our public safety by deploying the conventional congestion reduction tools. Or we experience an extreme, highly unusual, non-financial crisis such as a severe economic collapse (or perhaps a pandemic like the one we are now experiencing in 2020?). Both of those things (running out of money or economic depression) obligate us to think outside the box. Running out of money is a severe crisis, which can create an opportunity to have citizens and officials overcome their strong lifestyle desire to ease car travel and — perhaps in desperation — opt to knowingly allow car travel to become more difficult in our town center.

One could say, I suppose, that the appalling number of traffic deaths over the decades should be sufficient motivation to be innovative, but I think that is a “frog in the slowly heating pot of water” problem. The problem has been with us for so long that we have just come to accept it as an inevitable problem we must learn to live with. Our expectations for traffic safety have been lowered.

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What Does Our Stimulus Agenda Need to Be To Build a Better Future?

By Dom Nozzi

There is much talk these days about taking advantage of the 2020 pandemic to achieve important societal objectives that have not been achieved despite their importance and despite there being known as problems for decades. The old Chinese adage that pertains to this is that from crisis comes opportunity.

What are some of the most important transportation and land use objectives that we should consider moving forward with, now that there is heightened political will to make important changes?

I would suggest the following.

  1. Reform Parking. American cities have far too much free parking. We need to remove a massive amount of free parking (perhaps in part by converting it to housing), a  much higher proportion must be priced, and required minimum parking must be either converted to maximum parking or eliminated entirely.
  2. Reform Taxation. Nearly all American cities strongly discourage compact, mixed use, infill development with their tax structure. Instead of strongly discouraging infill (and encouraging surface parking for land speculation) by taxing improvements to land (renovations, infill, etc.), we should be taxing the land. This has been done in Pittsburgh. It is known as a “land value tax” (or “single tax”).
  3. Slow Streets. American cities have far too many streets that were built with an excessive design speed (often because the design vehicle was the oversized worst-case-scenario vehicle). While we certainly need to ensure that NEW streets use lower design speeds, new streets are very rare in most cities. The major task for us is to retrofit EXISTING streets for lower speed design. This is crucial for progress in traffic safety, promoting quality compact development, and promoting active transportation. I love the world-wide movement for “slow cities,” by the way, as cities thrive when speeds are slower.
  4. Return to the Human Scale. American cities have spent much of the 20th Century creating over-sized spacing (roads, building setbacks, parking lots). This loss of human scale destroys the ability to create a sense of place. This is an important reason why so many of us love historic old towns around the world.
  5. Restore Passenger Rail. If we are to soon see a massive transportation infrastructure stimulus in response to the pandemic, that stimulus needs to include a big expansion in American passenger rail. For the coming decades, the emphasis should be getting the most bang (mileage) for the buck by emphasizing slow-speed rail. High-speed rail is sexy and exciting, but it buys us very little rail mileage because the cost is enormous. Some of that slow-speed rail can later become, incrementally, high-speed.
  6. Emphasize Transportation User Fees. We all know that gas tax revenue is not keeping up with needs. Note that I agree with Chuck Marohn that it is fortunate that we have inadequate transportation funding these days because our society continues to emphasize counterproductive car-based infrastructure when we find dollars. But there will come a time when we finally “get it” with regard to how to spend transport dollars. Important, equitable ways to find new funding, besides ramping up parking revenue, is a lot more road tolling or VMT fees (or similar user-based fees). Sales, income, and property taxes are a terribly unfair (and socially undesirable) way to raise transportation dollars.

Let us not squander the opportunity that this pandemic crisis offers to us to dramatically improve our communities.

The time for bold action is now.

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Do Electric Vehicles Solve Most or All Motor Vehicle Problems?

 

By Dom Nozzi

A great many people seem to believe that the widespread use of electric vehicles (EVs) will solve most or all societal problems created by motor vehicles (MVs).

This is not even close to being true.

