Category Archives: Urban Design

How to Make Boulder a Walking City

By Dom Nozzi

August 19, 2019

The number of citizens who walk in a community accurately gauges city financial, social and physical health. Understandably, given the abysmally low level of walking in Boulder, Council has asked a citizen group to create a “pedestrian system plan.”

What are the effective tools to turn this around? How can we avoid the same old song and dance? How can we make Boulder a walking city rather than a driving suburb?

Note first that installing sidewalks (or widening existing sidewalks) does almost nothing to increase walking in a city, other than to pay politically easy lip service to walking. Nor does warning paint or signs or lights. All those things do is make people feel like they’ve advanced walking without really doing anything.

Here’s what works:

* Nothing is more important for walking than proximity. Proximity comes from mixing residences with shops, offices, and jobs. It also comes from compact land use patterns. A CU transportation professor proclaimed Boulder’s density is far too low to support meaningful walking. Boulder needs to be allowing much smaller-sized residences, more ADUs, more co-ops, a much higher number of unrelated people living together, and higher central area/corridor height limits (from 35 feet to 55 feet). It also needs to reform snobbish, low-density single-family zoning to allow much more than just exclusionary large-lot single-family homes. Building setbacks need to be smaller and front porches allowed by right. Codes (such as required parking rules) need to be revised to encourage a substantial infilling of buildings to replace unused surface parking. Like Cambridge MA, Boulder should tax parking spaces to promote space removal and replacement by buildings.

* Much more on-street parking needs to be installed. This is a quick, low-cost way to reduce crossing distances and obligate motorists to drive more slowly and attentively. It also promotes more healthy retail (activating the street with healthy retail promotes walking).

* Boulder needs to join the growing worldwide movement toward Slow Cities by being much less timid about installing traffic calming. Slowing down cars is critical for more walking and safer walking. Over time, this also leads to more compact land use patterns. Calming is not limited to simply installing lower speed limit signs. Slowing car speeds is only effective when we revise street design to induces slower, more attentive driving, and such low-speed design must be installed on arterials and collectors. Designs include on-street parking, landscaped intersection bulb-outs, road diets, more narrow travel lanes (9 to 10 ft), woonerfs, walking streets, connected streets, mid-block street crossings, cross-access, shorter block lengths, and give-way streets. Canopy street trees can also be an effective way to slow cars and create a pleasant, picturesque sense of enclosure. Traffic calming tools should not include speed humps, which create noise pollution, vehicle damage, and emergency vehicle problems.

* Low-speed, human-scaled design. Canopy street trees need to butt up against curbs. Buildings need to butt up against streetside sidewalks (to reduce walking distances and create human scale). Street lights need to be no taller than 10-15 feet to create a low-speed ambience. Signal lights in town centers should be post-mounted at the corners of intersections rather than hanging or mounted above streets. Tall street and signal lights create a high-speed highway ambience that encourages motorists to drive fast. Tall lights also kill romantic charm.

* A much higher percentage of parking spaces in Boulder need to be priced. In addition, Boulder needs to start electronic tolling of major streets (or adopt mileage-based user fees). Both of these tactics will reduce low-value car trips, congestion, and solo driving. Over time, they will lead to more compact housing patterns.

* Eliminate required minimum parking regulations. This means that Boulder should many other cities by converting minimum parking requirements into maximum parking requirements. Note that developers will not cut their own throat by providing insufficient parking.

* Return all one-way streets back to their original two-way design. One-ways kill retail and residential health, speed up cars, create dangerous wrong-way travel for motorists and cyclists, are confusing and annoying for out-of-towners, and make pedestrians feel unsafe. They also induce frustration, impatience and anger on the part of motorists.

* In town centers, remove slip lanes, double-left turn lanes and continuous left-turn lanes. Keep intersection turning radii small. Overall intersection size in town centers must be small. While roundabouts can be very useful as a replacement for signal lights, they tend to over-size intersections in town centers.

Will Boulder show leadership in creating a walking city?

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

Boulder is at the Point of No Return on Car Travel

By Dom Nozzi

The drivable suburban experiment we have engaged in for the past century is one of the most wasteful, unsustainable paths ever taken by humanity. It is also one of the biggest traps.

Low-density suburbia (80 percent of Boulder) comes far short of paying its own way. The meager tax revenues it produces come nowhere near paying for its enormous impacts. Suburbia is a Ponzi Scheme. And a self-perpetuating downward spiral. It is financially unsustainable because it requires enormous subsidies. Yet because a driving lifestyle is highly inconvenient and costly when housing densities are higher, lower densities have been demanded for over a century, because nearly all of us insist our elected officials only allow that type of car-enabling development.

