Tag Archives: developers

Problems Associated with Car Happy Community Design

By Dom Nozzi

May 14, 2001

As a general point, low density locks everyone into extremely high levels of car dependency. Transit, walking, bicycling and carpools become nearly impossible.

A sense of community is non-existent. Auto-dependent communities suffer because there is no “there there.”large lot subdivision

Seniors and kids lose their independence because they are forced to rely on others to get around.

Suburbs are more dangerous than walkable in-town locations because the risk of a car crash is much higher than “stranger crimes” like murder, mugging, rape, etc.

Car dependent designs are not only unaffordable for all levels of government. They are also unaffordable for households, since the average car costs the equivalent of a $50,000 home mortgage, and nearly every family must now own more than one car.

Low-density, disconnected street patterns create congestion even at very, very low levels of car trips because all trips are forced onto one or two major roads. Disconnected roads therefore create the misperception that things are “too crowded,” even when we are talking about “cow town” numbers.

The naive, misguided knee-jerk “solution” is to fight for lower densities, which, of course, simply makes things worse. Note that increasingly what this means is that people who should know better (liberals, intellectuals, greens) are urging “no growth” and “no change”, and fighting against smart growth tactics — thereby unintentionally aligning themselves with the black hat sprawl developers.

 

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“Punishing” Developers: Are We Actually Punishing Ourselves?

By Dom Nozzi

It is no secret that a great many Americans HATE land developers.

They try to find as many ways as possible to punish developers and stop them. But too often, the tactics of those opposing new development request that the developer do the OPPOSITE of what a developer should be doing to promote quality of life or sustainability.

Because so many of us have come to conclude that quality of life means abundant free parking or free-flowing roads, and because so many of the buildings built over the past several decades have been so utterly unlovable (largely due to the epidemic of “modernist” architecture), development opponents force developers to build huge parking lots, huge building setbacks, and a strict separation of residential and non-residential land uses. At the same time, dsc03864government spends billions to widen roads and intersections to “accommodate” the new development.

By insisting on these development “concessions,” we ensure that everyone is FORCED to drive a car for every trip they make, and guarantees that the development will be loved by cars and despised by people. In other words, our demands trap us in a downwardly spiraling vicious cycle. The more we scream that new development provide MORE PARKING or BIGGER ROADS or LOWER DENSITY or BIGGER SETBACKS or SEPARATION OF HOMES FROM BUSINESSES, the more likely it is that we will be trapped in a future of unsustainable car dependency, loss of civic pride, and a dwindling quality of life.

Is it any wonder we have a nationwide NIMBY (not in my backyard) epidemic where neighborhoods fear ALL new developments? Is it any wonder that we have intolerable traffic congestion that gets worse and worse every year? Is it any wonder our governments are bankrupt? Is it any wonder our public planners have no credibility and our developers are the most hated people on earth?

How Can We Convert This Downward Spiral Into a Virtuous Cycle?

A virtuous cycle, the opposite of the downward spiral of a vicious cycle, is a self-perpetuating advantageous situation in which a successful solution or design leads to more of a desired result or another success which generates still more desired results or successes in a chain.

How can we create a virtuous cycle in the development and maintenance of our community?

The most effective way to create a virtuous cycle for our community is to insist that developers, planners, and government officials return to the timeless, traditional ways of building communities that are designed to make school neighborhood basedpeople, instead of cars, happy.

Hard as it might be to believe, there are a growing number of “enlightened” developers who are realizing that it is now quite profitable to build such people happy (instead of car happy) places. Places that are walkable, sociable, safe, and charming.

We need to welcome such developers (instead of the knee-jerk response of opposing ALL developers). We can do that by updating our local development regulations so that they make it easy to do the right thing (i.e., building for people rather than cars).

I am strongly pro-growth if the new development is designed to make people happy by using timeless principles, rather than using conventional, out-dated car-happy tactics.

We have workable solutions to our growth and development problems. Solutions that go beyond STOPPING GROWTH. They mostly focus on having growth pay its own way, that it be sustainable, and that it be focused on making people happy and not cars.