Air emissions from cars is one of a great many enormous problems motorized vehicles create for society. The excessive reliance on motor vehicles (MVs) — including EV — inevitably consume an enormous amount of space that destroys a sense of place and quality of life, and greatly undermines efforts to promote compact development. MVs also inevitably introduce excessive speeds into our world, which causes a shocking number of travel-related injuries and deaths. MVs inevitably swallow up a massive, financially unsustainable amount of public tax revenue (a massive fraction of that constitute public subsidies). MVs, furthermore, inevitably amplify public health woes (particularly obesity). MVs, in addition, inevitably create a tremendous financial strain for cities and households. MVs establish a downwardly spiraling, self-perpetuating point of no return that nearly all cities have reached. There are a great many other problems that MVs create. In sum, it is time that we stop kidding ourselves that “clean” MV emissions fix most or all societal MV problems.

I believe the “EV Solution” is so commonly expressed because many people seek a “solution” that does not require substantial societal behavior change. Others cannot conceive of a world where they are obligated to drive a car substantially less.

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Filed under Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

By Dom Nozzi

One of my cousins, on Facebook (FB) in the spring of 2020, responded to a post I had made to FB recently. My post noted that several developed countries in the world had zero people without health insurance, while the US had 30 million without health insurance.

She responded by asking for a “Show of hands – who wants to pay 50% or more of their income in taxes??? Bernie [Sanders] is proposing American taxpayers pay 72% of their income so we can have FREE healthcare- even for ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, free college, free, free, free- nothing is free – it all gets paid for somewhere…”

I responded to my cousin by saying that with all due respect, my partner and I believe my cousin needs to check her numbers.

I went on.

What you mention sounds like the distorted corrupt corporate media narrative (a media hugely funded by Big Pharma and Insurance companies). Our understanding: What Sanders proposes is that we go back to the Good Old Days of, say, the 1950s for our tax structure. Then, taxes on those making up to about $30K a year would pay, say, 15 percent in taxes. Those making $30-60K a year would pay, say, 30 percent in taxes on the money they make over $30K. Those making over $60K a year would pay, say, 55 percent in taxes on the money they make over $60K.

In other words, lower and middle-income folks would not see much of an increase in taxes.

Putting aside taxes, how about if we build one or two less F-16 fighter jets? How about if we fight one or two less endless wars of aggression (wars, by the way, that create two people who hate the US for every one US hater we kill, which helps induce the endless warfare cycle). How about if we build one or two less aircraft carriers? How about if we widen one or two less highways? Doing these no-brainer things would mean we could have universal health care (like all other developed nations on earth) and free college for all (and build a desperately needed national passenger rail system) without the need to raise taxes.

I agree with you, by the way, that it is unfair to provide free education and free health care to illegal immigrants. Shame on Democrats for not acknowledging that. Shame on Democrats for apparently supporting open borders and no real restrictions on immigration. That is not sustainable nor is it good for the US.

One last thing: I agree with you that nothing is free (someone, somewhere is paying for “free” things). That is why I’m sure you would agree with me that we should eliminate the biggest form of welfare subsidy by far in America: Free parking and toll-free roads. Those “free” parking spaces and “free” roads are being paid by someone. They are not actually free. As someone who has spent 40 years academically and professionally in transportation planning, I can say with certainty that gas taxes pay only a tiny percentage of those road and parking costs. The vast majority of those costs are paid indirectly: We all, for example, pay higher prices for groceries (including those of us who shop by bicycle or bus) to pay for those “free” parking spaces at the supermarket. We all pay higher property and sales taxes to pay for those “free” roads. And we all pay for those “free” parking spaces and “free” roads with enormous externalized costs such as air pollution, degraded public health, unaffordable sprawl development, noise pollution, tens of thousands of annual traffic deaths, strip commercial blight, etc.

In sum, thank you for pointing out that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I agree with you.

To answer your “show of hands” question, I very much DO want what Bernie Sanders proposes. As former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.” (and as I pointed out above, the Sanders ideas do not necessarily require that taxes be raised, and if they do, not much at all unless you are quite wealthy).

Oh, and I cannot let this be unsaid: There are HUGE hidden societal costs associated with having roughly 30 million Americans without health care. The numbers I’ve seen put those costs in the trillions of dollars. We cannot afford to have 30 million people without health care.