When car travel emerged a century ago, we began building our communities to facilitate such travel. We eventually overbuilt for cars and reached a tipping point. A point where driving was the only realistic way for the vast majority of us to travel. That threshold created a world where there is no turning back. We here in Boulder have reached a point of no return. Even Amsterdam is seeing a steady rise in car ownership.

Even if we realize that the costs of over-reliance on driving are unbearable – too many traffic deaths, too much climate change from car emissions, too much financial burden, too many health problems from our sedentary lifestyles — it is too late for us to reverse course and back away from excessive car dependence. Why? Because when nearly all of us can only travel by car, it is nearly impossible, politically, to enact measures that make non-car travel feasible. The vast majority of us – as motorists – are obligated to fight vigorously to retain our only means of travel. We are compelled to attack any and all effective methods to make walking, bicycling, and transit feasible. We angrily oppose efforts to allow affordable granny flats. To modestly narrow roads and intersections. To allow more compact development. To adopt equitable motorist user fees so motorists pay their own way. We scream against safety-promoting traffic calming plans. We yell about proposals to mix offices or retail within our residential neighborhoods. We demand that massive parking be provided for proposed development. We insist that the highway be widened.

A century ago, many of us were seduced by the “miraculous” nature of the car. “Look what cars can do! Easy to carry passengers and all the stuff we buy at the store! Protection from weather! High-speed travel! We can live in a Cabin in the Woods and escape the crime and noise and congestion and pollution of the city!”

The reality is that providing for high-speed, dangerous, space-hogging cars is a zero-sum game. Every time we make car travel easier – and nearly all of us demand our leaders do that — we make travel by walking, bicycling or transit more difficult.

That dynamic means nearly all of us are trapped. Car travel is now about the only way to get around.

Because our only way of travel takes up so much space, we must fight to ensure that there are severe limitations on how many others can move to our city. Because if more than a handful move to Boulder, our roads and parking lots are quickly congested.

Nearly all, therefore, want to “pull up the ladder” so no one else can move to our city because those people will ALSO be motorists congesting our roads and parking lots! Like anti-social hermits, we must conclude that new residents are not new neighbors and friends. They instead are threats to our car-based quality of life. Never mind that the car-based lifestyle is unsustainable and ruins the quality of the city. Oops.

When even timid efforts to create street design for bicycling are attempted, “enlightened” Boulder citizens unleash a torrent of rage – a growing national phenomenon known as “bikelash.” Hostile, impatient, aggressive motorists honk and throw trash at people on two wheels, and brush past cyclists at high speeds. Columnists and radio commentators rail against the “anti-car bicycling lobby,” and politicians remove bike infrastructure — thinking (wrongly) that car travel is otherwise impossible.

The self-reinforcing nature of the transportation trap explains why trapped cities such as Boulder (ironically) have made the auto and oil industries so obscenely profitable.

Our only way to escape the trap of car dependency is for our society to no longer be able to afford it. But that will not occur in our lifetimes.

We have ourselves an existential threat.

 

 

Leave a comment

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

Fouling Our Own Nest

By Dom Nozzi

The two images here exemplify not what happens when an enemy bombs a city. It exemplifies what nearly all of us so angrily demand in our cities: Affordable housing for cars (also known as free and abundant parking). As an auto-dependent society, we become our own worst enemies. We are compelled to foul our own nest — to ruin our own cities (at great taxpayer expense) — because there is little that is more important than making it easy and cheap to drive and park our car.  Andres Duany once said that the Department of Transportation is responsible for more destruction of southern cities than General Sherman when he marched south and burned southern cities near the end of the Civil War. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherman%27s_March_to_the_Sea

Text and images below posted to The Shoupistas Facebook page on July 2, 2019 by Darin Givens and Donald Baxter…

Top photo below: 1919 Atlanta at the intersection of Trinity Ave & Forsyth St. Compact land use, walkable streets.

Bottom photo below: what’s there now. In blue, pretty much the only set of structures left after the rest was turned into parking. Garnett MARTA Station is in the lower right.

I created these images 5 years ago. No need to adjust them because nothing has changed since then.

It’s not enough to build transit. We have to adjust urban design so properties & streets are matched to our transit investment, fostering ridership and decreasing car trips.

Untitled

Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Thinking Like a Motorist is Ruinous

By Dom Nozzi

 

We have a love/hate relationship with walkable design.

