Tag Archives: choice

Timelessness versus Change

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 13, 2002

I am thoroughly convinced that our era of extremely auto-dependent design is a brief, failed, dysfunctional aberration in the course of human history. We are now starting to turn back toward timeless, HUMAN-SCALED, pedestrian-oriented design techniques that worked for several centuries (and remain our most lovable cities — Florence, Siena, Tetro_Student_Village_Renderings_003Charleston, etc. — cities that will NEVER go out of style). It will ALWAYS make sense for us to design for people instead of cars. The age of huge parking lots and multi-lane roads is a dinosaur age. Either we jettison that mistaken age, or we will lock ourselves into a downwardly spiraling path toward extinction.

Is there a reason that the pedestrian design that has worked so well for thousands of years will one day not make sense? I doubt it, UNLESS the planet is populated only by robotic cars, instead of people.

While there are certain fundamental, timeless design principles, there will also be, within those principles, some shifting about in societal desires. That is why so much of my work focuses on designing for housing and transportation choice. Like in ecosystems, human habitats that are able to adapt to change will better survive than those that cannot adopt to change. The latter are more likely to become extinct.

The car-based design I work so tirelessly against is PRECISELY the kind of approach we need to avoid if we are to adapt to these inevitable changes. We must be able to deal with change on a regular basis. We cannot afford to live in a world where EVERYONE is forced to drive a car and live in suburban, single-family housing. To be able to adapt to change, our communities MUST be designed for transportation and housing choice. Auto-based design does not give us any choices.

Therefore, I am convinced that the most responsible, durable method is for us to select designs that expand our choices, and to draw quite heavily from time-tested designs that have worked for thousands of years — tempered with a dose of pragmatism that incorporates contemporary lifestyle needs.

Adaptability is crucial in the face of such inevitable uncertainty about the future. We need to proceed with caution (and, I might add, with a sense of modesty, rather than the arrogance of, say, modernists, who arrogantly believe we can cavalierly jettison timeless design principles from our past).

The 911 attack on the World Trade Center buildings has influenced a move toward shorter buildings. I am sympathetic, as one of the time-tested design features I am supportive of is the idea that (non-civic) buildings should not exceed 5 stories in height. Above that height, we lose a human scale. For example, it is said that one cannot easily converse with someone on a sidewalk if one is on a balcony higher than five stories.

I think there are certain things we’ve tried in the past that we can say with a fair amount of confidence will NEVER be a good idea. I think that the Triple Convergence demonstrates that road widening will NEVER be a good idea in the future (to solve congestion). Studies in environmental science show that it will NEVER be a good idea to return to an age when we spewed hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants. Medical science shows that it will NEVER be a good idea for humans to smoke three packs of cigarettes each day.

 

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What Direction Should the State of Florida Take With Regard to Local Government Planning?

By Dom Nozzi

September 25, 2003

The State of Florida contains an agency called the Department of Community Affairs, which provides directives and guidance to city and county governments in Florida regarding town planning, transportation and land development. That agency therefore plays a crucial role in how development and transportation should occur in Florida.

What should this guidance consist of?

As a 20-year long-range town planner in Florida, here are my thoughts on the matter.

First, planning directives from the state planning agency need to be more directive than to just call for communities to establish a “vision.” But instead of taking a heavy-handed approach in which the state dictates how communities should be developed, there should be a strong statement that calls for communities to:

(a) Create plans and regulations that promote lifestyle choices. All communities must provide ample opportunities for living an urban, suburban, or rural lifestyle. Currently, nearly all communities only allow for the suburban choice. We must be clear that one size does not fit all. We need a tiered regulatory system that applies appropriate regulations for each lifestyle choice, instead of providing only suburban design regulations. We need to make urban and rural lifestyles legal again (in appropriate locations).urban-to-rural-transect-Duany-Plater-Zyberk-sm

(b) Create a transportation system that is rich in transportation choices. Again, this needs to be a tiered approach where one size does not fit all locations. In core (urban, compact) areas, the pedestrian is the design imperative. Streets are modest in size, calm in design speed and no more than three lanes in width. Roads get progressively larger and higher in design speed as you move outside of core. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), in particular, needs to radically change their approach to design so that state roads are context-sensitive when going through communities. FDOT must become a helpful partner with local communities, instead of an adversary only looking out for the needs of the state.