 

 

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

The Many Benefits of Higher Density Development Patterns

 

By Dom Nozzi

Those who work in the fields of town planning and transportation are well aware of the overwhelming evidence that there are a great many significant benefits of higher density development patterns. Tragically, nearly all Americans believe higher densities destroy neighborhoods and overall quality of life.

Why this disconnect?

Because nearly all Americans are utterly dependent on car travel, and higher densities make car travel much more costly and much more inconvenient.

Given this, it is clear that car-dependent Americans have a vested interest in fighting against efforts to improve community quality of life. This helps explain why so many community problems persist throughout the nation.

suburbia vs walkable3

In my 40 years of academic work in town and transportation planning, I have found that research studies show repeatedly and clearly that higher-density community and neighborhood development patterns provide the following benefits:

More affordable housing. This is due to smaller house size, the smaller amounts of land owned, and the ability of the household to survive with a smaller number of (extremely expensive) household cars. This is because more compact development patterns allow people to engage in many daily tasks without needing to travel by car.

Less per capita car travelThis reduces per capita air emissions and the overall per capita carbon footprint.

More physically fit community. With higher per capita levels of walking, bicycling, and transit use, residents of higher-density communities tend to be much more physically fit and less obese. Higher-density places promote social capital, and higher social capital is shown by studies to promote happiness, health, and longevity.

More financially sound households. A century ago, transportation was about 1 to 2 percent of household costs. Today it is about 23 percent and rising. The average annual cost of each car owned by a household is approximately $10,000. Higher-density neighborhoods substantially reduce the need for car ownership, car use, and overall household transportation costs. In addition, higher-density communities provide households with more job opportunities.

Lower startup costs. As Jane Jacobs noted several decades ago, higher-density town centers provide significantly lower capital startup costs for a small business. For example, it is much more financially viable for an individual to sell cooked food from a cart on a dense street corner than for an individual to buy or lease a restaurant building to sell cooked food.

More neighborhood-based (and smaller) retail. Only higher densities make smaller, neighborhood-based, locally-owned shops financially feasible. Lower-density communities tend to only be able to financially support franchise stores or large-format retail stores that draw customers from a regional consumer-shed.

More neighborly. Higher-density neighborhoods promote sociability. Lower-density neighborhoods promote isolation and suspicion.

Slower speed. Healthy cities are slower in speed, as slower speeds promote retail and residential health. And significantly reduces traffic injuries and deaths. These benefits explain why there is a global movement o create “slow cities.”

More abundant and diverse choices. Higher-density neighborhoods inevitably create much more in the way of choices for restaurants, other types of retail and specialty goods, and culture.

More innovation and creativity. Many studies show that higher-density cities are significantly more innovative and creative than lower-density cities. Higher-density cities attract more talented, skilled people.

More exchange. The main reason cities exist is to promote the exchange of goods, services, ideas, and sociability. Higher densities substantially increase the efficiency and amount of exchange.

More productive workforce. Higher-density cities not only attract more talented workers – which in itself promotes productivity – but also enhances productivity by reducing transportation costs in creating products or providing services.

More walking, bicycling, and transit use. Higher densities induce mixed-use development patterns, which substantially reduces trip distances. Relatively short travel distances to destinations is by far the most powerful way to increase walking, bicycling, and transit use.

Higher quality transit. Higher-density leads to higher transit ridership, which leads to better, more widespread, and more frequent transit service.

More housing choices. Lower-densities tend to deliver very limited housing choice. Nearly all of the housing consists of large single-family homes on large lots of land. Higher-density neighborhoods can provide townhouses, apartments, accessory units, co-ops, and live-work spaces.

More fiscal health for local government. Lower-density development, as shown by strongtowns.org, is a fiscal parasite because it fails to generate anywhere near the tax revenue needed to pay for its significant impacts (mostly road work) on the community. And minimizes per capita expenditures for infrastructure.

More security from crime. Higher densities promote citizen surveillance (often called “eyes on the street”). Higher densities lead to more regular use of sidewalks and observing the outside through house windows greatly contributes to our looking out for our collective security. Since criminals tend to rely on not being seen, this citizen surveillance greatly reduces crime. Many compact neighborhoods are now called “911” neighborhoods, as compactness increases the chance someone will spot an emergency and call 911.

