Is Enthusiasm a Four-Letter Word?

By Dom Nozzi

April 3, 2018

On 11/23/17, H. Dewey Jones expressed alarm that the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) for the City of Boulder CO “is dominated by bicycle enthusiasts,” as if this is nefarious. Only by appointing more “auto enthusiast” members will TAB not be skewed toward continuing its War Against Cars.

Mr. Jones can relax.

All TAB members also drive cars. I don’t mean to worry you, Mr. Jones, but all members are also “walking enthusiasts,” “transit enthusiasts,” “affordable housing enthusiasts,” “child enthusiasts,” senior citizen enthusiasts,” and “traffic safety enthusiasts.” In other words, all current TAB members strive to find a balance between all forms of travel and all demographic groups. Finding this balance requires tradeoffs. An important role that TAB plays is to advise Council on the proper mix of tradeoffs that best allow Boulder to meet its many important objectives. TAB also evaluates costs and benefits of various options. Fairness, safety and cost-effectiveness are some of the guiding measures.

For the past century and up to the present day, despite what Mr. Jones implies, Boulder has over-catered to the needs of cars. Roads such as 28th, 30th, East Arapahoe, Broadway, Canyon, Iris, Valmont and Colorado are mostly or entirely car-only roads, and attest to pethe bias toward cars.

Over the past century and up to the present day, countless bicyclists and pedestrians have been killed by motorists (including over the past year or so) in Boulder. Not a single motorist during that time has been killed by a bicyclist or pedestrian. Seems like a war against bicyclists and walkers rather than a war against cars.

Mr. Jones wants to balance TAB “to better represent auto users.” For fairness, I think TAB membership should also include more members who are “speeding enthusiasts” or “cell phone use while driving enthusiasts.” Otherwise, TAB will be too skewed toward saving lives.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Transportation, Walking

Anti-City and Anti-Environment

By Dom Nozzi

March 27, 2018

Historically, anti-city and anti-environment folks were in force in places like Houston and Phoenix and Atlanta and Buffalo. They fought hard and successfully for:

  1. Easing car travel and car parking.
  2. Providing more open space and larger setbacks.
  3. Opposing parking supply restrictions and opposing parking pricing.
  4. Opposing road diets.
  5. Opposing road tolls.
  6. Supporting highway widenings and overpasses.
  7. Lowering densities and increasing fees to the point where new development is unaffordable (an indirect way to stop development and growth).
  8. Keeping buildings no taller than 1 or 2 stories.
  9. “Protecting” neighborhoods against infill, mixed use, co-ops, and backyard cottages.

All of these are anti-city (and anti-environment) efforts.315-0722092524-NSA-building-and-parking-lot

I don’t want Boulder, Colorado (the city I live in) to follow the path of Houston or Phoenix or Atlanta or Buffalo. And that is an important reason why I am so troubled that so many in Boulder have aggressively promoted (and continue to promote) the tactics I list above that were so strongly pushed in cities such as Houston and Phoenix.

Tactics that ironically made places such as Houston and Phoenix the awful places they are today.

Leave a comment

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

Making Cars Happy Is America’s Most Serious Mistake

By Dom Nozzi

October 14, 1999

One of America’s most serious societal mistakes is that since WWII, we’ve designed our communities to make cars instead of people happy. The better we “move automobile traffic,” the more we inevitably get:

  1. Costly, environmentally destructive, low-density, dispersed sprawl;
  2. Characterless, “Anywhere USA” strip commercial development featuring”auto architecture;”download
  1. A loss of a sense of place and sense of community;
  2. Unpleasant, unsafe neighborhoods;
  3. A loss of independence for those who cannot drive — especially seniors and children, who become captive to those that can give them a car ride; and
  1. A lack of transportation choice, because every trip is forced to be made by car, and because the relentless efforts to make cars happy is a zero-sum game: Every time we make car travel more pleasant, we discourage all other forms of travel (a classic viscous cycle).

To save ourselves, we must wean ourselves from our utter dependence on the car. A guy by the name of Pit Klasen recently said that “It’s true that Germans have always had a special love affair with the car, but there’s no reason you have to remain trapped in a bad and unhealthy relationship.”

 

Leave a comment

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

Debating Whether Transportation Drives Land Use with My Gainesville Planning Department Supervisors

By Dom Nozzi

February 17, 2000

I had a loud debate with my Gainesville, Florida planning department supervisors yesterday on what the Land Use portion of Gainesville’s Long Range Plan should say.

I pointed out that because transportation drives land use, it is hopeless, in the long run, for local government to fight proposed rezonings from single-family residential to non-single family on major, hostile streets. None of them agreed with me at all, and believe the City should continue our long, hopeless fight against rezoning proposals from single-family to non-single family on hostile streets. This is maddening, and obviously being colored by recent NIMBY attacks against the City.

After the meeting, I sent the planning manager excerpts from the West Palm transportation element. He responded with this:

Dom, I didn’t read all of this but I generally agree with the part I read. Transportation travel land use, and bad land use decision drive people away also.  If the Street is bad and the Land use is bad what do you think will happen.  For Gainesville the Streets are bad and the Land use is no so bad, so lets change the street and keep the land use. [this is the verbatim, uncorrected transcript of his message to me]

I responded to those comments with this:

“Glad you agree with West Palm and folks like Walter Kulash, who would say exactly what I and West Palm Beach would say on these issues. My main point: We are fooling ourselves and doomed to a life of permanent, never-ending battles with people who want to rezone single-family residential land that they own and cannot use as single-family residential land use due to the road.

“Granted, there are a few who could live in a single-family residential home and put up with the noise and reduced property value. Forty years from now, if we do not fix our arterials to make them more livable, we will, though incremental zoning changes, have those streets lined with offices and multi-family residential and retail. And over those 40 years, we will have a bunch of planners burned out on fighting those never-ending battles.street without on street parking

“In the long term, as Kulash points out, no force on earth – not even five no-growth advocates on the City Commission — can stop that incremental change. Yes, we can succeed, in the short term, in keeping the single-family. But that will only mean that we’ll have a bunch of vacant homes, and depressed property values.

“The best we can realistically hope for, in the long run, if we don’t fix the streets, is land use that makes sense for major streets (according to what the market wants), and helps transit, while minimizing strip commercial. That is why I think we should give some consideration to favorable recommendations on petitions that request going to office use or multi-family use (but not retail).

“Again, I am not recommending that we initiate the land use changes (that will inevitably come) — even though that would be most fair for suffering single-family property owners along major streets. Our message must be: “Either fix the street, or be fair and honest by realizing we are going to get incremental conversion away from single-family.”

West Palm Beach FL has shown clearly what can happen overnight (dramatic land use improvements and property value increases) when the street is fixed.

My comments to the Gainesville Comprehensive Long Range Planning Chief:

“I’ve not had a full night’s sleep for weeks, and have recently developed a severe case of insomnia. So when you see me dozing off at future staff meetings, you’ll understand.