Consider these comparison photos…

Orlando Phoenix Boulder Junction Copenhagen Amsterdam

Big city vs small town ambiance

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?

 

1 Comment

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

The Inappropriateness of Highway Design in a City

 

By Dom Nozzi

There is a big problem in the roadway design found in Boulder, Colorado. Too much of the design has an inappropriate “highway” orientation.

This is incompatible with what a city needs to be healthy and safe.

Exemplifying this is a dedicated right-turn lane in central Boulder (for those of you who live in Boulder, it can be found on Raleigh onto Broadway southbound). This lane – because it creates excessive asphalt width for motorized vehicle travel — inevitably promotes excessively high motor vehicle turning movements and promotes inattentive driving by the turning motorist. Without removing that right turn lane, in my opinion, this intersection will remain a dangerous intersection.

As long as Boulder continues its counterproductive, decades-long, highly expensive efforts to convenience cars, this city will remain a very dangerous place for travelers and will fail to achieve its newly adopted “Vision Zero” objective, regardless of how much we install more safety lights, safety paint, safety signs, safety enforcement, and safety education. There is no win-win when it comes to cars.

And Boulder continues to fail to understand that.

There are serious negatives to double-left turns (and their highway cousins, the dedicated right-turn lane and the slip lane).

Of course, double-left turn lanes also destroy human scale and a sense of place. A double-left turn lane intersection will never feel like a place to hang out because it vastly exceeds human scale. These over-sized intersections are so hostile that they obligate property owners at each of the four corners of the intersection to pull back from the intersection with massive setbacks, large asphalt parking lots, and auto-oriented land uses that can tolerate such an unpleasant atmosphere (such as a gas station). This sort of deadening creates an area of apparent abandonment, and is the antithesis of what a city needs for health.

Ultimately the double-left turn intersection fails to induce nearby land uses that will generate tax revenues sufficient to make this part of the city self-supporting. It becomes an on-going financial liability that will forever drain substantial dollars from the city budget

The enormous size and relatively high motor vehicle speeds induced by a double-left turn intersection creates dangerous and intimidating conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians, which substantially reduces the number of such trips and increases the number of traffic injuries and fatalities.

It is exceptionally improper to install what amounts to a highway “deceleration” lane in a city (not to mention the fact that it would further widen an already over-wide roadway). Cities should not have deceleration lanes, overpasses, flyovers, grade separations, highway interchanges, 6- or 8- or 10-lane configurations or anything else that accommodates highway speeds by motor vehicles and undermines the important need to create lower-speed, human-scaled dimensions in our infrastructure.

It is likely that this proposal is a response to historical rear-end collisions in that location, where cars following too close behind cars in front of them rear-end the car ahead when the car ahead makes a right turn onto Raleigh. But this “solution” simply enables a form of travel (inattentive, high-speed driving and tailgating) that is inappropriate in a city.

Despite what conventional traffic engineers believe, roadway design influences travel behavior positively or negatively. When Boulder builds highway-oriented design, it inevitably induces an increase in inappropriate highway-style (read: high-speed, inattentive) driving. This is toxic for a city. Street design needs to induce desirable behavior, not induce undesirable behavior.

Shame on Boulder for this proposal.

I have to wonder how much money the City will spend to worsen its transportation system in this way?

 

 

 

Leave a comment

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

Happy Cars are Ironically a Recipe for Ruining Quality of Life

 

By Dom Nozzi

Recently, someone on Facebook responded to an article that pointed out the hypocrisy of many political liberals. Such liberals support social justice, yet aggressively protect their snobbish low-density single-family neighborhoods from efforts to make such neighborhoods more inclusive by allowing more compact living arrangements.

In his response to this news article, he noted that he strongly dislikes the idea of “living in a real city with cars and people on top of me, noise, threats, vile smells, and just a general feeling of being under siege. Too much stimulation of a certain kind.” He concluded by saying that he “honestly can’t imagine how other people in these living situations find it appealing.”

A Facebook friend responded by pointing out that while this is true to some extent with some larger US cities, many cities have comfortable densities offering a pleasant quality of life.

I responded by pointing out that these more pleasant conditions are also found in a great many cities in Europe.

But this conversation brings to light one of the most tragic ironies of human history. The fact that today, we find ourselves in an auto-dependent world that compels us to equate easy, low-cost car travel with a high quality of life. The irony is that this is precisely backward.

Conveniencing car travel is a powerful recipe for destroying our quality of life.