More travel independence for those unable to drive a car. In a lower-density neighborhood, distances to destinations are far away and require the use of dangerous and high-speed roads. This makes car travel essential for nearly all trips, and those unable to drive (such as seniors, children, and the disabled) therefore lose travel independence. They must rely on others to get around.

More environmentally friendly. If we take, say, 100,000 people, that number of people will consume less environmentally sensitive land, produce far less air and water pollution, consume far less energy, and require less asphalt and concrete when living more compactly (ie, at higher densities). If we take that same 100,000 people and disperse them in lower-density patterns, the result is far higher levels of air and water pollution, far larger amounts of environmentally sensitive land consumed, far higher amounts of energy consumed, and far more asphalt and concrete needed.

Final Thoughts

A big part of the problem with the disconnect between the many benefits of compact development and the high level of citizen opposition to such development is that those who dislike density are thinking about the issue as a motorist and not as a human being. Since cars take up so much space, density is something that often and understandably makes the motorist furiously mad (so mad that the emotion tends to turn off a person’s brain). The idea of added density is seen as a direct threat to their ability to travel unhindered (or unfrustrated) by car.

It threatens the very core of their drivable lifestyle.

Car travel in a dense city is an effective recipe for infuriating a motorist. And again, because of the large space consumption of the car, nearly every trip the motorist takes puts them in a bad mood, as it is highly likely that driving a big metal box will be frustrating – even when densities are low.

Getting around by bicycle (or when I walk or use the bus), I pretty much never notice traffic congestion. In fact, almost every bike ride I take puts me in a better mood.

 

Some references:

http://www.lgc.org/wordpress/docs/freepub/community_design/reports/density_manual.pdf

https://theconversation.com/higher-density-living-can-make-us-healthier-but-not-on-its-own-34920

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/11/cities-denser-cores-do-better/3911/

https://www.brookings.edu/articles/demand-for-density-the-functions-of-the-city-in-the-21st-century/

https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/towns-and-cities/summary-value-urban-design-economic-environmental-and-social-benefi-10

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/04/why-bigger-cities-are-greener/863/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/urban-sprawl/Costs-of-urban-sprawl

 

 

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Will the True Progressives and Promoters of a Quality, Sustainable Future Please Stand Up?

By Dom Nozzi

A “PINO” is a Progressive in Name Only. A person who holds deceptive political beliefs. A person who is engaged in virtue signaling, wherein the person seeks to give others the impression that they are ethical or part of the tribe.

Judith Renfroe questioned how progressives can support more housing, infill, smaller houses, expanded transportation choices, smaller and local retail, and a lower carbon footprint.

My questions to her: In what universe do progressives support preservation of low-density, low-slung and large-lot suburban housing? Or take a stance that is detrimental to affordable and healthy travel options (transit, walking, bicycling)? Or be anti-walkable city and pro-drivable suburb? Or support such restrictive single-family zoning that house prices continue to skyrocket and middle-income families are increasingly excluded from living in a city where their job is located?

Does it make sense for progressives to promote policies that maintain and heighten the “financial wall” surrounding Boulder to keep out the undesirables?

I have several additional thoughts about the absurd ideas that the anti-city and pro-car folks such as this author hold on to:

We are told that it is wrong for some Boulder progressives (the pro-city and pro-housing folks) to “be in bed with evil, greedy developers who can’t ever be trusted to build desirable developments.” That it is instead progressive and promoting quality of life if we instead “protect neighborhoods from development.” Or “protect our views of the flatirons.”

Really?

Let’s see if I understand correctly. I’m living in Boulder in, say, 1890. According to the above logic, I must urge my neighbors and my elected officials to “protect our neighborhood” by not allowing an “evil, greedy developer” to building my home. Or any other home for that matter. After all, how can we trust a greedy developer? My two-story home will block my views of the flatirons! And cause traffic gridlock!

In response, you tell me that when you arrived in Boulder in the 1950s and your home and your neighborhood were built, things were wonderful in Boulder and that desirable “small town character” should be protected. The developer of your neighborhood was not evil when you came to Boulder.