In many communities, being serious about controlling sprawl and protecting or restoring quality of life will require a long-term healing process. Damage wrought in the past by building monster high-speed roads will often need to be incrementally reversed by putting many of these roads on a diet (ie, removing unnecessary, toxic, dangerous travel lanes).

In the interim, as communities struggle to correct the design of their streets and roads, an urban growth boundary will probably be required. Without a strong boundary, no plans, regulations or strong elected officials can stop the sprawl tidal wave induced largely by big roads in a community.

(c) Many important efforts are necessary to reverse our long-standing pattern of being our own worst enemies. The Florida Growth Management Act (which dictates rules for plans that local governments in Florida must adopt) needs to be revised so that road “level of service” (the level of congestion found on a road) is not applied in urban areas. The State concurrency rule that obligates level of service for urban roads is a powerful sprawl engine (because “adequate” road capacity tends to only be found in outlying areas rather than within towns).

In addition, public schools must end the practice of inducing sprawl by curtailing the widespread construction of new schools in outlying areas. An important element is this is to revise school standards that make walkable, in-town, neighborhood-based schools difficult or impossible (such as large ballfield requirements).

Large emergency service vehicles must not dictate excessive road design standards by being the standard that engineers use to design roads (the “design” vehicle). Doing so promotes high and dangerous car speeds.

Similarly, modest, human-scaled streets and building design must be made legal again in the urban portions of a community.

In sum, a strong stand must be taken by planners that we stand for CHOICE, and that one size does not fit all.

 

 

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Sprawl, Traffic, Taxes and Quality of Life

By Dom Nozzi

We live in troubled times. Times that require wise, courageous leadership. Here is what I see in our communities, and what we should do about it.

Taxation

Taxes are high and are constantly rising because new growth is not paying its own way.

All levels of government are financially strapped. Households are struggling to be able to afford the skyrocketing costs of transportation and rising property taxes.

Aren’t you tired of high and rising taxes?

Transportation

Automakers keep producing gas-guzzling cars. There is no quality transit system. We have no transportation choices. Little Billy and little Suzie cannot safely go for a walk or ride a bike in their neighborhoods because traffic is too dangerous.

Our hard-earned money and national wealth is vanishing. Our money (and the lives of soldiers and civilians in wars instigated by the Pentagon) is being used to enrich Middle Eastern oil-producing nations—many of which are not our friends.

Aren’t you tired of our unhealthy transportation system?

The Quality of Our Neighborhoods and Communities

Our farms are vanishing because they are being paved over by sprawling subdivisions.

We keep getting DUMB growth instead of SMART growth. Our neighborhoods are afflicted by rising levels of noise pollution. We’ve lost the tradition of having neighborhood-based schools, which means our kids cannot get to school on their own. We have forgotten that a high quality of life is a powerful economic engine.

Aren’t you tired of the sprawl? The ugly, dangerous, costly, “Anywhere USA” strip commercial development that keeps popping up in our communities?

My Vision

Let’s restore our communities.

  • Imagine communities rich in transportation choice. A place where we and our kids can get around safely by car, by transit, by walking and by bicycle. A place where cost of living is much more affordable for households because they are not required to spend an enormous percentage of their incomes to buy and maintain several cars. Communities, in other words, where one has the choice to be able to walk to get a loaf of bread, instead of being forced to drive four miles to get that loaf.
  • Imagine communities where our property taxes are reasonable and our government is able to afford to build quality public facilities and provide quality public services.
  • Imagine communities where we don’t see our beautiful forests, natural areas and farms bulldozed, acre-by-acre, day-by-day, to build endless, sprawling subdivisions.
  • Imagine communities where streets are not choked by rapidly growing numbers of cars (containing people who are driving to get a loaf of bread).
  • Imagine communities where we don’t see our roads torn up and widened every year, causing infuriating road construction delays.
  • Imagine communities with pleasant, safe, beautiful, slow-speed shopping streets instead of communities full of 10-lane strip commercial monster roads.
  • Imagine communities with healthy air and water, and neighborhoods that place public parks a short distance from our homes.
  • Imagine communities that provide choices about how to live. Communities where one can happily live an urban, suburban or rural lifestyle.
  • Imagine communities where it is actually LEGAL to build smartly. Traditionally. Sustainably. Where building smartly is the rule, rather than the exception. Local government regulations encourage smart growth, and are not an obstacle to it.  Communities that makes it fast and easy to build smartly, and makes it more difficult and costly to build unlovable crap.
  • Imagine communities full of energy-efficient homes and offices.
  • Imagine communities that are QUIET. Where one can sleep peacefully each night without being awoken by endless sirens and the roar of traffic.
  • Imagine places with a strong sense of community. Places that are A COMMUNITY, not a crowd.

