Tag Archives: environmental conservation

Infill Development vs Sprawl Development

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 26, 2003

“Infill development” is a form of development in which a vacant, undeveloped lot within the developed portion of the city is developed to contain housing, offices, retail, civic, or industrial. In other words, the lot is a “leftover” piece of property that was never developed as urbanization progressed outward.

By contrast, the opposite of “infill development” is “sprawl development” or “outlying sprawl-developmentdevelopment” — in other words, development that happens remotely from or at the periphery of the developed portion of the city. Note that “infill” can also include the REDEVELOPMENT of a property. In general, redevelopment infill uses more of the property than was used by the original development of the property.

Appropriately, infill has long been considered highly desirable by public planners, because it discourages costly sprawl, reduces travel distances, reduces car dependence, reduces household transportation expenditures, improves the quality of life of the community, improves the tax base of the community, often improves upon a property that may be experiencing crime problems or aesthetic problems, and reduces the development pressure faced by outlying, typically more environmentally important lands outside the city.

In general, infill has unfortunately been much more difficult for a developer to achieve than development in outlying areas. Usually, development in outlying areas means lower development costs, less opposition from citizens (particularly from those who live near the proposed development), less time needed for development, less need to worry about possible contamination that may be at the property due to past activities, and less need to mitigate “traffic problems.”

 

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The Human Habitat is ALSO Important for Environmental Conservation

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 11, 2003

Environmentalism should be considered a subset of new urbanist design principles.

This is because in recent years, New Urbanism has made — as its centerpiece — the “transect” concept. The urban to rural transect stipulates that community design and the land development regulations implemented to achieve that design must vary as one moves from urban to suburban to rural to nature preserve.

Environmentalism, while in theory taking in the entire universe, in practice tends to be a concept that only looks at the protection of natural, non-human ecosystems. Important as that is, it leaves out any guidance or direction for how the human habitat is best designed. Indeed, as some have pointed out, if a person intends to best promote environmental conservation, she or he must broaden their perspective because if they don’t understand french-quarter-inn-charleston-city-view1and successfully advocate for quality, walkable design for humans, efforts to protect non-human habitats are ultimately doomed, as growing numbers of humans flee the low quality human habitat for the promise of bliss in the undeveloped, unspoiled regions. By contrast, urbanists using the transect methodology have a tool that instructs on what must be done in all habitats — be they urban/human, suburban/sub-human, or ecosystem/non-human. The transect recognizes that one size does not fit all. Environmental scientists often (not always) act as if one size does fit all.

Unfortunately, there tends to be an anti-human attitude of many (not all) environmental advocates. This attitude tends to include the belief that all that is natural is equally valuable, no matter where it is located. It is better to preserve a vacant, weed-choked lot in the middle of a city (to protect, say, squirrel habitat) than to let it become an urban building. Compact, walkable, mixed use development is always evil, no matter where it is located, because it does not include oak forests or grasslands. Ultimately, by taking this position (which only concerns itself with the non-human habitat), we make high-quality human habitat illegal. We are forbidden to build a Charleston. Or a Venice. Or a Sienna. We must save every possible dandelion. Every toxic mud puddle in our city is a precious wetland.  Why are we puzzled when so few want to live in American cities and so many want to live in (cocooned) woodlands surrounding a city?

Why are we not allowed to build pristine human habitats? Are we only allowed to preserve (or restore) pristine panther habitats? Are humans and their activity always to be considered evil or polluting? Is the idealized world one in which there are no humans and no human habitat?

When building compact, walkable, in-town projects in already developed, urbanized areas, the urbanist is simply looking for the same acceptance and societal admiration as the ecologist who preserves a wetland. The urbanist building a walkable, compact town center should not be attacked for not saving every weedy tree or degraded wetland in that location.

And I’ve seen that sort of thing from environmental activists all the time. Seems like an act of desperation to me. “We are losing so much woodland in sprawlsville. We therefore must make a stand to save every blade of grass everywhere.” Which, of course, ultimately speeds up environmental destruction due to how rarely we consequently build walkable places.

Should we attack the ecologist for not building sidewalks through every preserved wetland? If not, why is it okay to attack the urbanist for not preserving “nature” in every walkable place he or she builds? Why is only nature sacred, and never human urbanism?

We need to let the city be a city and let nature be nature.