Why, I ask, were developers heroic when you arrived in Boulder, but now that you are here, developers have become greedy and evil?

Putting aside the double standard – or the idea that I’ve got mine, so we can pull up the ladder now – let us consider this proposition that your home and neighborhood were wonderful when you arrived.

In the view of a great many in the field of town planning, science, medicine, engineering, and sociology, the past several decades has seen the development of neighborhoods that are…

…the most unaffordability expensive in American history, in terms of housing, land consumption, and transportation.

…the most anti-social, suspicious-of-neighbors, and isolating in American history (Robert Putnam’s research has shown that America is now a nation of loners).

…the most energy-intensive, air-polluting, and consumptive in American history.

…the most unhealthy in American history (studies show neighborhood design triggers obesity, heart disease, and diabetes).

…the most architecturally ugly buildings in American history.

…the most restrictive in travel options in American history – only motorized travel is possible.

…the most low-quality in American history – in terms of the durability of building materials used.

…the most isolating in American history – for seniors and children who cannot get around without a car.

Is THIS the sort of neighborhood design we should be protecting in the interests of quality of life and sustainability? In this age of crisis regarding affordability, climate change, health woes, loss of lifestyle and travel choices, and loss of beauty, shouldn’t we instead be incrementally tweaking the design of the neighborhoods built over those decades so that they instead deliver a better quality of life and more resilient sustainability?

Eighty percent of the land in Boulder is zoned single-family and has these features, compared to about 0.1 percent allocated to a walkable, sustainable lifestyle. Is it possible that the neighborhoods with the features I list above are outdated and unsustainable in a world of climate change and affordability woes? A world where the demand for walkable neighborhoods is enormous (and growing) compared to a tiny supply of such neighborhoods?

Shouldn’t we perhaps reconsider the angrily held view that your neighborhood is wonderful in design and should not be “harmed” by more housing or compact development? That perhaps maybe a few mistakes were made back when Boulder had a “wonderful small-town character” at the time you arrived here?

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Top Priorities for the Boulder Colorado City Council in 2020

 

By Dom Nozzi

I submitted the following recommended priorities for the Boulder City Council for the year 2020.

Reform Parking

Boulder suffers from significant affordability woes and excessive dependence on car travel. By requiring new development to provide parking for homes, offices, and retail, the City is substantially worsening these problems. Requiring a parking space for a home, for example, adds $10,000 to $20,000 to the price of a home. And abundant, free parking is a fertility drug for cars.

As is recommended by the Boulder Master Transportation Plan for several years, required minimum parking requirements need to be converted to maximum allowable parking, as is now the case in a large and growing number of cities in the nation. The City needs to require that when feasible, the price of parking is unbundled from the price of housing. Both of these parking reform measures are part of the “SUMP” principles that staff has been working on and proposing for a number of years now. (“Shared Unbundled, Managed, and Paid”).

Policy 6.11 of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan states that “…[t]he city will accommodate parking demands in the most efficient way possible with the minimal necessary number of new spaces and promote parking reductions through a variety of tools, including parking maximums, shared parking, unbundled parking…based on SUMP principles to support transportation and GHG reduction goals as well as broader sustainability goals, including economic vitality and neighborhood livability.”

Action 5.E of the Boulder Master Transportation Plan calls for the City to “[m]odify the city parking code to support policies in the BVCP that promote mixed-use development and higher densities where appropriate. Transition parking to other uses as needs change.”

Reform Single-Family Zoning

Boulder suffers from an extreme affordable housing crisis that is now worsening each year. In addition, about 80 percent of Boulder is zoned single-family residential. Both of these factors lead to very low levels of racial and income diversity and results in nearly all lower- and middle-income households from being able to move to or remain in Boulder. It must be pointed out that the origins of single-family zoning a century ago had as its primary (but unspoken) objective, the promotion of racial and income discrimination.