“And it is not just student noise that is out of control. It is also emergency vehicles, vacuum trucks, police helicopters, etc… With regard to SW 13th Street (a major state highway running north-south through the middle of Gainesville), let me again try to make clear that the public sector, short of doing a major change to the street (such as we’re proposing for SW 20th Avenue), has nearly no meaningful way to affect the land use market. The Land Use plan I wrote for Gainesville, for example, will have a future land use map that merely adopts what is on the ground already, with a few minor tweaks based on what citizens have asked for on their individual property and we have agreed to. But even IF we could make wholesale, visionary changes to our land use map, such changes would have little meaning (or fairness) unless they are attuned to what the market calls for in those locations — and us planners would not be doing work to determine market feasibility of changed designations. Again, transportation drives land use. So unless we make radical changes to SW 13th, all we can expect is uses that are consistent with that sort of highway.

“Personally and frankly, I think converting SW 13th to a “4-lane urban street” is an oxymoron. Not to say that I’ve given up on 13th, because I think we’ll ultimately return to our senses and make it a 2-lane. I don’t know enough of the details to know what Chapel Hill has done, but I’m fairly certain that they are things we cannot duplicate anytime soon — such as buildings up to the street (which I would oppose on a 4-laner without on-street parking, since it is unfair to the business).

“I would have to see why Chapel Hill works well. I do not think it is feasible to slow traffic on a 4-lane state highway because FDOT would not allow it. It can happen with a 2-lane state highway due to things like congestion and a narrow street profile that does not create the illusion of a high-speed highway.

“More so than most, I can envision such a 13th Street corridor fairly easily. Given time and vision and courage, it can be wonderful. Many people consider me a pessimist on certain things, but hypocritically are extreme pessimists on things I’d like, such as a walkable city. I would strongly support what you suggest be done on 13th. But I do not believe it (a four-lane urban street) would dramatically change 13th to make it a good market for higher density residential or pedestrian vibrancy. Call me a pessimist, but I’m convinced we MUST remove travel lanes to make SW 13th work. And isn’t that necessary if we are going to install on-street parking there?

“But are we not skirting around the key effort? Don’t we need to admit that we need to slow the growth of UF, get more on-campus housing, or get better code enforcement (or a combination of such things)? I’m sorry, but I just don’t see a realistic way to transform SW 13th the way you and I know it needs to transform someday.

“In my humble opinion, we cannot realistically expect good redevelopment along SW 13th as long as FDOT forces it to remain a high-speed highway. I just don’t see colored crosswalks, landscaping, or wide sidewalks dramatically changing things. Don’t we, for example, have some colored crosswalk pavers out on Newberry Road near Oaks Mall now. Has that meant anything at all?

“I like your enthusiasm and ideas about Westgate, too, but am not sure even a Dover/Kohl charrette could do much unless the owners of the center felt the plaza was collapsing economically. There are things we might be able to do with an overlay district I’ve outlined in my urban design toolbox (which has been pulled from the urban design plan I wrote because it is “too new urbanist”). I’m hoping we can adopt such an overlay for places like Westgate, but the change will be painfully slow unless the plaza is torn down. That is the only way we can get the buildings re-configured in a proper way.

“Thanks for your comments, good suggestions and concern.”

More of my thoughts expressed to the Comprehensive Long Range Planning Chief:

“Probably our most enormous problem with ‘fixing’ this area is that we will not be able to do it as long as it remains a high-speed, 5-lane state highway. We can only save it if we can take out 2 travel lanes, but I suspect this is not politically feasible, given our FDOT people and our commission. SW 13th already has a bike lane that is excellent for bike commuters, but it would be interesting to create an off-street greenway trail there. Any opportunities? Any way to extort such a thing? Also, the existing buildings are way too far off the street to make for quality urbanism. We’d need code requirements that say that any reconstruction or new development must be on the sidewalk. Again, probably not politically feasible.

“So without removing travel lanes and without pulling buildings close, we have a long-term, huge problem. And this is not even to mention the fact that our residential density and commercial intensity along there is way too low. Once again, all we can do as the public sector to move the market in that direction is to remove travel lanes.

“I think we’d probably need some special, non-Traditional City [walkable Gainesville regulations I wrote for downtown] overlays for the two areas, and perhaps hire Dover to do the plan. Retrofitting such miserable places is a monstrous job that requires a lot of political courage and staff time. (which is why people like Dover are helpful) I could do overlays for the areas, but it will take a LONG time for them to transform those areas.

“An example of the problem of Trad City applied to Westgate: Would it be feasible and appropriate, without an internal street plan, to require all redevelopment there to demolish the strip store and put it up on 34th or University? Seems like we first need to adopt an internal street plan, and then find the courage to get the plan adopted and conformed to. And then have enough redevelopment interest to see meaningful redevelopment over a reasonable period of time.”

 

Leave a comment

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

The Town Planning Medical Metaphor

By Dom Nozzi

March 20, 2018

It has been said that town planners are doctors for cities. The job of the town planner, according to this metaphor, is to prescribe medicine (zoning and transportation recommendations) that will improve or maintain the health of a city.

To borrow an analogy from Donald Shoup, let us say that the town planning “doctor” lives in the 18th Century in Colonial America. It has been claimed by historians that George Washington’s doctors hastened the death of our ailing former president by administering blood-letting, which was a widely accepted medical treatment at the time. Indeed, had the American Medical Association been in existence in those days, they would have strongly recommended blood-letting due to the guidelines established by medical science and books of medicine of that age.bl

Let us say that you were a doctor in Colonial America, yet you had come to learn that blood-letting was detrimental to the health of patients. But the AMA, your medical books, and nearly all of your patients were strongly demanding that you administer blood-letting. If you agree to administer blood-letting, you will keep your patients (patients that are otherwise threatening to use another doctor who favors blood-letting) and will therefore keep your job as a doctor.

But if you abide by your Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, you will not administer blood-letting. You recognize that doing so would be a form of medical malpractice. However, you will therefore lose your occupation as a doctor.

What do you do?

Similarly, let us say you are a town planner in contemporary America, and you had come to learn that requesting developers to provide the “free” off-street parking was toxic to the health of your town – particularly your town center. But your land development code, your elected officials, your planning supervisor, and nearly all of the citizens in your community were strongly demanding that you request abundant off-street parking from developers. If you agree to demand that required off-street parking, you will keep your job as a town planner (your office is otherwise threatening to replace you with another planner who will follow parking guidelines and the orders of your supervisor and citizens).

But if you go along with requesting off-street parking, you will do so knowing that you are violating your duty as a town planner to promote the health of your town.

What do you do?

To borrow from Victor Brandon Dover, this analogy works even better if we look upon off-street parking as an addictive drug (Donald Shoup calls off-street parking a fertility drug for cars). As a town planner, your citizens (and the banks that finance development loans) are addicted to the off-street parking fix. As an addict, they must get their fix, yet they can never get enough of it. Giving them their fix is a downward spiral, as it pulls them more strongly into their addiction. The same is true with providing wider roads and larger parking lots, as doing so makes citizens increasingly wedded to their cars because other forms of travel become less safe or feasible when roads and parking are enlarged.