villageImagine communities, in other words, that we can be PROUD of.

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Should the Development Transect Include a Suburban Option?

By Dom Nozzi

The “Urban to Rural Transect” is an idea pioneered by the new urbanist movement. The concept acknowledges that individuals have a range of different lifestyles and forms of travel that they desire. Instead of having a community establish only one set of design regulations for new development in a community (a set which tends to offer only a suburban, drivable lifestyle), it is most equitable that regulations should be tailored to the full range of choices: walkable for the town center, suburban and drivable for the suburbs, and rural/conservation for the periphery of a community.

Not only is this tailored approach much more fair and equitable than the typical one-size-fits-all approach, it is also more resilient: The future is likely to be rather different than today, particularly due to likely resource, financial, demographic, energy and climate changes. It is obviously most prudent to have a full set of community designs so that a significant community shift to a new way of living and getting around will not be as painful and costly.

In addition, establishing a range of regulatory zones is more sustainable, politically. Conventionally, the community must engage in endless, angry philosophical battles to determine the most acceptable one-size-fits-all lifestyle preference (which inevitably means that the regulations must be watered down to a mediocrity that no one likes as a way to minimize objections). Instead, when lifestyle zones are established (urban, suburban, rural) and regulations are calibrated differently for each lifestyle zone, political battles are minimized and the regulations can be more pure and aggressive. “You don’t like the restrictive parking regulations we are applying to the town center? Fine. If you prefer less restricted parking rules, you clearly should be opting to live in the drivable part of the community.”

Given the clear fairness and prudence of the approach, I am always surprised when I hear people express reservations about the transect.

Many advocates of a “greener,” more “walkable” and “compact” lifestyle will claim that we should simply PROHIBIT the drivable suburban portion of the transect, since that form of design is inherently anti-socical, anti-environmental, and unsustainable. Several who subscribe to this position traffic jam on huge hwyargue that we will not be able to survive as a civilization if we retain the suburban designs of our community for the long term, given the likelihood of “peak oil,” climate change, or various forms of resource constraints in our future.

I believe there is some validity to this point.

 

However, for several decades, nearly every American community has established development regulations that seek to establish the drivable suburban lifestyle EVERYWHERE in the community (an anti-choice, one-size-fits-all approach).

For the first time since before WWII, thankfully, we are now seeing a large number of people and organizations saying NO!!!! to this one-size-fits-all approach. That approach is ruinous, they rightly say, and eliminating lifestyle choices!

The transect – which is a concept which wisely includes a suburban zone — is the only system I know of that can start to move us out of that downwardly spiraling rut of one-size-fits-all suburbia.

Given that communities have mostly applied only suburban development rules throughout the community for so long, it seems highly unlikely that we can abruptly eliminate the community-wide suburban approach in our lifetimes. It is strategically unwise to suddenly replace drivable regulations with walkable regulations community-wide. The vast majority of people are extremely supportive of a suburban lifestyle, as can be seen by the fact that this interest group has succeeded in inappropriately forcing suburban design down the throats of urban and rural areas, as well as suburban areas throughout the nation.

Given the common (albeit wrong) assumption that suburbia is a consensus desire, abruptly eliminating that lifestyle option community-wide is akin to vegetarians suggesting we should abruptly end the sale of any meat in a grocery store.