Like a growing number of cities nationwide, Boulder needs to reform single-family zoning regulations so that smaller homes, smaller lots, duplexes, and neighborhood-scaled office and retail are allowed in that zoning district, as well as accessory dwelling units, co-housing and co-ops. In addition, the maximum number of unrelated people living in a household must be increased – at least to a level similar to that of most other cities in the nation. Allowing these new housing types in Boulder’s single-family zoning district must be coupled with:

  1. A visual preference survey that ensures that allowable building design is compatible and desirable to most residents of Boulder’s neighborhoods;
  2. Stepped up code enforcement; and
  3. Expansion of Managed Parking.

Policy 2.11 in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan states that “…granny flats, alley houses, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and owner’s accessory units (OAUs)) will be encouraged by the city to increase workforce and long-term rental housing options in single-family residential neighborhoods.”

Policy 2.16 states that “[t]he city will encourage well-designed mixed-use and higher-density development that incorporates a substantial amount of affordable housing in appropriate locations, including in some commercial centers and industrial areas and in proximity to multimodal corridors and transit centers. The city will provide incentives and remove regulatory barriers to encourage mixed-use development where and when appropriate. This could include public-private partnerships for planning, design or development, new zoning districts, and the review and revision of floor area ratio, open space and parking requirements.”

Policy 2.14 states that “[i]n existing neighborhoods, a mix of land use types, housing sizes and lot sizes may be possible if properly mitigated and respectful of neighborhood character.”

Policy 7.06 states that “[t]he city…will encourage the private sector to provide and maintain a mixture of housing types with varied prices, sizes and densities to meet the housing needs of the low-, moderate- and middle-income households of the Boulder Valley population. The city will encourage property owners to provide a mix of housing types, as appropriate. This may include support for ADUs/OAUs, alley houses, cottage courts and building multiple small units rather than one large house on a lot.”

Policy 7.10 states that “…[t]he city will explore policies and programs to increase housing for Boulder workers and their families by fostering mixed-use and multi-family development in proximity to transit, employment or services…”

Be Effective with Vision Zero for Traffic Safety

Boulder’s Vision Zero program (intended to reduce traffic deaths and serious traffic injuries to zero) is far too timid to achieve meaningful traffic safety improvements. It continues to focus on the failed methods Boulder has used for over a century: An emphasis on Warning Signs, Warning Lights, Warning Paint, Warning Education, and Warning Enforcement. And for most of that century to this day, City roadway design has had the unintended consequence of inducing excessive speeds and inattentive driving. After a century of these methods, Boulder’s roads are now more dangerous than they have ever been.

To effectively reducing the appalling number of serious traffic injuries and deaths that continue to occur on Boulder roads, the City must emphasize the redesign of city roads. For example, there must be a much more thorough use of effective traffic calming methods that induce slower and more attentive driving: Narrowing streets with bulb-outs, lane width reductions, installation of more on-street (and priced) parking, and removal (or re-purposing) of unnecessary lanes. This effort should not include “vertical” interventions such as speed humps, as this creates problems for emergency vehicles as well as creating noise pollution and vehicle damage.

Action 1.D of the Boulder Transportation Master Plan states that the City should “[d]evelop and implement a Speed Management Plan to decrease travel speeds on city streets; and explore reducing the speed limit on residential (local) streets from 25 mph to 20 mph, and 15 mph in school zones.”

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The Many Benefits of Higher Density Development Patterns

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 6, 2019

 

Those who work in the fields of town planning and transportation are well aware of the overwhelming evidence that there are a great many significant benefits of higher density development patterns. Tragically, nearly all Americans believe higher densities destroy neighborhoods and overall quality of life.

Why this disconnect?

Because nearly all Americans are utterly dependent on car travel, and higher densities make car travel much more costly and much more inconvenient.

Given this, it is clear that car-dependent Americans have a vested interest in fighting against efforts to improve community quality of life. This helps explain why so many community problems persist throughout the nation.

In my 40 years of academic work in town and transportation planning, I have found that research studies show repeatedly and clearly that higher-density community and neighborhood development patterns provide the following benefits:

More affordable housing. This is due to smaller house size and smaller amounts of land owned.

Less per capita car travelThis reduces per capita air emissions and the overall per capita carbon footprint.

More physically fit community. With higher per capita levels of walking, bicycling, and transit use, residents of higher-density communities tend to be much more physically fit and less obese. Higher-density places promote social capital, and higher social capital is shown by studies to promote happiness, health, and longevity.