Do you, as a town planner, keep administering a (off-street parking) fix to your addicted patients (citizens)? Is it not true, though, that doing so would be a form of malpractice?

315-0722092524-NSA-building-and-parking-lotIn sum, given the state of affairs I outline above, is it not true that the very heavy contemporary town planning emphasis on enabling car travel (particularly via the demand for providing off-street parking – which is so much of what American town planners now do in their jobs) exemplifies the premise that town planning has become an outdated, failing profession? That it is trapped in the role of administering medicine (or a drug) that is clearly toxic to its “patients” (the town)?

It is time for us to reform town planning so that it returns to the timeless tradition of planning for people, not cars. To return to restoring city health, rather than pushing papers (issuing permits) for cars.

Leave a comment

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

Lessons Boulder, Colorado Needs to Learn

Urban Wisdom Relevant to Transportation, Growth and Development in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

March 13, 2018

Boulder, Colorado has implemented a number of highly admirable tactics to protect and promote its high quality of life. However, many in the city, for several decades, have aerial-view-of-boulder-btragically concluded that an important ingredient for protecting quality of life is to stop — or at least slow down or reduce the density of — newly proposed development projects in town.

Another important mistake made by many in Boulder over the course of those decades has been to equate free flowing car traffic with quality of life.

Both of these measures have greatly amplified sprawl into outlying areas beyond the Boulder greenbelt, has made the city much less affordable, has made the community much less walkable or bikable, and has greatly increased the rate of per capita car travel in the city. Each of these things, of course, undermine quality of life in Boulder.

Boulder remains a wonderful place to live, but that is true despite the mistakes I mention above.

The following represents urban design wisdom that Boulder would do well in better incorporating into its understanding of improving community health.