Clearly, it is appropriate that communities need to stop assuming that everyone prefers the suburban lifestyle. To stop applying suburban regulations everywhere in the community. But going from suburban regulations EVERYWHERE to suburban regulations NOWHERE is not politically feasible. Or fair.

If some people desire the relatively anti-social, inconvenient aspects of a suburban lifestyle, and are able to afford the expensive nature of such a lifestyle without harming others seeking another lifestyle, we are right to continue to allow it.

We need to fight community battles that have a chance of success, instead of squandering our efforts on something that will only happen via a pie-in-the-sky “green” dictatorship.

Striving to prohibit suburbia might also distract us and slow down our important, pressing need to politically gain acceptance of some of the crucial transect concepts. We must IMMEDIATELY start applying compact and walkable development regulations in our town centers.  We must IMMEDIATELY start applying rural/preserve development regulations in our outlying areas. And we are able to politically buy such changes by allowing suburban development regulations to remain – at least for the time being.

Sure, while we do that, we can continue to believe that we will probably need to bulldoze suburbia in the future, or see it be abandoned on its own because corrected price signals make such a life undesirable for most.

But in this interim period, politics and the on-going lifestyle desire for many requires that we retain the suburban option.

Similarly, when it comes to transportation, it is clear that we must eventually put some suburban roads on a diet – taking, say roads that are five lanes and dieting them down to three lanes. But rather than calling for suburban road diets NOW, I believe it is politically wise and fair at this time to do no more than put a moratorium on widening those roads (i.e., let’s not let them get worse than they already are). In the meantime, we can let residents of those suburban places voluntarily ask for road diets (and traffic calming) if they so choose (after seeing the obvious benefits of diets in other parts of the community).

Of course, this “moratorium” approach can also happen on its own, as we are increasingly unable to afford to widen roads.

In the meantime, we DO put in-town, walkable areas on the right path. In those places, we happily put roads on a diet and employ lots of traffic calming and sidewalk installation and walkable development requirements.

And we do so with less political opposition because we have retained the suburban option.

Such an approach allows us to minimize antagonism. Suburban advocates can have their suburban utopia as long as they give us what we desire outside of those fiasco locations. Locations that will increasingly be seen – even by today’s suburban advocates – as a failed paradigm compared to the increasing value, profitability and desirable nature of the walkable locations of the community.

We will more quickly see walkable locations become shining and enviable preferences to suburbia if we follow the savvy approach of allowing suburbia in the interim period. By allowing suburban advocates to opt for suburbia, we give ourselves the ability to employ the politically unhindered road diets and strong walkability development regulations in the walkable locations of the community.

A transect that includes a suburban option, in sum, is the preferred approach.

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

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Leave Your Car at Home Day

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Many cities admirably seek to promote a reduction in car use. Often, this entails a voluntary program such as “Bike to Work” Day or “Leave Your Car at Home” Day or “Car Free [name of city]” Day.

While such programs are a needed community acknowledgement of the desire to reduce car travel, I would be even more impressed if they used effective strategies rather than voluntary techniques. After all, studies have shown for decades that voluntary programs (with the possible exception of such simple actions such as curbside recycling) are almost entirely inadequate in achieving desired changes in undesirable behaviors.

Indeed, use of voluntary programs is a good sign that the community is not serious about correcting a problem. That there is insufficient leadership in the community to enact effective correctives.

What can a community do to meaningfully reduce car use?

Certainly we have learned that rigid “command economy” or other forms of authoritarian government edicts can be spectacular failures, and severely restrict human freedom and choice, as we were horrified to see in the former Soviet Union.

There is, after all, some merit in using market or price signals to retain freedom of choice, and to efficiently, sustainably allocate resources.

After reading the book Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, I have learned that there is, indeed, a way to effectively shape community behavior without losing freedom of choice. Thaler and Sunstein call this method the oxymoronic “libertarian paternalism.”

The concept suggests that the fairest, most equitable way to “nudge” community behavior in a more socially desirable direction is to allow most all behaviors (even the undesirable ones), rather than prohibit them by law. But while undesirable behaviors are allowed, they are also made less convenient, more costly, or both.