More financially sound households. A century ago, transportation was about 1 to 2 percent of household costs. Today it is about 23 percent and rising. The average annual cost of each car owned by a household is approximately $10,000. Higher-density neighborhoods substantially reduce the need for car ownership, car use, and overall household transportation costs. In addition, higher-density communities provide households with more job opportunities.

Lower startup costs. As Jane Jacobs noted several decades ago, higher-density town centers provide significantly lower capital startup costs for a small business. For example, it is much more financially viable for an individual to sell cooked food from a cart on a dense street corner than for an an individual to buy or lease a restaurant building to sell cooked food.

More neighborhood-based (and smaller) retail. Only higher densities make smaller, neighborhood-based, locally-owned shops financially feasible. Lower-density communities tend to only be able to financially support franchise stores or large-format retail stores that draw customers from a regional consumer-shed.

More neighborly. Higher-density neighborhoods promote sociability. Lower-density neighborhoods promote isolation and suspicion.

Slower speed. Healthy cities are slower in speed, as slower speeds promote retail and residential health. And significantly reduces traffic injuries and deaths. These benefits explain why there is a global movement o create “slow cities.”

More abundant and diverse choices. Higher-density neighborhoods inevitably create much more in the way of choices for restaurants, other types of retail and specialty goods, and culture.

More innovation and creativity. Many studies show that higher-density cities are significantly more innovative and creative than lower-density cities. Higher-density cities attract more talented, skilled people.

More exchange. The main reason cities exist is to promote the exchange of goods, services, ideas, and sociability. Higher densities substantially increase the efficiency and amount of exchange.

More productive workforce. Higher-density cities not only attract more talented workers – which in itself promotes productivity – but also enhances productivity by reducing transportation costs in creating products or providing services.

More walking, bicycling, and transit use. Higher densities induce mixed-use development patterns, which substantially reduces trip distances. Relatively short travel distances to destinations is by far the most powerful way to increase walking, bicycling, and transit use.

Higher quality transit. Higher-density leads to higher transit ridership, which leads to better, more widespread, and more frequent transit service.

More housing choices. Lower-densities tend to deliver very limited housing choice. Nearly all of the housing consists of large single-family homes on large lots of land. Higher-density neighborhoods can provide townhouses, apartments, accessory units, co-ops, and live-work spaces.

More fiscal health for local government. Lower-density development, as shown by strongtowns.org, is a fiscal parasite because it fails to generate anywhere near the tax revenue needed to pay for its significant impacts (mostly road work) on the community. And minimizes per capita expenditures for infrastructure.

More security from crime. Higher densities promote citizen surveillance (often called “eyes on the street”). Higher densities lead to more regular use of sidewalks and observing the outside through house windows greatly contributes to our looking out for our collective security. Since criminals tend to rely on not being seen, this citizen surveillance greatly reduces crime. Many compact neighborhoods are now called “911” neighborhoods, as compactness increases the chance someone will spot an emergency and call 911.

More travel independence for those unable to drive a car. In a lower-density neighborhood, distances to destinations are far away and require the use of dangerous and high-speed roads. This makes car travel essential for nearly all trips, and those unable to drive (such as seniors, children, and the disabled) therefore lose travel independence. They must rely on others to get around.

More environmentally friendly. If we take, say, 100,000 people, that number of people will consume less environmentally sensitive land, produce far less air and water pollution, consume far less energy, and require less asphalt and concrete when living more compactly (ie, at higher densities). If we take that same 100,000 people and disperse them in lower-density patterns, the result is far higher levels of air and water pollution, far larger amounts of environmentally sensitive land consumed, far higher amounts of energy consumed, and far more asphalt and concrete needed.

Final Thoughts

A big part of the problem is that those who dislike density are thinking about the issue as a motorist and not as a human being. Since cars take up so much space, density is something that often makes the motorist furiously mad (so mad that the emotion tends to turn off a person’s brain). The idea of added density is seen as a direct threat to their ability to travel unhindered (or unfrustrated) by car. Car travel in a dense city is an effective recipe for infuriating a motorist. And again, because of the large space consumption of the car, nearly every trip the motorist takes puts them in a bad mood, as it is highly likely that driving a big metal box will be frustrating – even when densities are low.