  • As growth becomes denser, highway costs rise while transit costs decline. – Anonymous
  • Suburbanization is the biggest threat to cities in North America. -Paul Bedford, Toronto Planning Director
  • A good sustainability and quality of life indicator: The average amount of time spend in a car. – Paul Bedford
  • Office development…pollutes land, air, and water as surely as industrial development once did. Office buildings pollute by generating vehicle traffic. A downtown office building well served by transit pollutes far less than a suburban office building accessible only by car. – Steve Belmont
  • Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded. – Yogi Berra
  • NIMBY reactionaries don’t stop change in the long run. They simply help to insure that it happens in the worst possible way. – David Brain
  • Americans are broad-minded people. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater, and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive there’s something wrong with him. – Art Buchwald
  • Automobiles need quantity and pedestrians need quality. – Dan Burden
  • If the city is not well-designed, its impact on the surrounding nature will be lethal. – Javier Cenicacelaya
  • Planning of the automobile city focuses on saving time. Planning for the accessible city, on the other hand, focuses on time well spent. – Robert Cervero
  • Density is the new green – Unknown
  • Bicyclists should expect and demand safe accommodation on every public road, just as do all other users. Nothing more is expected. Nothing less is acceptable. – Chainguard.com
  • Convivial towns can offer solace in disaster, solidarity in protest, and a quiet everyday delight in urban life…Creating and revitalizing places that foster conviviality is essential to the good life. – Mark C. Childs
  • Vancouver killed the freeway because they didn’t want the freeways to kill their neighborhoods. The city flourished because making it easier to drive does not reduce traffic; it increases it. That means if you don’t waste billions of dollars building freeways, you actually end up with less traffic. – Rick Cole
  • When we build our landscape around places to go, we lose places to be. -Rick Cole
  • We have a military policy instead of an energy policy. – Barry Commoner
  • Density and environmental protection are not incompatible. If they are, we are in very deep trouble. – Patrick Condon
  • Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge. – Charles Darwin
  • It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin
  • Progress in every age results only from the fact that there are some men and women who refuse to believe that what they know to be right cannot be done. – Russel W. Davenport
  • New Urbanism = Universal Principles calibrated locally. – Bill Dennis
  • The greatest of all evils is a weak government. – Benjamin Disraeli
  • People yearning for community are like people at a party who crowd into the kitchen because they like it. – Bruce Donnelly
  • Parking is a narcotic and ought to be a controlled substance. It is addictive, and one can never have enough. – Victor Dover
  • To most Americans the cures for traffic congestion are worse than the congestion itself. – Anthony Downs
  • [Democracies] have great difficulty solving the long-run problems created by policies that provide short-term benefits. Once people receive the benefits, they do not want to give them up. – Anthony Downs
  • In Houston, a person walking is someone on his way to his car. – Anthony Downs
  • It is NOT the inaugural condition that is the determinant of a town that is decisive: it is the ability to molt that is important. – Andres Duany
  • The problem is not the profit motive–profit has always been the driver of building in this country–the issue is the pattern. So long as the pattern was the compact, walkable and diverse neighborhood, we could continue growing–and did so for 250 years. When the pattern changed after WWII, it became unsustainable. – Andres Duany
  • In [the traditional New England town], one can live above the store, next to the store, five minutes from the store or nowhere near the store, and it is easy to imagine the different age groups and personalities that would prefer each alternative. In this way and others, the traditional neighborhood provides for an array of lifestyles. In conventional suburbia, there is only one available lifestyle: to own a car and to need it for everything. – Andres Duany, “Suburban Nation”
  • We are not running out of land. We are running out of urban places. – Andres Duany
  • The Department of Transportation, in its single-minded pursuit of traffic flow, has destroyed more American towns than General Sherman [in the Civil War]  Anti-urban uses (large parking lots, large setbacks, drive-thru’s, wide and high-speed roads, etc.) are the new slaughterhouses – the places that people fight against having as neighbors. – Andres Duany
  • . – Andres Duany
  • If a number of persons are not in some way angry at the planner, then no principles have been presented; the planner has been merely a secretary to the mob, and the plan will be weak to the point of being useless. -Andres Duany
  • The loss of a forest or a farm is justified only if it is replaced by a village. To replace them with a subdivision or a shopping center is not an even trade. – Andres Duany
  • Amateurs accustomed to emulation made great places. It is the professionals of recent decades that have ruined our cities and our landscapes with their inventions. – Andres Duany
  • Higher density housing offers an inferior lifestyle only when it is without a community as its setting. – Andres Duany
  • In the suburbs you have backyard decks; in towns you have porches on the street. – Andres Duany
  • The street, which is the public realm of America, is now a barrier to community life. – Andres Duany
  • NIMBYs [are often] disguised as environmentalists. -Andres Duany
  • The role of the street is social as well as utilitarian. – Andres Duany
  • We have legislators who think it their duty only to listen to the people instead of becoming expert on the subjects which they must decide upon. – Andres Duany
  • Anchorage is the most awful place. All people know is that nature is beautiful; and they do not give a thought to the city they inhabit. – Douglas Duany
  • We can’t simultaneously promote walking and bicycling while continuing to facilitate driving. – Albert Einstein
  • The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation. – Albert Einstein
  • …There are plenty of cars and traffic jams in European cities, but urban planning and design there does not simply revolve around making space for the car. In American downtowns, however, that has too often been the case. For years, downtowns have been decimated as buildings have been cleared and streets widened in an effort to get more cars into the city. Since most cars are driven only a few hours per week, storage is a big problem. Parking lots often take up more space than any other land use. – Larry Ford
  • Architects should favor the norm more often than the exception. – Sergio Frau
  • First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. – Mohandas Gandhi
  • How nice it is to wake up every morning and know that your city is a little better than it was the day before. – Jan Gehl
  • When there is a moment of grand unanimity, you can expect great foolishness. – Paul Giacobbi
  • If you design communities for automobiles, you get more automobiles. If you design them for people, you get walkable, livable communities. – Parris Glendening and Christine Todd Whitman
  • Tradition is the tending of the fire, not the worship of the ashes. – Johan Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Urbanism works when it creates a journey as desirable as the destination. – Paul Goldberger
  • If what you sell is the perception of privacy and exclusivity, then every new house is a degradation of the amenity. However, if what you sell is community, then every new house is an enhancement of the asset. – Vince Graham
  • If buildings are beautiful, higher density compounds that beauty. Conversely, if buildings are ugly, then higher density compounds that ugliness. – Vince Graham
  • Neighborhood lobbyists have far too much influence and this influence in the end almost always equals more sprawl. – Laura Hall
  • I’ve always described Density in terms of dollars: The more you have of it, the more you can “buy” with it — referring to amenities, of course (cultural, entertainment, dining, etc.). When I get asked what’s the single most important thing that can be added to a city to help revitalize it (they are always waiting for the latest retail or entertainment thing…), I always say “housing.” – Seth Harry
  • The “suburban conundrum”: As density goes down in a suburban setting, both arterial sizes and retail format sizes tend to go up, while the frequency of both go down, resulting in longer trips, to fewer boxes, of ever increasing scale. – Seth Harry
  • Adding lanes to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to solve obesity. – Glen Hemistra
  • Setbacks, Height Limits, Open Space, Parking requirements (S.H.O.P.). The four stooges of zoning have effectively outlawed compact, affordable, walkable, mixed use (CAWMU) in the United States. – Fenno Hoffman
  • The “middle” density also has the problem of traffic: the more stuff gets built, the worse the traffic gets, because you still need to drive. At some point, there’s a flip, and the more stuff gets built, the less traffic is a problem, because the less you need to drive. That’s why the transition from low-density auto-oriented to high-density pedestrian-oriented is so painful. There’s a middle ground that doesn’t work for anybody. Lots of our urban suburbs now fit into that middle ground. The solution isn’t intuitive: when you tell people that the solution to the terrible traffic is to build even more stuff, it doesn’t make sense to most people at a gut level. – Jennifer Hurley
  • Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome. – Samuel Johnson
  • Architecture without sensibility to its context is like sex without love: entertaining perhaps, but not the source of lasting joy. – Mark Wilson Jones
  • The more parking space, the less sense of place. – Jane Holtz Kay
  • Any city planner who thinks that easing the traffic flow will decrease the city’s congestion is simply living in a dream world. Likewise, the addition of parking facilities will not, and never has, eliminated parking problems. When you improve a small congested road, you wind up with a big congested road. Likewise, the better the traffic pattern, the more traffic on that pattern; the more parking lots, the more people looking for a place to park. – John Keats
  • If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places. – Fred Kent
  • Whatever a traffic engineer tells you to do, do the opposite and you’ll improve your community. – Fred Kent
  • My interest is in the future, because I am going to spend the rest of my life there. – Charles Kettering
  • Seductive congestion. It’s what the best cities are all about. – John King
  • It’s true that Germans have always had a special love affair with the car, but there’s no reason you have to remain trapped in a bad and unhealthy relationship. – Pit Klasen
  • The majority of sprawl in this country is produced by those who are fleeing from sprawl. -Alex Krieger
  • Containing this type of use of 50/50 [50 mph and 50,000 cars per day] streets is far beyond the will and ability of the typical local government. The 50/50 arterial is a gift-wrapped, gold-plated, gift to strip development. Once in place, almost no power on earth will stop its march toward strip commercial. Time spent berating local governments (counties and cities) for not doing better with these monstrosities (and I’ve done my share of this) is satisfying to the critic, but is unproductive. Once in place, it is too late to do much about the 50/50 arterial. – Walter Kulash
  • A road is a strip of ground over which one walks. A highway differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line which connects one point to another. A highway has no meaning in itself. Its meaning derives entirely from the two points which it connects. A road is a tribute to space. Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop. A highway is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to [the highway] has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time. – Milan Kundera
  • It matters that our cities are primarily auto storage depots. It matters that our junior high schools look like insecticide factories. It matters that our libraries look like beverage distribution warehouses. It matters that the best hotel in town looks like a minimum security prison. To live and work and walk among such surroundings is a form of spiritual degradation. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when so much of what you see on a typical day is so unrelentingly drab. – Jim Kunstler
  • …there’s a reason that Elm Street and Main Street resonate in our cultural memory. It’s not because we’re sentimental saps. It’s because this pattern of human ecology produced places that worked wonderfully well, and which people deeply loved. – Jim Kunstler
  • We are never going to save the rural places or the agricultural places or the wild and scenic places (or the wild species that dwell there) unless we identify the human habitat and then strive to make it so good that humans will voluntarily inhabit it. – Jim Kunstler
  • The 20th Century was about getting around. The 21st Century will be about staying in a place worth staying in. – Jim Kunstler
  • It actually took more effort, and a deeper background in principle and technique, on the part of the 19th century architect to contrive proportioning schemes that would nourish the heart and soul of a normal human being. Today it is the common citizen, forced to live among the baleful monstrosities of 20th century architecture, who must expend extreme mental effort to keep from shrieking in agony at every turn. – Jim Kunstler
  • Finding ways to intervene positively rather than destructively in the old city is a lot of what pro-urbanist planning–new or old–is all about. — Nathan Landau
  • Density is necessary but not sufficient for walkable, transit-friendly urban(e) communities…without adequate baseline densities, communities can wind up building a lot of sidewalks that hardly anybody walks on. – Nathan Landau
  • As we all know, architecture and urbanism, unlike other specialties, such as surgery and biology, are susceptible to being valued, criticized and even vetoed by persons without the most minimal knowledge of their most elemental principles.” – Mario Lanza (Havana 2003)
  • I have never seen a fact that would stand up to a myth at a public hearing. – J. Gary Lawrence
  • …the state of Detroit today (1/3 of the city’s land is vacant, decrease in population by 1/2, etc.) is exactly what the automobile industry intended to have happen to formerly pedestrian-oriented cities.  Detroit probably has more freeway miles than most U.S. cities, and it sure hasn’t benefited Detroit.  (Reflecting upon this is the source of my challenge to freeway proponents — name one freeway construction project that has benefited the traditional center city more than the suburbs, or benefited the city at all.  The reality is that freeways are for suburbanites.) – Richard Layman
  • …walkable urbanity is entirely different than drivable suburbanism. The underlying financial and market principle of drivable development, aka sprawl, is that “more is less”; more development reduces the quality of life and financial returns, leading developers and their customers to perpetually go further and further to the fringe in a fruitless search for very things (open space, drivable convenience, perceived safety, etc.) this development promises. It is a downward spiral.