Instead, in too many instances, too many new developments and suburban lifestyles EXTERNALIZE and EXPORT their costly, negatively-impacting behaviors on all of the rest of us with their cocooned “McMansions” on isolated cul-de-sacs (which belch a relatively high number of car trips on the rest of us, and make it more costly to serve).

I do NOT say that certain lifestyles should be prohibited. I just want to see that those that enjoy those lifestyles are paying the full cost for them, instead of having me pay some of the cost through higher taxes or a lower quality of life. We also need more CHOICES in housing and transportation, since increasingly, our only choice is the isolating, community- and environment-destroying auto-dependent suburbs, where everyone enjoys subsidies not in the public interest, and everyone is forced to drive a car for every trip.

Americans have built far too much low-density, drivable, suburban housing. So much that we are glutted by this option – an option that is now declining in preference, as demographic and financial shifts are now resulting in a growing interest in compact, walkable housing options. At the same time, we have built far too little compact, walkable housing options. There is a serious mismatch regarding the supply of and demand for these two forms of housing.

Because we have over-built car-dependent, unwalkable suburban housing, and the interest in such housing is now declining, such housing is losing value and is comparatively troubled financially.  Conversely, because we have built too little compact, walkable, town center housing, and the interest in such housing is now growing, such housing is becoming extremely expensive.

We need to build a lot more compact, walkable housing. And do so quickly.

To make such housing more available and affordable, to restore the development community to the admired status they once had a century ago, and to make our future both more lovable and sustainable, let’s return to the days of lifestyle and travel choices. To the days when we insisted on building to create a quality of life for PEOPLE, not cars.

 

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Fighting the Correct Battle

by Dom Nozzi

[Updated Jan 2009]

 

I’ve been a lifelong environmental conservationist. I lead a very low-impact lifestyle: vegetarian, bicycle commuter, solar water heater, restoring a 10-acre cattle pasture to a native hardwood forest, purchase more used than new products, etc.

 

Much of this ethic comes from my father, who was a strong environmentalist. My upbringing, which included lots of play-time in wooded areas, inspired me to obtain a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a master’s degree in environmental planning.

 

Over the years, I’ve been a member of Earth First!, Alliance for a Paving Moratorium, Friends of Alachua County, Alachua Greenway Alliance, and the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

 

Much of my professional work over the past 15 years has involved the preparation or strengthening of city environmental plans and environmental development regulations.

 

For example, I wrote the long-range environmental conservation plan and solid waste plan for Gainesville, Florida, prepared a strict, esteemed noise ordinance for that city, included xeriscape requirements and prohibitions of non-native invasives to the city landscape ordinance, prepared a computerized land ranking system for public acquisition of important natural areas, prepared ordinances that further protect the city wellfield,  upland ecological communities, and nature parks. I also worked for 18 months as the development rate control planner in Boulder, Colorado.

 

Because of all this, it should surprise no one that I appreciate and respect the important work that others do to ensure that our society achieves sustainable environmental conservation.

 

My professional work in recent years has become much broader. I am involved in a number of “big picture” projects that give me a larger view of the social and environmental problems we face. Much of this work has been to prepare the long-range transportation and land use plans for Gainesville, which has sharpened my understanding of the underlying factors threatening our ecosystems and quality of life.

 

Due to this work, I am growing increasingly concerned because many of the admired environmental allies I worked with in the past seem to be focused on the wrong battles.

 

An enormous number of necessary, hard-fought struggles were fought by environmentalists in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It is crucial, yet counterintuitive, perhaps, to realize that we succeeded in winning most of those battles! At the national, state, and local level of environmental protection.

 

smokestackHard as it may seem to believe, we now have quite strict, protective regulations in place for the direct, obvious, easy-to-recognize sources of environmental degradation. We are now much, much tougher with regulations that ensure that smokestacks, sewer pipes, toxic waste dumps, and environmentally hazardous products do not harm our environment. We’ve fought the battle against these direct, “point” sources of pollution, and surprising as it may sound, we have largely won.

 

To effectively address our substantial, remaining environmental battles, we must now turn our attention to the much more difficult and seemingly intractable environmental threats; namely, the widespread “non-point” sources of pollution, such as stormwater runoff from roads and parking lots, emissions from car tailpipes, and new residential and non-residential developments sprawling into our outlying (and more sensitive and important) areas.