An example the authors cite is a grade school cafeteria. Rather than ending the sale of high-calorie, fatty foods in the cafeteria, healthy foods are placed in the most visible, convenient locations in the cafeteria line, while less healthy foods are placed in less visible, less convenient locations.

To appy libertarian paternalism to the societal desire to reduce car use, then, many communities opt to use market economics (price signals) to more effectively achieve this goal. Some of my favorite tactics include:

  • Market-priced parking for both on-street and off-street parking. Donald Shoup, the nationally-acclaimed guru of parking, points out that about 98 or 99 percent of all parking by American motorists is free, which means parking is the biggest subsidy in the US. Free parking is not free, because someone must pay to buy the land, and construct and maintain the parking spaces. We are therefore sending a “price signal” that you should drive a car as much as possible, since you will have a free parking space waiting for you (and paid by others). Charging for parking (with, for example, a parking meter) does not prohibit car parking, but does nudge some people (via an equitable “user fee”) to consider other, more societally desirable behaviors, such as carpooling, parking at non-peak periods, or opting to walk, bicycle or use transit.
  •  Parking cash-out for employee parking, if paid parking at the jobsite is not possible. Nearly all employees in the US park for free. Parking cash-out tells the commuter they can keep their free parking (they retain this choice), or they can get more money in their paycheck instead. Why do we subsidize people who drive alone to work but don’t provide a subsidy for those who bike, walk or use transit to get to work? Again, a price signal nudges some to opt to carpool, walk, bicycle or use transit to get to work (over 40 percent in national studies). But they retain the freedom of choice to drive alone to work, if they are willing to forgo the financial benefit of doing otherwise.
  •  Increase the local gas tax so that gas is not so heavily subsidized. Gas prices are artificially low because they do not take into account the externalized costs associated with providing gas: military expenditures to protect overseas oil, air/noise/water pollution associated with emissions from car tailpipes and engines, injuries and deaths due to car travel, reduced property values near roads, etc. Most communities have the ability to increase the tax charged for using gasoline locally. Increasing that tax does not prohibit car travel, but it nudges some (with a price signal) to consider traveling in a more sustainable way.
  •  Convert free roads to toll roads. Free roads are another big subsidy to motorists because only a small fraction of road costs are paid by the gas tax. Most of the cost of roads is paid for by such sources as property taxes, sales taxes or income taxes. Again, driving on tolled roads does not prohibit the use of such roads, but it does send a price signal that nudges some to consider other ways of traveling (or other times of day or week).
  •  Put “overweight” roads (roads with an excess number of lanes) on a diet by removing those lanes. The most popular, common way to achieve such “road diet” conversions in the US is when a community humanizes a road by slimming it down from four lanes to three. Such a conversion often results in a quick, dramatic increase in retail health along such dieted streets, an improvement in residential property values (due to increased livability), and a dramatic reduction in crashes and speeding. All of these important benefits occur, typically, without a loss in the number of cars the street carries (and at very little local government cost). Once again, driving on such roads is not prohibited, but some will opt not to drive on the road because they are unwilling or unable to use an alternative route to avoid a loss of a few seconds of time on the dieted road (many others, of course, are more than happy to use another route or have a few seconds added to their drive).
  •  Provide car insurance at the gas pump. Currently, motorists pay the same car insurance regardless of how much they drive. Paying for insurance at the gas pump creates more equity, as those who drive more pay more for insurance (studies show that the more you drive, the more crashes you experience). Another example of libertarian paternalism, where driving is not illegal, but is more costly for those who opt to drive more often.
  •  Unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing, office or retail space. Currently, one is forced to pay more for housing, office space or retail space because the cost of parking is bundled into that cost. Instead, use a price signal by providing people with the option of not having to pay extra for parking. This would be particularly fair for those who have a location or life situation where they do not need to use a car much, if at all (for example, in a downtown with good transit, or proximity that allows more walking or biking).

There are other tactics, but this is a good start. All of the above strategies retain freedom of choice by not prohibiting undesirable behavior (in this case, excessive car travel), but do nudge some to consider other, more socially desirable ways to travel.

What can be more American than using the market to retain freedom of choice, yet at the same time promoting the pursuit of happiness?

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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