Walkable urbanity works under financial and market principles that “more is better”; as more dense development takes place with mixed-uses within walking distance and multiple transportation options to get there, the place gets better. Hence the environmental, fiscal (government tax base), community building AND project financial elements all become better. It is an upward spiral. – Christopher B. Leinberger, Dec. 20th, 2006. Author of The Option of Urbanism.

  • The essence of suburbanism is protection.  Protection against whatever is around you.  The essence of good urbanism is connection.  Connection to whatever is around you.  This is reflected in the physical form of development. – Bruce Liedstrand
  • When you’re making a housing decision, you’re also making a decision on transportation. – Barbara Lipman
  • You say what you think needs to be said. If it needs to be said, there are going to be a lot of people who will disagree with it, or it wouldn’t need to be said. – Herb Lock
  • …in general we call these sorts of claims [about why a road cannot be narrowed], by conventional thinkers (usually conventional, old-school, traffic engineers), “technical brush-offs.” The idea is that, through the misuse of their position, they simply blow off your legitimate design proposal with a technical brush-off. You are supposed to go away and not come back. The benefit to them is that they waste very little time on you and your proposal. However, you research the technical brush-off, find out that it is baloney, come back, and confront them. They then will say, “Oh, good job, you’re right. However, your idea won’t work because ….. and they will give you another technical brush-off. This pattern can continue until either you give up or it is too late. Plus, a lot of damage can be done in the meantime by stirring up the neighbors, the fire chief, and/or the police. You have been given two technical brush-offs so far…The next brush-offs will likely have to do with the classification of the street and that they can’t do what you propose. It might also be that they cannot use certain types of funding to reduce car-carrying capacity. By the time you get right down to the real issue, it will likely be that they simply do not want to do the road diet [narrowing]. It violates their paradigm. In these situations, you’ll have to decide, at some point, if you will be able to convince the traffic dinosaurs of the overall benefits to society of you proposal. – Ian Lockwood
  • LEED [a rating system that assesses energy conservation] architecture without good urban design is like cutting down the rainforest using hybrid-powered bulldozers. – Dan Malouff
  • [American] Planners fight against good urbanism every day of the week, and have for fifty years. – John Massengale
  • Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. – Matthew 7:13-14
  • One of the interesting features of much of [the recent research regarding walking] is that taken as a whole it shows that mixed use and walkable destinations have a bigger impact on walking than the quality of the pedestrian environment itself.  Beautiful sidewalks with nowhere to go don’t really cut it. – Barbara McCann
  • Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how. – Edward T. McMahon
  • …Rather than design a transportation system to get the most out of America’s cities, America redesigned the cities to get the most out of the automobile. – Richard Moe
  • The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. – David Mohney
  • Isn’t it paradoxical that the old factories are now the place of efficient and desirable urban living, while the suburban escape from them have become consumptive, environmentally unsustainable, noxious places. – Michael Morrissey
  • The most serious obstacles in our road building program are not money, nor engineering problems, nor cruel terrain–but PEOPLE. – James J. Morton
  • The car is not the enemy, nor is the elimination of cars the solution. It is our societal bias toward cars that must be questioned. – Anne Vernez Moudon
  • The vernacular process is based on things that resonates enough with the average citizen that they want to repeat it on their house or in their town. Repeated enough over time, it becomes a pattern, and then a tradition. The Most-Loved Places are therefore all by definition traditional places. – Steve Mouzon
  • The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city. – Lewis Mumford
  • We cannot continue to believe that the landscape is sacred and the city profane. They must both be considered sacred. – Paul Murrain
  • What kills a city are people who want only low taxes, only want a good deal and only want cities to be about . . . pipes, pavement and policing. – Glen Murray, mayor of Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • We are making great progress, but we are going in the wrong direction. – Ogden Nash
  • The land use and urban form of cities are…fundamentally shaped by priorities in transportation…the essential character of a city’s land use comes down to how it manages its transport. -Peter Newman & Jeffrey Kenworthy
  • Cities are for people. A city is where people come to work and raise their families and to spend their money and to walk in the evening. It is not a traffic corridor. -John Norquist
  • There is no greater form of subsidized social engineering than the interstate highway, which hastens the flight out of the city without doing much to ease traffic congestion. -John Norquist
  • This used to be Main Street USA. It’s now a code violation all over America. – John Norquist
  • Suburban planning is all about separation and segregation of uses. Buffers, enormous setbacks, masking. Urban planning, by stark contrast, strives for mixed and shared use, permeability, and compact dimensions. – Dom Nozzi
  • Smart Growth defined: Making the car an option, not a necessity. – Dom Nozzi
  • Places don’t become strip commercial because all the trees were cut down. They become strip commercial because the place has been scaled for cars. The road is too wide. The parking lot is too big. The building setbacks are too large. Ironically, saving a tree often promotes such an over-allocation of space. – Dom Nozzi
  • This nation is drowning in a sea of free and abundant parking. – Dom Nozzi
  • The pedestrian is the design imperative. – Dom Nozzi
  • If you are an elected official lacking in courage and leadership, and you face even a peep of opposition to a project, fall back on perfectionism to find a flaws so that you can shoot down the project. Perfectionism leads to paralysis. – Dom Nozzi
  • In part, public planning agencies have no vision because they are drowning in minutiae. – Dom Nozzi
  • We need to design our cities so that one feels embarrassed, inconvenienced, and like one who is missing out on all the fun when driving a car. – Dom Nozzi
  • Working adults formerly enjoyed an hour of “community time” after the workday was over and before they were expected home. It has been replaced by an hour of “commuting time.” The former warmed us to our fellow human beings, the latter conditions us to hate them. – Ray Oldenburg, Celebrating the Third Place
  • A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. – George S. Patton
  • A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both. – Enrique Penalosa
  • Over the last 30 years, we’ve been able to magnify environmental consciousness all over the world. As a result, we know a lot about the ideal environment for a happy whale or a happy mountain gorilla. We’re far less clear about what constitutes an ideal environment for a happy human being. One common measure for how clean a mountain stream is, is to look for trout. If you find the trout, the habitat is healthy. It’s the same way with children in a city. Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people. – Enrique Penalosa
  • God made us walking animals—pedestrians. As a fish needs to swim, a bird to fly, a deer to run, we need to walk, not in order to survive, but to be happy. – Enrique Penalosa
  • Anything you do to make a city more friendly to cars makes it less friendly to people. – Enrique Penalosa
  • Americans are in the habit of never walking if they can ride. – Louis Philippe (1798)
  • Some collective practices have enormous inertia because they impose a high cost on the individual who would try to change them. – Steven Pinker
  • When you’re on the street [as a pedestrian], all cars are monsters. When you’re in a car, all pedestrians are idiots. – Alan E. Pisarski
  • Nothing looks so dated as yesterday’s vision of the future. – Christian De Quincey
  • Well planned cities can compensate for declining incomes by decreasing the cost of living. – Henry Richmond
  • To achieve excellence should be a struggle. – Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley
  • We live in a country made of spare parts where the master plan has been lost. – Jaquelyn Robertson
  • Every freedom has a corresponding responsibility. – John D. Rockefeller
  • Over-emphasis on mobility is what’s destroying our cities now, and “improved” mobility could make things worse. So maybe my views on transportation have become extreme if you consider that I’m becoming an advocate for LESS mobility, and more place-making. Famous urbanist Jan Gehl says “Judge the walkability of a city not by how many people are walking, but by how many people are lingering.” The places people love are actually quite hard to get around in, and the places with great mobility are usually dead and sterile places. – Michael Ronkin
  • There is no lack of space [in cities]. It is just that most of it is in the form of vacant parking lots and extra wide roads. -Michael Ronkin
  • The measure of any great civilization is in its cities, and the measure of a city’s greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares.  – John Ruskin
  • The only way you run into someone else in LA is in a car crash. – Susan Sarandon, on why she moved to NY.
  • From time to time, little men will find fault with what you have done…but they will go down the stream like bubbles, they will vanish. But the work you have done will remain for the ages. – Theodore Roosevelt
  • When a new truth enters the world, the first stage of reaction to it is ridicule, the second stage is violent opposition, and in the third stage, that truth comes to be regarded as self-evident – Arthur Schopenhauer
  • A culture of inertia has set in. Criticism predominates over construction; critics are given more weight than those trying to build. It doesn’t matter how small a constituency or flawed an argument the critic possesses. He or she always seems to predominate in political circles, in the news media, and in the public debate. – Senator Charles E. Schumer
  • Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer
  • Although the American scarcely thought of his car as an instrument for reshaping the city, it was to prove the most potent means of crippling Central Business Districts and upbuilding outlying shopping areas that had ever been invented. It was the most effective device for spreading the city over a vast territory that history had ever seen. Its potential for destruction and for construction was, in short, awesome. – Mel Scott
  • Off-street parking requirements [imposed by a city for new developments] and cars…present a symbiotic relationship: the requirements lead to free parking, the free parking leads to more cars and more cars then lead to even higher parking requirements. When 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet [of new building] no longer satisfy the peak demand for free parking, a stronger dose of 4 spaces per 1,000 square feet can alleviate the problem, but not for long because cars increase in numbers to fill the new parking spaces. Every jab of the parking needle relieves the local symptoms, but ultimately worsens the real disease — too much land and capital devoted to parking and cars. Parking requirements are good for motorists in the short run but bad for cities in the long run. – Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking
  • For a concert hall, Los Angeles requires, at a minimum, 50 times more parking spaces than San Francisco allows as the maximum. This difference in planning helps explain why downtown San Francisco is much more exciting and livable than downtown Los Angeles. – Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking
  • American cities put a floor under the parking supply to satisfy the peak demand for free parking, and then cap development density to limit vehicle trips. European cities, in contrast, often cap the number of parking spaces to avoid congesting the roads and combine this strategy with a floor on allowed development density to encourage walking, cycling, and public transport. That is, Americans require parking and limit density, while Europeans require density and limit parking. When combined with complaints about traffic congestion and calls for smart growth, the American policy looks exceptionally foolish. – Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking
  • Minimum parking standards [regulations that require the provision of parking] are fertility drugs for cars. – Donald Shoup
  • Staunch conservatives often become ardent communists when it comes to parking, and rational people quickly turn emotional. – Donald Shoup
  • If we continue to do what we’ve always done with curb parking, we will continue to get what we now have — the “parking problem,” with all its ramifications. Fortunately, we can resolve this problem if we: (1) charge market prices for curb parking; (2) return the revenue to finance neighborhood public improvements; and (3) remove off-street parking requirements. No other source of public revenue can so easily bring in so much money and simultaneously improve transportation, land use, and the environment. – Donald Shoup
  • A suburban through street is similar to a New Urbanist through street in the same way that a concrete flood channel is similar to a babbling brook. – Patrick Siegman
  • Preserving natural habitat by creating better human habitat. – Smart Growth America’s web site
  • People move to the suburbs for the illusion of greater freedom, but it is where there is density – more people & more kinds of people, more buildings & more kinds of buildings – that there are more choices. – Sandy Sorlien
  • The house itself is of minor importance. Its relation to the community is the thing that really counts. A small house must depend on its grouping with other houses for its beauty… – Clarence Stein
  • The opposite to bad development is good development, not no development. – Padriac Steinschneider
  • Environmentalists fail to understand that human beings are a life form. – Dhiru Thadani
  • Consensus is the absence of leadership. – Margaret Thatcher
  • The paradox of transportation in the late 20th Century is that while it became possible to travel to the moon, it also became impossible, in many cases, to walk across the street. – Joell Vanderwagen
  • 50 years ago, city planning practices and codes moved from being community unifiers to suburban dividers. – Tom Walsh
  • Placing surface parking lots in your downtowns is like placing a toilet in your living room – Unknown
  • A community has to have the capacity to envision a future they want, and not just the one they are likely to get. – Unknown
  • The suburb fails to be a countryside because it is too dense. It fails to be a city because it is not dense enough. – Unknown
  • He who tells the truth must have one foot in the stirrup. – Old Armenian proverb