Yes, I agree that we need to “push the market logic back to redevelopment.” But we live in a society that has poured trillions of dollars into building big roads that lock the market into fighting for remote sprawl. I believe it is naive to think that we can avoid a massive tidal wave of suburban sprawl when we have big roads and lots of free parking. No other tools, short of system-wide road diets and priced parking, can slow greenfield sprawl. Not environmental regulations. Not NIMBYs. Not no-growth commissioners. Not no-growth comprehensive plans. As long as we have lots of big roads and free parking in our community (and an absence of walkable places), we’ll see the vast majority of development proposals being made in greenfield areas. While I much prefer that those outlying greenfields be spared from development, I RELUCTANTLY accept the fact that I cannot stop the sprawl tidal wave that big roads bring. Given that agonizing reality, I much prefer that at least some of that tidal wave be in the form of walkable, compact, stand-alone villages (such as Haile Village Center in Gainesville FL).

And I eagerly await the revolution, when we move back from making cars happy to making people happy. Only then can we realistically expect to have a chance of stopping most greenfield development.

We have seen how extremely difficult it is to stop the tidal wave of drivable suburban development with a strong comprehensive plan — even with a majority of anti-sprawl commissioners. Such commissioners won’t stay in office forever. Not that it would matter, because even if they did, they would still be steamrollered.

To me, it is essential in this (hopefully) interim period of car-happy, big roads madness that we put walkable village standards into our code. In the end, if we don’t do that, we may win a few skirmishes by protecting a oak tree here and a weed-choked lot there, but we’ll still end up with the agony of the downward spiral of car-happy suburbia with no future. Will it be any consolation if there are tiny, degraded, preserved wetlands in the middle of a gigantic Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lots in a car happy community?

Should we just throw up our hands and give up in the only fight that really matters: stopping car-happiness and the road industry?

 

 

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Using the Urban to Rural Transect to Make Urbanists and Environmentalists Allies

 

By Dom  Nozzi

September 12, 2004

Urbanists and environmentalists are natural allies. Instead of attacking each other, urbanists and environmentalists need to be saving energy to fight real enemies (The Making Cars Happy behemoth).

Speaking as someone schooled in both environmental science and urbanism, I must say that the new urbanist transect concept is one of the most powerful concepts I have ever come across, because its proper application informs us about how the entire spectrum of habitats — be they Charleston or the Everglades — is best designed. Neither the traditional discipline of urbanism or the traditional discipline of ecology incorporates the full spectrum of habitats and their needs. In principle, the transect achieves that.

The transect concept asks this question: What elements are immersive in the habitat we are working in — be it Charleston or the Everglades? For example, the transect instructs that a sidewalk is immersive in Charleston, and a “transect violation” when within the everglades-inlets_2026_600x450Everglades (at least the inner core wetland area of the Prairie). Conversely, a 200-acre marsh is immersive in the Everglades and a transect violation in Charleston. In other words, something is immersive if it promotes the quality of the habitat being designed. It is a violation if it harms the quality of the habitat being designed.

And frankly, this is where some of the conflict and impatience comes between new urbanists and many environmentalists. A good number of environmental advocates don’t have a conception of a transect or immersiveness. To such advocates, it is always a good idea to incorporate more nature EVERYWHERE — which fails to acknowledge that a 200-acre marsh in the middle of an in-town urban neighborhood harms the quality of a walkable Charleston. Natural features are not always immersive in all locations (it took me a while to realize that, since I came from an environmental academic background).french-quarter-inn-charleston-city-view1

Let the city be a city and let nature be nature. It goes both ways. Yes, many urbanists are guilty of not taking proper care of sensitive ecosystems in their projects. But it is also true that a many environmental scientists are guilty of not taking proper care of urbanism in THEIR advocacy. Both can harm the other.

Much of our culture fails to realize that nature can, in a sense, pollute urbanism in the same way that human development can pollute nature.

 

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Easing Our Guilty Conscience Can Subvert Quality Urban Design

By Dom Nozzi

September 19, 2003

Over the past few decades, environmental advocacy groups have had great success in making most people feel “sinful” for “damaging” nature. Such guilt leads to an increased desire to, for example, recycle soda cans. Or object to cutting down a few low-value trees. We ease our guilty conscience — guilt felt because many of us know, in the back of our minds, that we lead environmentally destructive lives. So recycling a few cans is our way to do penance and avoid damnation.

Another result is that arm-chair enviros often naively think that making our world tidy and neat is a meaningful and sufficient form of environmental conservation.

For both the can recyclers living in remote, car-dependent subdivisions with their SUVs, and the tidy and neat “enviros,” we see that most in our society have internalized the idea that “protecting the environment” is good. It is a cultural norm that most everyone takes for granted. It is now pretty much a bi-partisan consensus.