Getting around by bicycle (or when I walk or use the bus), I pretty much never notice traffic congestion. In fact, almost every bike ride I take puts me in a better mood.

 

Some references:

http://www.lgc.org/wordpress/docs/freepub/community_design/reports/density_manual.pdf

https://theconversation.com/higher-density-living-can-make-us-healthier-but-not-on-its-own-34920

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/11/cities-denser-cores-do-better/3911/

https://www.brookings.edu/articles/demand-for-density-the-functions-of-the-city-in-the-21st-century/

https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/towns-and-cities/summary-value-urban-design-economic-environmental-and-social-benefi-10

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/04/why-bigger-cities-are-greener/863/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/urban-sprawl/Costs-of-urban-sprawl

 

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Modernism versus Timeless: Some Benefits of Timelessness

 

By Dom Nozzi

Timeless, lovable design is inherently more sustainable and long lasting because it is much less likely to be demolished by a community. By contrast, the awful, unlovable, “innovative” stuff that modernists are tirelessly and single-mindedly focused on tends to be so dated and unloved that citizens cannot wait to get rid of it. Indeed, the author and architect Steve Mouzon has made these points in his writings on this topic.

What about “new design styles?” Shouldn’t we allow architecture to evolve over time?

In my view (and the view of a number of other urban designers), I think anything “new” needs to incorporate “new styles” incrementally and in a subtle way. Otherwise, like most modernist eyesore buildings, the “new style” will be too jarring and unfamiliar. This incrementalism is a way to slowly test new ideas. If they add to the beauty of a building, they will be retained and slowly incorporated in future buildings.

One big key for me – for those of us who seek to ratchet down the knee-jerk furious opposition to needed new housing (and needed infill in general) – is that we must stop giving new development a black eye by allowing builders to build jarring, look-at-me, sore thumb buildings. I’m utterly convinced that if we obligate developers to abandon jarring modernism and instead build timeless, lovable designs (and we know what those are), citizen support for new development/infill/housing will grow. For example, a Council member in Boulder Colorado made that precise point a few weeks ago at a council meeting. Following a presentation by my friend and designer Paul Saparito regarding his proposed compact housing at Alpine-Balsam (a property Boulder has purchased and plans to redevelop as a mixed-use development), this same Council member said that while she generally dislikes density, if the new buildings looked like what Paul showed, she’d be much more likely to support the project.

In sum, if new buildings fit the context of the neighborhood or city – if it is compatible in design or, in other words, if the design is FAMILIAR to Boulder residents, they are much less likely to oppose it, and much more likely to feel comfortable about the new building. Familiarity breeds acceptance. Unfamiliarity breeds hatred. And modernist design, which has as its leading sacrament the imperative that the building design be INNOVATIVE rather than familiar, is a recipe for broad and raging citizen opposition.

“Oh, that proposed new building is FAMILIAR to me. I’m therefore comfortable with it…”

Consistent design is very important. Urban designers like to recommend that houses and retail and offices should be consistent in building design. They should, in other words, be “soldier” buildings. It is only the “civic” buildings such as a church or a city hall that Hero bldgs vs soldier bldgsshould stand out and be taller, more grand, and more of a look-at-me style. The civic building – and ONLY the civic buildings – should be a “hero” building. Otherwise, we end up with unlovable chaos, as the attached image shows.

A few good examples right here in Boulder: The Holiday neighborhood in North Boulder, and the University of Colorado campus. Both of those places obligate a consistent style or theme that creates a sense of community and comfort. And coherence, I would add.

As I’ve said many times, there are only two advantages I can think of for modernist buildings (and the advantages are too small, compared to the downsides, to allow them to continue to be built). First, modernist style is so universally awful and disliked that future generations will have plenty of demolition jobs (an economic boost!). Also, because so few homebuyers are interested in buying someone else’s bizarre modernist innovation building (“is it a house or a spaceship or an insecticide factory?”), such homes will be more affordable to buy than the timeless, lovable home styles.

 

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