 

 

 

Leave a comment

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

Boulder’s Outdated Progressive-ism on Transportation and Land Use

By Dom Nozzi

February 28, 2018

Something occurred to me recently about Boulder, Colorado’s growth and development strategies.

It struck me that in the 1970s, many Boulder residents came to decide that the popular growth and development tactics of that time were so commonsensical and so progressive and effective that such tactics would forever be necessary. They had drunk the Koolaide of the 1970s, in other words, and had become hard headed zealots who would forever crusade for all eternity to “save” Boulder by holding fast to these strategies. Not holding tight to them would be an unforgivable compromise that would ruin Boulder.

The problem, though, is that today in the 21st Century, an overwhelming number of scholars and professional practitioners have come to realize that many of these 1970s tactics that are held so firmly by so many Boulderites are terribly outdated and quite counterproductive.

These 1970s tactics are outdated because they are pro-car, which makes them anti-city, anti-environment, anti-walkability, anti-transit, anti-bicycling, unsustainable, anti-affordability, anti-sociable, bad for city character, and bad for quality of life.

Here is a listing of such failed ideas that too many in Boulder fiercely and stubbornly continue to hold on to with all their allegedly progressive, enlightened, heroic might:

  • Support for large building setbacks.
  • Support for very low densities.
  • Support for large lot single-family (residential-only) zoning for neighborhoods.
  • Support for free-flowing car traffic.
  • Support for zero population growth.
  • Opposition to small lot sizes.
  • Opposition to small homes.
  • Opposition to buildings taller than 1-2 stories.
  • Opposition to large numbers of people living in the same home.
  • Support for requiring developers to provide abundant off-street parking.
  • Support for using speed humps and stop signs.
  • Support for one-way streets.