The end result of such a cultural victory, unfortunately, is unintended consequences. Many seem to believe that a tree or a shrub is ALWAYS a good idea in EVERY POSSIBLE location. It is inconceivable that a tree is not a good idea in some places.

That is, nature is sacred.

Given this cultural norm, naive enviros who don’t see the big picture too often decide to exclude a town design decision that has overall positive benefits for both humans and nature. For example, naive enviros will occasionally succeed in stopping an in-town project by convincing decision-makers to save a low-quality wetland or woodlot located in a town center. Naive enviros are often joined by commissioners who are naive about the needs of quality urbanism. Lacking any knowledge of what the ingredients might be for urbanism, it often seems case, that it is a no-brainer that we should save a few trees in exchange for loss of, say, a retail corner on an otherwise sterile building.

But is it really a no-brainer?

Is it really true that we can afford to give up a retail space in a part of a town center that is a scary, uninhabited prostitute- and drug-saturated no-man’s-land? A part of our town center where no one (except the homeless) walk, because there is nothing to walk to except empty parking lots and vacant buildings? (and a tired clump of trees)

The unintended consequence of saving every tree in a town center is that the town center ends up becoming, incrementally, a dead zone that no one wants to be a part of. Nothing happens there. It is not hip to be there, or be seen there. The hip, safe, happening places instead are in the outlying areas — areas that are incrementally wiping out our REALLY important woodlands and wetlands.

Preserving natural habitat by creating better human habitat. So says – correctly — the Smart Growth America’s web site.

The campaign over the past few decades to make environmental conservation (however naively practiced) a cultural norm has meant that we end up unintentionally harming other societal objectives — an example of “knowing just enough to be dangerous.” We strip commercial sidewalkoften fight and win easy “environmental” victories (such as saving a scraggly tree or degraded wetland), and pat ourselves on the back. But we are either blind to, or have given up on, the REAL war: stopping auto-oriented roadway and town design.

Because there are few, if any, citizens or decision-makers who know anything at all about what the ingredients consist of for a quality, compact, walkable habitat for humans, we easily and blindly harm that habitat as we zealously continue winning tiny, trivial battles to save Bambi.

No one objects, because no one sees any harm.

 

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The Fruits of NIMBYism

By Dom Nozzi

November 25, 2009

NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) hysteria played a destructive role in Gainesville, Florida in the years I worked there as a town planner (1986 to 2007).

The irony is that the NIMBY is convinced, in their zealotry, that their tactics are the tools of salvation, and their repeated failure on many of their campaigns simply instructs them to re-double their efforts to fight an even more vicious battle in the future.

It is a strategy ensuring that the Gainesville area would be locked into a downwardly spiraling future.

Some examples of the fruits of NIMBYism in Gainesville…

The Hogtown Greenway

By waging this ferocious, emotionally angry campaign, the NIMBYs succeeded in changing the city charter to prevent the City from EVER building a paved trail along Hogtown Creek. By doing so, the NIMBYs have guaranteed that the creek will continue its incremental degradation. The trail prohibition amplifies the most insidious enemy of an urban creek: Neglect. Because the paved trail was the only way the creek would allow benign public saintreportpicture3access (and, therefore, on-going, real-time citizen awareness of the condition of the creek), the prohibition of the trail will ensure that the incremental destruction will continue to go unnoticed and therefore unrectified. Every month, new homes, shopping centers, offices, or industrial projects are built close to the creek. Without a public trail, such harmful insults to the creek will remain ignored. The creek will ultimately die a slow death, because the most significant threat it faces is neglect, NOT a public bicycle and pedestrian trail.

Residential Suburban Development

Perhaps more so than any other form of development, NIMBYs turn out to oppose the construction of residential subdivisions. They yell and scream, and frantically try to find ANYTHING that can be used to stop the project — stormwater problems, endangered species, wetlands, large trees, traffic. Ultimately, such desperate tactics almost always fail. All of the energy and resources of the community are directed toward achieving the least likely outcome: prohibition.

As a result, no time or energy is directed, proactively, toward what is REALLY for a better future: Removing travel lanes from over-sized roads (Not that most NIMBYs are concerned about big roads. Nearly all of them LOVE multi-lane “bliss”). Of course, this “road diet” tactic is very long-term and will not likely bear fruit in our lifetime (it will take a long time to reverse the Big Road network we’ve singlemindedly assembled over the course of 50-70 years).

Therefore, we need an interim tactic to bridge ourselves to a sustainable future: Quality, walkable, compact, mixed-use urban design regulations.

By failing to direct any energy toward the establishment of such regulations, and almost always failing to stop a development project, the end result of the NIMBY battles is that we continue to get walloped by disgusting, auto-oriented, sprawling residential misery. Misery that is built all around us every week.