By far, the biggest problem with the design and quality of life in American cities is that nearly all of them were and are built for the convenience of car travel. That inevitably means a loss of human scale, noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution, excessive lighting, excessive speeds, dangerous conditions, too many dead zone parking areas, loss of the agglomeration economies that allow cities to thrive, enormous inconvenience and danger for pedestrians and cyclists, excessive financial burdens for households and businesses and governments, a ruination of public health due to physical inactivity, an inability to maintain or repair the massive amounts of infrastructure that cars require, and ugly streetscapes due to the inevitable need for retailers to scream at high-speed motorists with glaring lights and signs. There are a great many other things I could list here.

Again, this is a great tragedy. Nearly all of us are car-dependent, which understandably makes most of us angrily demand that we continue to convenience cars. Which makes us our own worst enemies, as doing so, as I noted above, substantially worsens our quality of life.

In sum, promoting car travel inevitably creates cities that are in many ways unpleasant. This is a bitter, ruinous irony, since car dependency deludes many of us into thinking that making it easier to drive a car is IMPROVING our quality of life.

Making cars happy means that our generation is leaving an awful legacy for future generations. In the future, much of what we have built will need to be demolished and replaced.

A future time when we have finally regained our senses.

Leave a comment

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

The Bipartisan Downward Spiral

 

By Dom Nozzi

 

Having spent the past century making it rather easy and cost-free to travel by car (which inevitably makes it very difficult and dangerous to travel in any other way), our society is extremely dependent on car travel. Because almost no one in society can now escape extreme car dependency, there is a bipartisan, self-perpetuating downward spiral. Nearly all of us, regardless of political persuasion, angrily demand high-speed, space-consuming car travel be provided for and subsidized.

Which means that for even most progressives and planners, using effective tactics to reduce car dependency is completely off the table.

Given all this, even the most progressive, bold, exciting candidates for office find that reducing car dependency is a “Third Rail” that cannot be touched with a ten-foot pole.

The result is that populists on both Left and Right urge wider roads, reduced costs for motorists, no growthism, reduced densities, and shorter buildings.

Tragically, this downward spiral not only grows the number of car-dependent citizens in our society. It is also highly toxic for creating quality cities. To be healthy, cities need slower speeds and compact development.

Car dependency strongly undermines such design. In both the short term and the long term.

 

Leave a comment

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

Density is the New Green

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 and smaller amounts of land owned.

Less per capita car travel. This 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

 

 

Leave a comment

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

More on the Failure of Modernist Architecture

By Dom Nozzi

November 15, 2018

Nearly all modernist architects, as part of their ruinous obsession with being “innovative,” take great joy in designing a building that completely ignores the context of other buildings on its street or neighborhood or community. The arrogant, selfish quest is to design a jarring, heroic “LOOK AT ME!!” building that sticks out like a sore thumb with regard to other buildings.

I believe humans tend to enjoy the pleasing character of assemblages of buildings, not individual buildings. People flock to Assisi or Florence or Venice not so much because of the desire to enjoy individual buildings, but to enjoy the collection (assemblage) of (time-tested) buildings built with traditional (not innovative) designs. Some designers call such humble buildings “soldier” buildings – these are buildings that are not much as individual buildings, but when assembled with other “soldiers” creates a city that is so formidable in its magnificence that people throughout the world flock to it to admire it.

There is a place, of course, for “look at me” buildings that are designed to not fit into the context of nearby buildings. But that design must be reserved for civic buildings such as churches or important government buildings. When most or all buildings ignore context (as modernist buildings, by definition, strive to do), they create a chaotic public realm that is chaotic, unpleasant, unattractive, disorienting, and stressful to most people.

Consider, for example, the attached photo. The image of a modernist city on the left exemplifies chaos and confusion and lack of coherence.

It will never be tourist attraction, except for those who want to experience something bizarre or crazy.

Modernism vs Traditional in Boulder, April 2017

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Urban Design

What To Do About Community Development Issues? A conversation with a friend

By Dom Nozzi

January 16, 2019

My Friend: I don’t know what to do about the fact that our city makes it so difficult for me to create an accessory dwelling unit (ADU)  or a duplex in my single-family zoned house.