Each of these tactics have now been thoroughly discredited in recent decades.

Why are so many in Boulder so stubbornly holding on to these outdated ideas? My guess, at least in part, is that the 55,000 acre greenbelt the citizens taxed themselves to buy since the 1960s has been so successful in promoting quality of life that a lot of folks wrongly concluded that the entire bundle of growth and development strategies from that era remain valuable.

I’m sorry, but while the greenbelt idea remains as powerfully effective in the 1970s as it is today, the list of other 1970s strategies I mention above must be tossed out as failuresdi that are inhibiting Boulder’s ability to retain and continue advancing toward a better future.

Another possible reason comes from Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (citing Max Planck). Kuhn would note that many Boulderites who continue to cling to the outmoded 1970s tactics had invested so much of their lives and their efforts into those ideas that they are now unable to discard them despite overwhelming evidence. Such people, Kuhn would point out, are simply not able to accept the idea that they wasted so much of their lives and efforts promoting concepts that are now known to be wrong-headed. Many such people will go to their graves continuing to believe in the 1970s tactics (regardless of how overwhelming the counter-evidence grows), because it is too much of a terrible blow to admit they were so wrong on topics they had grown to accept as eternal iron laws.

Under this grim Kuhn scenario, Boulder’s best hope is that the Old Guard will, through attrition, grow smaller and smaller as they move from Boulder. Or die off.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Transportation, Urban Design

The Need for Gainesville, Florida to Retain the Courthouse Downtown

By Dom Nozzi

January 15, 2001

The downtown is the fountainhead of civic pride for the community, and both keeping or building important civic buildings downtown is a vital way to achieve or retain pride.

When our significant government buildings are downtown, it sends a powerful message to residents and visitors that we are proud of our city. It is also an important way for our downtown to remain “relevant.” We need to encourage and retain a meaningful number of jobs, residences, and retail downtown. Sprawling, “Anywhere USA” cities (where “there is no there there”) have hemorrhaged their important “social condensers” (community gathering places and key symbols of government) to dispersed, outlying areas. We’ve already the main city post office move way out to the western fringe of the city, and this has been to the detriment of downtown. Fortunately, a post office remains downtown.

Keeping a county courthouse in the community downtown is an important way for a community to avert a “South Florida” future. It matters that we retain a sense of place. And a sense of community.

All this, by the way, is not to imply that I’m fully supportive of the current proposal for the downtown courthouse. I’m rather unhappy about many of its “downtown-hostile” design features. Some of these features try, in a juvenile way, to protect the building from a “Waco bombing.”ct2

Other examples of design features that degrade the need for a welcoming, compact, walkable downtown is the incorporation of vast expanses of deadening asphalt parking.

Nevertheless, a downtown needs to retain its courthouse in the town center. Hopefully, in the case of the new Gainesville courthouse, surface parking will be incrementally replaced with active, downtown-friendly buildings.

Sadly, the old courthouse built in 1885 no longer exists (see photo below), and has beenct replaced by an unlovable modernist building (photo above).

Leave a comment

Filed under Urban Design

Affordable Housing in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

February 20, 2017

I posted a quote on Facebook meant for the many people I know in Boulder who believe that as much as possible must be done to stop growth and development:

“The opposite to bad development is good development, not no development.” – Padriac Steinschneider

Someone replied by stating that “[n]o one said anything about no development and growth. This is discussion about affordability which is a separate issue. We can grow a lot and build mostly unaffordable housing, or we can grow less and preserve the affordable housing that we have and build mostly affordable new housing. Those are 2 very different affordability outcomes unrelated to growth.”

My response:

The underlying hope — and often the quite outspoken belief — for a great many in Boulder is no growth. I’ve lost track of how many times I see people in Boulder fight to raise development fees or call for more meetings for a proposed development plan (mostly for added opportunities to stop the development).

Or state that population growth is our number one threat.

Since fees are so very high in Boulder already ($11 million in fees paid by Solana, for example), and since added time is very expensive for developers, higher fees and more meetings is, for many who call for such things (if they are honest), an effort to prevent development.

For many in Boulder, Al Bartlett is a patron saint. Over and over again, he sounded the alarm that population growth is a huge threat (and implicitly, for many who hear his message, that population growth must be stopped in Boulder).

Since there is no humane or practical or constitutional way for Boulder to stop population growth, the next best thing has been to fight to slow it down as much as possible (while hoping that such efforts will eventually stop growth or at least push it to towns outside of Boulder).

One way to clearly see how stopping growth is the underlying objective is the extreme opposition to density increases in Boulder. Since Boulder cannot grow outwards beyond city limits (without great difficulty), or upwards due to severe height limits, fighting against density increases is another way to stop growth in the near future.

I don’t see how growing less preserves affordable housing, or how growing more removes affordable housing. Most people I know who support more compact, walkable growth and more housing are, like me, supporting the idea of making it easier to build such things as backyard cottages (or other forms of ADUs), co-ops, smaller houses/apartments, and converting some industrial and surface parking land to housing. Each of those tactics inherently provide more affordable housing.

By contrast, those pushing for slower growth or no growth often strongly oppose each of these options for more affordable housing.

It must be noted that growth in Boulder is already very slow when one considers how very desirable the quality of life is here, and the fact that we have had a very low maximum annual residential growth cap — I think that cap still exists.

Instead of supporting the affordable housing tactics I note above, many slower growth advocates call for heavy-handed local government market interventions, which I believe is unsustainable — in part because it leads to many unintended consequences. Slow growthers are forced to adopt such a “command economy” tactic because the idea of creating the new and relatively affordable housing I mention a few sentences back would mean more people, and for too many of the slower growthers, that is not in any way acceptable. Al Bartlett, after all.NIMBY-protest-Toronto-Boston-SanFrancisco-neighbourhood-airport-housing-preservation-Condo.ca_-512x341

I would love to see the slower growthers support building new housing that is affordable, as you say above, but all I see is opposition to such new housing. I see opposition to:

1. ADUs.
2. Co-ops.
3. Loss of parking – often as a way to create more housing.
4. Providing less parking for housing or unbundling the price of parking from housing (both of these are powerful ways to create more affordable housing because parking is extremely expensive).
5. Reducing the amount of parking that a developer must provide.
6. Smaller lots or smaller houses.
7. Buildings taller than 1-2 stories.
8. Adding smaller shops or offices into residential areas or incorporated into the same building.
9. Smaller building setbacks and smaller open space or landscaping requirements for new developments.

Personally, I would love to see in Boulder a big increase in smaller homes, without parking, that are an easy walk to shops and offices. I would love to buy such housing, as I’m sure a great many in Boulder would want to as well. But the supply of such walkable housing in Boulder is vanishingly small. And the demand is huge (and growing due to the fact that many Millennials seek such housing). That bids up the price of such inherently affordable housing artificially. Given the very loud opposition I hear from so many of the slower growthers (which I increasingly call the anti-city, anti-environment folks), I’m not optimistic that the supply of such greener, more sustainable, more affordable housing will grow much at all.