The Greenways/Weiss Project

This project was proposed in the northwest portion of Gainesville. NIMBYs screamed. Elected officials buckled. Project “halted.” Result of the NIMBY war against Weiss? Instead of the mixed use, compact project proposed by the Weiss developers (albeit not great new urbanism, but certainly better than most of what is developed in Gainesville), Gainesville would ultimately see auto-oriented, low-density, single-use, single-family development out there — the kind of horror we see in sprawling areas all over the U.S. Which is ultimately much more ruinous for the financial, ecological, transportation, and social health of this community.

Cell Towers

Another example of the likely fruits of NIMBYism.

Activists devoted an enormous amount of energy trying to prohibit the construction of a tall cell tower near their neighborhood in downtown Gainesville (I share in the horror of such a structure).

It is nearly impossible to prohibit construction of the tower.

Why do we not consider using this crisis to create an opportunity? Why don’t we consider the approach of Palm Beach County? There, the towers are allowed. But they must be attractive, BRICK towers resembling clock towers or church spires. The towers could (through regulation, NOT prohibition) be an attractive addition to the ambience of the neighborhood. Or, co-location can be required on existing tall structures. Instead, the NIMBYs will fight for prohibition. And almost always, they will lose.

Result: ugly towers will go up.

Capstone Project

Here, a walkable, compact, infill residential project was proposed at the southwest corner of Northeast Park in Gainesville. The project, in all likelihood, would have delivered healthier nearby retail (retail would be a short, walkable distance away, which would provide more affordable housing, since households would not need to own as many cars), an improvement of values and the condition of a neighborhood that has been in an impoverished decline for several decades, improved transportation conditions for the community, increased amenities for the park, brought healthy tax revenues to the city, and diverted pressures to live in sprawlsville.

NIMBYs screamed. Elected officials buckled. Project “halted” by commissioners who had paid lip service to precisely this kind of infill project for years. Message to future developers: “Don’t build infill projects in the city. Build in sprawlsville. There you will find a lot less pain, heartache, cost, and anger…”

Fate of that portion of the neighborhood: Continued low-density and low-income downward spiral.

Elections

NIMBY battalions played a role in election losses in Gainesville. Many NIMBYs became enraged by elected officials who did not fight to the death to PROHIBIT their pet evil project. A comment I heard from a Gainesville environmental NIMBY: “Newport and Hutch (progressive, green conservationists who have achieved and fought for many environmental causes for decades) are NOT environmentalists!!!!” Many NIMBYs ended up splitting the green vote by voting for fringe NIMBY candidates. Many NIMBYs “stayed home” (didn’t vote) because they could not stomach the thought of voting for “anti-environmental” Newport or Hutch.

Many NIMBYs failed to campaign hard to get Newport, Hutch, or Barrow elected.

These sorts of NIMBY electoral actions resulted in Gainesville and Alachua County voters electing several right-wing candidates that are strongly opposed to environmental conservation.

These NIMBY actions resulted in the election of a mayor for Gainesville who was disastrous for Gainesville’s environmentalists. At a time when Gainesville needed elected officials to possess wise leadership and courage to wage a war against auto-dependent sprawl, Gainesville elected “Dr. No” — a mayor who was merely an empty vessel. Someone who was more than willing to do the bidding of the enraged-citizens-of-the-week. A mayor with a suburban, populist, no-growth agenda. A man who cares little about promoting transit. A guy who loves multi-lane roads and big parking lots. A guy who despises higher density infill development and mixed use. A man who has no agenda except to say “no” to any and all proposals objected to by hysterical NIMBYs.

Given all of the above, it is increasingly clear that Gainesville needs to change its name. Nimbyville. Much more accurate about the Gainesville character.

Ultimately and ironically, NIMBY battles will deliver Gainesville a future of big roads, big parking lots, accelerated loss of important natural areas, higher taxes, more auto dependence, and endless urban sprawl.

How often did such NIMBYism result in the acceleration toward what south Florida, southern California, Atlanta, and Houston have become?

Too many fail to understand that their actions ENSURE that our future will be ruinous sprawl. We have met the enemy. He/she is NOT a “pseudo-environmentalist” elected official, as defined by NIMBYs. He/she is NOT a compact, infill developer. He/she is NOT an evil corporate polluter.

He/she is us…

 

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Selecting Sustainability Indicators

By Dom Nozzi

In January 2005, a committee in my community evaluated the value of various “sustainability indicators,” which are measures of trends that show whether a community is advancing or declining with regard to various measures selected by the community to show how well it is doing.Upward Trend

For example, a sustainability indicator might be the amount of gasoline consumed on an annual basis, either for the entire community or per capita.