Dom Responds: Things you can do: work to elect Council members who are urbanists, rather than NIMBY candidates. Talk up the many, many merits of urbanism and compact/traditional/human-scaled development with your friends (if you are not able to do that, at least send them videos of speakers who do that – I can send you such videos). You can also urge your friends to stop making Boulder’s quality of life worse. Your friends do that every time they DEMAND more parking. Every time they DEMAND more open space. Every time they DEMAND larger setbacks. Every time they DEMAND that no small retail or ADUs or duplexes or coops be allowed in their sacred single-family neighborhoods. You can also speak with your friends and Council members about the merits of traditional, lovable building design. And the unlovable, jarring horrors of modernist building design. Don’t forget to put in a plug for converting free surface parking into paid parking or conversion of parking to homes and retail. Also, the need to convert free roads into toll roads. And the joys of road diets!

BTW, what exactly do you mean by “runaway growth”? Growth that cannot be stopped? If so, we cannot stop growth and slowing it provides no benefit I am aware of. Boulder is ALREADY growing slowly, largely due to the fact that so few can afford to live here. Too many in Boulder believe growth is rapid and out of control in Boulder in recent times. That Council is caving in to developers due to corruption. I don’t see that at all. In my opinion, “runaway growth” is inflammatory and inaccurate.

My Friend: I agree with you on how “density” has gotten to be a dirty word, but it has come by that reputation quite honestly. Denver’s rapid development is very concerning as an example of everything that is bad, and is spilling over into Boulder.

Dom Responds: Why is “rapid development” bad? Would it be better if it happened over 10 years instead of 5? To me, the RATE of growth is irrelevant. I would LOVE to see the rapid construction of walkable, traditional, human scaled town centers rather than drivable suburbs. But I would settle for SLOW development of such charming places, too. To me, it is much better to be fearful of CAR HAPPY development, rather than RAPID development.

My Friend: I get the feeling that cities salivate over the expected new taxes they will collect from the new development and are willing to take short-cuts to maximize the intake.

Dom Responds: I do not believe there are shortcuts being taken by Boulder. I don’t believe Council members in Boulder are corrupt. Both opinions are highly cynical and wrong, in my opinion. Growth in this region is largely induced by the very high quality of life, and the resulting very high cost of land. Boulder elected officials therefore know they need to do nothing shady or corrupt to have a fair amount of revenue-generating development arrive here. To stop or slow growth, your only option is to destroy the quality of life here.

My Friend: Over 70,000 people moved to the Denver-Boulder area last year alone (5,000 per month) and that number or more are expected this year as well as the Denver/Boulder area being the #1 most popular place in the U.S. to move to because of our awesome outdoor environment and #1 availability for jobs.

Dom Responds: Again, lots of population growth in the region is NOT bad, per se. It is only bad if it is accommodated with car-happy development. The community conversation needs to focus on regulations obligating good design. Not obsessing on stopping or slowing or reducing density for new development.

My Friend: At this rate, we will experience grid-lock on I-25 at all hours and not only during rush hours in the near future!

Dom Responds: The good news, as my speeches and books point out, is that congestion tends to be self-regulating. When roads get more crowded, people start having to pay a “time tax.” That results in many motorists opting to change their travel: Some choose different routes. Some avoid rush hour. Some move closer to their destinations. Some use transit. Also, we already know how to avoid congestion if all else fails: tolls.

My Friend: Citizens are perplexed over what to do to stop the grid-lock.

Dom Responds: It is not rocket science: introduce tolls.

My Friend: Can you cite any recent developments within the past 20-30 years that are good high density developments anywhere in the world?

Dom Responds: Here is a worldwide list. Not all of them are great examples, but many or most are very good. They all have a much brighter future – even if some are limping today – than conventional suburban crap: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_examples_of_New_Urbanism

My Friend: Your examples of wonderful, beautiful, high density cities were all created in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Yes, Italy is wonderful and loveable for its character and old-world charms, but rebuilding old-world Europe in the U.S. does not seem possible.

Dom Responds: Untrue. See above link.

My Friend: Are you proposing that 5-story buildings are the max and everything will be ok if we followed that paradigm?

Dom Responds: No. That building height (which is in the Boulder Charter) is only one of many, many essential design elements we must adopt. Toss modernism in the waste can. Adopt slow speed design. Use human scale. Use traditional building design. Create tree-lined streets of a modest width. Mix housing with retail, civic and jobs. Develop compactly rather than low density. I can go on, but will stop there.

My Friend: They are saying that when we get autonomous driving cars, there will be many, many more cars on the roads. What will stop planners from creating tons more asphalt to accommodate them? Where will they park?

Dom Responds: Lack of parking is a VERY GOOD THING. As is congestion. Both induce people to do things that are beneficial for themselves and their community. The only thing that will stop our century-long road widening madness is for us to RUN OUT OF MONEY (and that day is rapidly approaching).

 

Leave a comment

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