One cynical form of optimism on the affordable housing front is that since cities such as Boulder now have way more drivable suburban housing than the demand for such housing, we can expect that such housing will be relatively affordable in future decades, because supply will far exceed demand.

Most of Boulder was built during an era that put low-density, single-use-zoning, drivable suburbia on a pedestal (in part by adopted zoning regulations that make compact development illegal). In the coming decades, it will be the cities that are able to incrementally make such unsustainable places more walkable (and create new neighborhoods with such housing) that will have a future. That inevitably means more compact housing, which means a more affordable and greener lifestyle (because the huge expense of paying for car travel will decline and the huge per capita environmental impact of car travel will diminish). It also means more people living in neighborhoods, which is anathema to those who seek to retain a drivable lifestyle.

Christopher B. Leinberger, on Dec. 20th, 2006, had this to say on the topic (he is the author of The Option of Urbanism):

“…walkable urbanity is entirely different than drivable suburbanism. The underlying financial and market principle of drivable development, aka sprawl, is that “more is less”; more development reduces the quality of life and financial returns, leading developers and their customers to perpetually go further and further to the fringe in a fruitless search for very things (open space, drivable convenience, perceived safety, etc.) this development promises. It is a downward spiral.

Walkable urbanity works under financial and market principles that “more is better”; as more dense development takes place with mixed-uses within walking distance and multiple transportation options to get there, the place gets better. Hence the environmental, fiscal (government tax base), community building AND project financial elements all become better. It is an upward spiral.”

And Vince Graham:

“If what you sell is the perception of privacy and exclusivity, then every new house is a degradation of the amenity. However, if what you sell is community, then every new house is an enhancement of the asset.”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Economics

Phoenix or Siena? Do We Reduce Environmental Impact by Stopping Growth? Or Ensuring Growth is Better?

By Dom Nozzi

February 13, 2018

Someone posted a rebuttal to the excellent guest opinion in the Boulder, Colorado newspaper by Zane Selvan’s about the environmental impacts of low density development in Boulder:

“There it is again: ‘per capita carbon footprint’. I’m concerned with Boulder’s ‘net’ carbon footprint. Density and infill proponents want to increase the population and increase the net carbon footprint in order to achieve a decrease in per capita carbon footprint. It’s the only way they can do it. It’s oxymoronic. Boulder will become a bigger, dirtier more crowded city overall in order to become slightly cleaner per individual. It’s a self defeating policy.”

My response: If Boulder’s 108,000 people were spread out over a lower density, more dispersed and car dependent pattern, the impact on the environment would be much more brutal and unsustainable. As it stands now, Boulder’s low-density pattern already fuels a huge amount of car travel and carbon emissions — way more than if that 108,000 people were in a more compact, human-scaled pattern.

For those, like me, who prefer a “small town character,” Boulder would feel much more like a small town if the city was much more compact, rather than dispersed. If our parking lots were smaller and more rare. If our roads and intersections were less massive. For me and many others, “small town ambiance” is much better achieved when we have a compact, human-scaled dimensioning of our neighborhoods and town centers and road infrastructure.

Small town character, for me, has far less to do with the number of people who live in Boulder.

There are hundreds of cities and towns in Europe that demonstrate this.

When I am at a monster huge Boulder intersection with a double-left turn lane and six or so through lanes, I feel like I am in Houston or Phoenix. I feel uncomfortable, exposed, unsafe, anxious to leave, and disappointed about what has been done. There is no sense of place whatsoever, and it feels “big city” even though I would often be about the only human at that intersection. By contrast, I can be in, say, Pearl Street Mall with hundreds of people, but the human-scaled dimensions create a small town sense of place and comfort and pride.

It is sometimes claimed that the only reason certain cities are compact and walkable is that they have convenient public transportation (and “my city does not have convenient transit”). But having convenient transit service is not simply a matter of citizens asking for it or elected officials providing it. Places like Phoenix and Houston and many neighborhoods in Boulder don’t have convenient transit because citizens have spent decades demanding…

  • Low density
  • Short suburban buildings
  • A huge amount of free parking
  • Wide, free-flowing, and free-to-use roads

Each of those elements make it extremely difficult if not impossible to provide convenient transit in a city. The fact that Siena and NYC and much of Boston and DC have convenient transit is that they opted to build densely and did not go hog wild in making cars happy. Why is transit not convenient in much of Boulder? Why is it so convenient in bigger US cities? Is it because they are smart and Boulder is stupid? I think not.

I prefer convenient transit and “small town ambiance,” which is why I regularly advocate compact, 2-5 story neighborhoods and town centers with scarce, priced parking and human-scaled streets. The fact that so many in Boulder fight to the death for low density, one-story subdivisions with abundant parking and wide roads largely explains why Boulder is losing its “small town ambiance.”Big city vs small town ambiance

How ironic.

Notice in the photo set that in the “small town ambiance” places in Siena and Boulder, we are looking at places that have a relatively compact collection of people living, working, shopping, and playing. In other words, “small town ambiance” is often found when we have a relatively large population size. Also notice the taller buildings in the two “small town ambiance” images compared to the two “big city ambiance” images. In other words, “tall” buildings do not necessarily create a “big city ambiance.” Indeed, the opposite is often true.

Some people say that a larger number of people have a larger carbon footprint than a smaller number of people. Well yes, that is obviously true. But is there a practical way for us to halt population growth? After working academically and professionally in environmental science and town planning for 40 years, I know of no humane or constitutional way for us to stop population growth.

What some would like us to do is to nudge the growth toward other communities, but that does not reduce the carbon footprint. It just shifts it to less politically powerful or more affordable places. Such an effort also disperses human settlement rather than having human settlement be more compact, and that ramps up the overall carbon footprint.

The effective way to reduce overall carbon footprint, then, is to not waste our time trying to do the impossible (stopping human population increases) or being NIMBYs (by shunting the growth to politically weaker places).

The key is to work to have development occur in a more compact, sustainable way that promotes a healthy, happy city. When we do that, people are less likely to want to live in low-density, car-dependent places (because town center living is more enjoyable and enticing).

Boulder’s dispersed, low-density development pattern means we have plenty of infill development opportunities so that we can become more compact, safe, sociable, and walkable.

With compact, relatively gentle, context-sensitive infill (small condos, compact apartments, mixed use, small houses, row houses, small lot sizes, small or no setbacks, 2-5 story buildings, accessory dwelling units, co-ops, replacement of surface parking and suburban setbacks and sprawling industrial/warehouse areas with urban buildings) — not to mention the elimination of required parking — we substantially increase affordable housing opportunities. That would mean we’d have less people being forced — for financial reasons — to move to outlying, car-dependent places. Again, the overall carbon footprint would go down.

Despite the conventional wisdom we still hear too often in Boulder, it turns out that being pro-city is to be pro-environment. To be anti-city is to be anti-environment. Compactness is the new green.

Phoenix or Siena? I prefer the compactness of a Siena over the low-density Phoenix (or Orlando)…

 

Leave a comment

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