The committee reviewed all the relevant documents from various community organizations, officials, media, and other sources.

The committee then vetted the indicators, discussed them with regard to the instructions from the Indicators Committee, and then seven members ranked them.

The results were as follows:

#1 Rank: SOx/NOx and other priority air pollutants

My evaluation:

This indicator would be relatively difficult to obtain on a regular basis and air pollution measurements in this sort of community tells us very little, or tells us the wrong thing. For example, higher air pollution levels in a town center could very easily be an indicator of a healthy, sustainable community because it can quite plausibly be due to more people/cars being in the town center. And this increase in the number of people or cars is likely to be due to an increase in town center health, attractiveness, or both. Manhattan certainly has higher Sox/NOx levels than most town centers, but Manhattan is perhaps the greenest city, per capita, in America.

#2 Rank: Total CO2 equivalent emissions

My evaluation:

Again, this data would be extremely difficult to come by, particularly on a regular basis. And might give us incorrect impressions of community health or sustainability. I am certain, for example, that the most UN-sustainable, environmentally ruinous communities in America have (or could have) an impressive collection of LEED buildings (buildings that are highly rated for energy efficiency and other green measures associated with building design), homes using solar energy/water, an impressive tree canopy, etc. Have we achieved sustainability and environmental conservation and a healthy community if all our homes have solar water heaters, but thousands of such homes are in remote, utterly auto-dependent, sprawling suburbs that are served by 8-lane arterials? Hardly. Every single building/home in Los Angeles could be an EnergyStar/LEED building. Every home could be consuming “green” energy. Does this mean that LA is meaningfully healthy?

#5 Rank: Acres of parks & conservation, preservation lands

My evaluation:

The supply of park acreage is very difficult to employ usefully. For example, if urban parks are located on large arterial roads and cannot be reached by bicycle or foot, they will tend to be underused (because of poor accessibility), and therefore not correlated to a more physically fit community. In town centers, parks can contribute to an enormous existing problem: Most all American town centers – despite what he conventional wisdom tells us — has a huge excess of open space (mostly consisting of parking or roads or private yards). Much of this urban “open space” needs to be put to urban uses such as residential, retail or office. Indeed, Steve Belmont (Cities in Full) makes the crucial point that the most important indicator of a healthy city is that lands are being converted from less intense to more intense uses (parking converted to retail, for example). Too often, in-town parks have a deadening effect on a town center. Note that I strongly agree that greenbelt land that rings the perimeter of a community is a very important sign of sustainability and health. Again, would LA be noticeably more healthy and sustainable if it had a big increase in parks? Absolutely not.

#6 Rank: Water quality (TMDL)

My evaluation:

Again, it would be exceptionally difficult to obtain this data. And there are a number of transportation indicators that can proxy for this indicator.

#8 Rank: Total Municipal Solid Waste Disposed & Recycled

Would it matter if the residents of LA all recycled their beer and soda cans? Or is this just an exercise in finding a convenient way of easing our guilty consciences because our lifestyle is so overwhelmingly unsustainable?

#9 Rank: Stormwater runoff

My evaluation:

Very, very difficult to gather data for this. And what would our public policy response be if we saw a declining trend? Put a moratorium on increasing the amount of asphalt parking? Much as I’d love such a tactic, it is a non-starter in American communities. Other conventional tactics, such as requiring the construction of enormous storm basins are commonly counter-productive because they create more unwalkable, car-dependent places.

#10 Rank: Biodiversity

My evaluation:

Again, this would be very, very difficult to gather data for.

In sum, it is crucial that the following criteria be used to select useful indicators:

  1. Tracking. Is the data for the indicator available? And is it easily tracked over time? Is it available on an annual or otherwise regular basis? If not, the indicator is nearly useless.
  2. Relevance. Can the indicator be used to draw conclusions based on the adopted community goals and objectives? Can it be used to make policy decisions? If not, how would the information be used?
  3. Durability. Can the indicator be used for the foreseeable future? Will data for the indicator be available in the future? For example, some indicators, such as lead levels in the air, are interesting, but may not be useful as a future measure of air quality if lead is completely removed from gasoline in the future.
  4. Accuracy. Does the indicator have a measurement methodology that produces accurate data?
  5. Responsiveness. Is the indicator relatively sensitive to subtle changes over time? If not, important changes can occur without being shown by the indicator.
  6. Clarity. Is the indicator readily understandable by the general public? Does it allow for a single interpretation, or is it so ambiguous that several conflicting theories can be used to explain the data?