 

Yet despite all the victories we have won regarding direct sources of pollution,  intelligent, conscientious environmentalists are engaged in a desperate, sometimes hysterical attack against their elected officials, claiming that local plans and regulations are offering a “blank check” to developers, who will be allowed to “have their way” in developing projects that will destroy our urban natural areas and neighborhoods.

 

How can such an attack be possible? Shouldn’t the defenders of natural areas and neighborhoods be cheering on the impressive gains made with our elected officials, our plans, and our development regulations?

 

In my opinion, what is happening is that successfully correcting the direct forms of environmental pollution (the smokestacks and sewer pipes), and instituting neighborhood-protecting tactics, did not deliver us a pristine, sustainable ecosystem, or quiet, stable neighborhoods. In fact, a tidal wave of evidence—global warming, species extinction, air pollution, water and groundwater pollution, loss of ecosystems, loss of quiet neighborhood character—is bombarding us with the message that we are, more than ever, losing the battle to save our environment and our neighborhoods.

 

The obvious answer for many? Attack environmentally-oriented and neighborhood-protective elected officials for being pawns of developers! Disparage environmentally-strict plans for being too weak! Scream for stronger development regulations to require even more protection against smokestacks, sewer pipes, and toxic waste! Demand that the City take away a person’s constitutional right to have reasonable use of their land.

 

Isn’t it perfectly clear that these are the solutions?

 

The frightening problem is this: it is hard to realize that we’ve already won those battles. After all, isn’t it true that there is ongoing degradation of our environment and our neighborhoods?

 

It is therefore too easy for well-meaning crusaders to unintentionally waste precious time, energy, and money battling the wrong problem.

 

It is difficult to see that the essential problems are now indirect, less obvious, and less focused on “evil corporate business polluters.” Instead, they are more widespread, systemic, and incremental. Now, the sources of degradation are not, individually, big and nasty pollution sources. Instead, they are indirect and embedded into our auto-based, suburban sprawl lifestyles. Added up, though, these indirect impacts lead to substantial destruction of outlying, regional ecosystems and residential neighborhoods.

 

Now, instead of smokestacks, the big threat is indirect and more invisible: Things like widening urban roads, which open up markets for remote, sprawling subdivisions. These remote subdivisions trample our large ecosystems, further lock us into the downward spiral of auto dependency, and promote the continued decline of older, in-town neighborhoods.sprawlovertakesfarm

 

We have met the enemy and he is us.

 

Our auto-dependent, suburban lifestyles demand that we angrily insist our politicians give us low densities, big, high-speed roads; large, free parking lots and cheap gas. It is impossible for us to realize that such demands are a recipe that, ironically, locks us into the very thing that we fight against: degraded ecosystems and degraded neighborhoods. The handy solution is to find (the usual) scapegoats to blame.

 

Perhaps this is what we should expect. After all, the indirect, widespread, lifestyle-based problems don’t seem like problems we can do much about. It seems so much more feasible (and a way to ease our own guilt) to blame a few diabolical developers or corporations.

 

The convenient solution for this search is an artifact of the past: Evil developers, corrupt politicians, unsympathetic professional staff, and polluting smokestacks. It can’t be that we are to blame! It must be the “bad” guys!

 

Is it any wonder that there is no longer any trust, credibility, or respect given by citizens to developers, staff, or elected officials, even when they are intelligent, sympathetic, and well-meaning?

 

To their credit, the national Sierra Club has recently started to focus on the overriding, “big picture” problem that is overwhelmingly responsible for threatening our ecosystems and neighborhoods: Auto-dependent urban sprawl.

 

We must find effective ways to control auto-dependent sprawl if we expect to save our natural areas and neighborhoods. We must find ways to see that future development delivers us walkable, compact, neighborhood- and human-scaled projects rich in civic pride and transportation choice. We must set about the task of building cities and towns that are designed to make people, instead of cars, happy—so that we will mostly be clamoring to live in the city, and can reduce the widespread desire to flee the unpleasant cities for the perception of suburban bliss.

 

This is the only way we can restore trust, confidence, and respect.

 

And an essential way to do that is to not misdirect our time and energy by blaming the usual suspects…

 

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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

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