Given the above six measures of indicator quality, I would suggest the following indicators for a community:

  • Citywide and town center residential density. There is no measure that more effectively creates a sustainable, environmentally benign community, on a per capita basis, than higher density. And nothing more environmentally ruinous than a low-density city. Higher densities are the most effective way to increase transit use/bicycling/walking, improve physical health, increase the number and viability of small & locally-owned/neighborhood-based retailers, discourage sprawl, minimize per capita energy/water use, and minimize per capita air/water pollution. Most, if not all, of the proposed indicators are strongly and directly correlated to residential density.
  • Mileage of travel lanes per capita. An effective measure of community quality of life, potential for sprawl, potential for transportation choice, and degree of tax burden. There is a strong inverse relationship here to a healthy, sustainable community. Less mileage per capita means more health and sustainability.
  • Gasoline consumption per capita. A powerful indicator of car dependence and community sustainability. More per capita consumption indicates more pollution, lower quality of life, and less sustainability. A relatively easy—yet meaningful—indicator to gather data for.
  • Total number of town center parking spaces. Nothing degrades the walkable town center lifestyle and town center residential and retail viability more than excess (particularly free, surface) parking. Any net increase in the supply of town center parking puts another nail in the coffin of town center health. Currently, nearly all town centers in America have an enormous excess of town center parking spaces.  For a town center to be healthy, it must be compact, walkable, and cozy – which is delivered by relatively high density. Parking is perhaps the most effective way to minimize density and reduce walkability. Less town center parking is an indicator of a healthier, more sustainable town center.
  • Per capita motor vehicle registration. A powerful indicator of car dependence and community sustainability. More per capita motor vehicle registration indicates more pollution, lower quality of life, and less sustainability. A relatively easy—yet meaningful—indicator to gather data for.
  • Average speed of cars on major town center streets. Higher average speeds directly correlate to more sprawl, lower quality of life, less viability for town center residential and retail, and a less healthy town center.
  • Annual number of road diets. This is a very direct correlation to higher quality of life, community health, sustainability, retail and residential health, and minimizing sprawl and pollution. A larger number of diets indicates a positive trend.
  • Traffic congestion in the town center. For locations where the community seeks to promote more infill, residential density, or commercial health, the most effective tool available is a growth in vehicle congestion. Increased congestion is also a powerful disincentive to suburban sprawl. And an effective way to promote transportation choice.

In sum, without adding a number of transportation indicators I suggest above, the proposed indicators I evaluate above from the sustainability indicators committee are “feel good,” lip service measures that will have very little utility for the purposes of measuring health and sustainability, or guiding public policy.

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Traditional, Sustainable, Affordable Urban Design

By Dom Nozzi

When I was a town and transportation planner in Florida, I sought to incorporate the following traditional neighborhood development principles into the long-range land use and urban design plans for my community. I was not allowed to do so, but I hope that planners elsewhere will be able to incorporate some or all of this in the plans of their communities…

Cities throughout the country face many of the same problems — increasing traffic problems, worsening air and noise pollution, the loss of outlying farms and open spaces to suburban sprawl, the growing need for costly road widenings and the provision of expensive urban services to such remote development, increasing visual blight, traffic injuries and deaths, wildlife habitat loss, the decline of downtowns, loss of independence for children and seniors who cannot drive, loss of civic pride, a growing household financial crisis, a loss of serendipity, and a loss of a sense of place and community.

City character becomes blurred until every place becomes like every other place — all adding up to no place.

Our streets become increasingly congested and our destinations further and further away. We increasingly spend our time as anonymous individuals waiting at the traffic light instead of socializing with friends at the corner store or playing with the kids at the park.

All the places where people could meet in public and experience a sense of community — the square, the corner pub, the main street — have been replaced by oceans of asphalt for the movement and storage of space-hungry cars.

There were neighborhood design principles that characterized development in the U.S. before WWII. The following principles exemplify these conventions:

* Neighborhoods are limited in size and oriented toward pedestrian activity.

In general, “limited in size” means that most every form of daily household need is within a five-minute walking radius (approximately one-quarter mile);

* Residences, shops, workplaces, and civic buildings are interwoven within the neighborhood and in close proximity, which creates a vibrant, livable neighborhood featuring transportation choice. This mixed use is primarily achieved by calling for compatibility of scale and intensity;

* Streets are interconnected and the blocks are small. This street pattern, in combination with other design features of the traditional neighborhood development, strikes a balance between the needs of the car, the bus rider, the pedestrian and the bicyclist;

* Civic buildings are given prominent, high-visibility locations that thereby act as landmarks, symbols and focal points for community identity. These buildings are therefore assigned the proper level of community priority and serve as places of assembly for the neighborhood;

* There is a distinct edge, or transition, between the developed area and outlying farmland and greenbelts;

* Public spaces create a pleasant, safe public realm and are formed and defined by the proper alignment of buildings;

* A full range of housing types is provided, which allows all age groups and income classes to be integrated.

A traditional neighborhood also features the following benefits:

* Gives people without access to a car, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled, more safety and independence in their world.

* Substantially reduces government and household costs — especially because of the enormous savings in the building and maintaining of road infrastructure, and the purchase and maintenance of cars.

* Features streets designed to slow traffic. It increases travel choices and reduces the length and number of vehicle trips. This, in addition to providing proximity by mixing land uses, allows the traditional neighborhood development to achieve a relatively high “trip capture rate,” which vastly reduces the significant transportation impacts the neighborhood displaces to the larger community.

* Contains structures built for permanence, instead of structures designed, as too many contemporary structures are, for a short-term “throw-away” life.

* Makes walking feel more enjoyable.

* Minimizes strip commercial visual blight.

* Increases citizen access to culture.

* Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.

* Creates a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of belonging and restores civic pride and place-based loyalty.

* Increases transit viability, primarily through density, access, traffic calming, community-serving facilities, compactness, mixed use and pedestrian amenities.

For these reasons, City land development policies and land use categories should be revised to make such traditional, “timeless” development more feasible – particularly because such development is highly desirable for the reasons described above, yet there is little or no choice to live in such developments. Important ways to incentivize such traditional developments:

* Adopt a traditional neighborhood development (TND) ordinance.

* Revise land use categories to make TNDs allowed by right.

* Establish town center design guidelines that will transform centers into walkable, transit-oriented developments (TODs). See the Transportation Element for a description of TOD elements.

* Reduce fees, and the review and approval process, for TNDs and TODs.

The Ahwahnee Principles (adopted in the long-range plans of several communities around the U.S.)

Preamble

Existing patterns of urban and suburban development seriously impair our quality of life. The symptoms are: more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on cars, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to streets and public services, the Haile Village9inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. By drawing upon the best from the past and present, we can, first, infill existing communities and, second, plan new communities that will more successfully serve the needs of those who live and work within them. Such planning should adhere to these fundamental principles:

Community Principles

  1. All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
  2. Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
  3. As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of each other.
  4. A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
  5. Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
  6. The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
  7. The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
  8. The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
  9. Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
  10. Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
  11. Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.
  12. Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage, and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
  13. The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
  14. Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought-tolerant landscaping and recycling.
  15. The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.

Regional Principles

  1. The regional land use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than highways.
  2. Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
  3. Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
  4. Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.

Approve proposed accessory dwelling units, such as “granny flats”, carriage houses, garage apartments, and add-ons to a detached single-family residence. When done properly, this allows the city to retrofit higher, more livable densities without harming neighborhoods. Encourage or require a mix of housing types.

Strategies:

* The City will promote a mix of land uses and activities that will maximize the potential for pedestrian mobility throughout the city.

* Buildings should be sited in ways to make their entries or intended uses clear to and convenient for pedestrians.

* The location and pattern of streets, buildings and open spaces must facilitate direct pedestrian access. Commercial buildings should provide direct access from street corners to improve access to bus stop facilities.

* Creating barriers which separate commercial developments from residential areas and transit should be avoided.

* Direct sidewalk access should be provided between cul-de-sacs and nearby transit facilities.

* Traffic calming should be further developed on city streets to enhance the safety of street crossings. Curb radii should be minimized to reduce the speed of right-turning vehicles and reduce the distance for the pedestrian to cross the street. Calming should be used to discourage speeding and cut-through traffic. Street widths should be as narrow as possible.

* The City will encourage the provision of pedestrian scale improvements that fit the context of the area. The color, materials, and form of pedestrian facilities and features should be appropriate to their surroundings, as well as the functional unity of the pedestrian network.

* The City will encourage housing development near major employment centers to foster travel to work by all forms of transportation.

* The City will encourage a variety of housing types and densities, including mixed use developments, that are well-served by public transportation and close to employment centers, services and amenities. In particular, the City will promote the siting of higher density housing near public transportation, shopping, and in designated neighborhoods and districts.

* The City will recognize accessory housing units as a viable form of additional — and possibly affordable — housing, and will develop special permit procedures, criteria, and restrictions governing their existence that are designed to facilitate their development while protecting existing residential neighborhood character.

* Neighborhood streets and sidewalks will form an interconnected network, including auto, bicycle, pedestrian, and transit routes within a neighborhood and between neighborhoods — knitting neighborhoods together and not forming barriers between them. Dead ends and cul-de-sacs should be avoided or minimized. Multiple streets and sidewalks will connect into and out of a neighborhood.

* To keep all parts of the community accessible by all citizens, gated street entryways into residential developments will not be allowed.

* On long neighborhood blocks, intermediate connections in the pedestrian network should be provided, with a maximum distance of about 500 to 700 feet between walking connections. In particular, direct walkway and bikeway routes to schools should be provided.

* All multiple-family buildings should be designed to reflect, to the extent possible, the characteristics and amenities typically associated with single-family detached houses. These characteristics and amenities include orientation of the front door to a neighborhood sidewalk and street, individual identity, private outdoor space, privacy and security.

* Home occupations should be allowed in all residential areas provided they do not generate excessive traffic and parking, or have signage that is inconsistent with the residential character of the neighborhood.

* To foster visual interest along a neighborhood street, the street frontage devoted to protruding garage doors and driveway curb crossings will be limited. Generally, garages should be recessed, or if feasible, tucked into side or rear yards, using variety and creativity to avoid a streetscape dominated by the repetition of garage doors.

* If possible, the view down a street should be designed to terminate in a visually interesting feature.

Converting Conventional Shopping Centers into Walkable Urban Villages

Conventional shopping centers containing only retail, office and service uses, tend to be designed only for the car. Asphalt parking lots tend to be enormous, and push buildings a tremendous distance from the street. This form of “auto architecture” significantly reduces transportation choice, makes access difficult for those without a car, create urban “heat islands” and stormwater problems, and eliminate the possibility of buildings defining a pleasant, human-scaled public realm. The atmosphere tends to be unpleasant. There is no sense of place, sense of community, unique character or sense of civic pride.

Increasingly, however, such shopping centers are being rebuilt to form a pleasant, walkable urban village. Shops, offices, and residences face each other in a compact atmosphere reminiscent of traditional main streets.

Because they promote transportation choice, they equitably allow access and enhance environmental conditions. And they provide a superior quality of life and ambiance that allows them to profitably compete with more conventional centers.

Clustering higher density housing near the walkable urban villages can substantially increase transit use.

Features of a Walkable Urban Village:

* A gridded street network lined with street-facing buildings, and interspersed with squares and plazas.

* A comprehensive sidewalk and street tree network.

* Compact, vertically and horizontally mixed land uses including residences, retail, office, service, and civic activities.

* A “Park Once” environment.

* A strong connection to transit service.

* Bounded by relatively high residential densities.

* A vibrant public realm created by healthy pedestrian volumes, street vendors and performers, a broad mix of uses, and 24-hour activity.

The City should adopt land development regulations that lead to the transformation of conventional shopping centers to walkable urban villages.

Causes of sprawl:

* Widening major roads with travel lanes and turn lanes;

* Free and abundant parking for cars;

* Lack of quality public facilities in core areas, such as schools, parks, and trails;

* Poor codes enforcement in core areas, which leads to excessive noise pollution, car parking problems, unsightly signage, and unkempt homes;

* Poor public schools in the city center, and construction of public schools and community-serving facilities in areas remote from the city center;

* Land development codes which excessively promote the convenience of the car instead of transportation choice;

* Water and sewer extension policies;

* Low-cost gasoline;

* Poor quality transit service;

* Low overall quality of life in the city;

* Flight from crime, poverty, and “auto architecture”;

* For non-residential uses, more convenient access for cars throughout the region due to abundant space for parking, lower costs for building construction, lower land values, and easier access to Interstate highways;

Negative effects of sprawl:

* Increased city costs for infrastructure and services;

* Increased per capita trips by car;

* Increased travel times;

* Increased household expenditures for transportation;

* Reduced transit cost-effectiveness and frequency;

* Increased social costs (increased air, water, noise pollution);

* Loss of farmland;

* Reduced farmland productivity and viability;

* Loss of sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat, or fragmentation of  such areas;

* Loss of regional, community-separating greenbelts and open spaces;

* Increased urban ugliness due to “auto architecture”;

* Weakened sense of community, sense of place, and sense of civic pride;

* Increased stress;

* Increased energy consumption;

* Reduced historic preservation;

* Segregation by income, age group, and race;

* Separates low-skill, high unemployment areas from new jobs;

* Increased fiscal stress for the city;

* Increased rate of inner city decline;

Returning to these design principles is a recipe for a more sustainable, affordable future rich in lifestyle and transportation choice, equity and quality of life.

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design