Tag Archives: happy cars

The Problem of Gigantism

By Dom Nozzi

January 13, 2017

Gigantism, in my opinion, is a HUUUUUGE problem in America.

Enormous roads, enormous setbacks, enormous (and improperly located) parking lots, enormous (and improperly located) stormwater basins, enormous distances between destinations, enormous road intersections, enormous subdivisions, enormously tall street lights, enormous signs, enormous retail areas.Monster road intersection

The enormity of the American land use pattern is obvious when one walks the historic center of so many European cities and towns. My recent visit to Tuscany with my significant other was, once again, so saddening and maddening because the streets we walked were so stunningly lovable, charming, and romantic. Americans have thrown all of that charm away in our car-happy world.

Not only is it impossible to love most all of urban America. It is also, as Charles Marohn points out so well, impossible to afford to maintain. A double whammy of unsustainability. And extreme frustration in my career as a town planner who toiling for decades to try to nudge our society toward slowing down our ruinous love affair with making the world wonderful for car travel. And finding that even most smart people in America strongly oppose going back to the timeless way of building for people instead of cars.

It is said that dinosaurs went extinct due in large part to gigantism. I believe the same fate is likely for America, unless our society wakes up and realizes we are way better off in so many ways if we get back to building our world at the (walkable) human scale.

A friend asked me recently what I would do if I were in charge, had a blank slate, and could design a community any way I desired.

If I had such an opportunity, my community would be much more compact and human-scaled. One can walk historic town centers in Europe for models of what I speak of here.

WAY less “open space” for cars is essential.

I would ratchet down our extreme (and artificial) auto-centric value system by making roads and parking and gasoline purchases and car buying directly paid for much more based on USER FEES rather than having all of society pay for happy cars via such things as sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes.

In other words, making our world much more fair and equitable.

We have over-used and over-provided for car travel and car housing in large part because the cost to do so is mostly externalized to society rather than directly paid for via user fees. Eventually — maybe not in our lifetimes? — car travel will be mostly paid for via user fees and externalized costs will be more internalized. Car travel will therefore become much more expensive, signaling us to cut down on our over-reliance on it.

When that happens, we will inevitably see the re-emergence of the lovable, human-scaled world we once had. Fortunately, we are starting to see car travel becoming much more expensive and unaffordable — even though it continues to fail to be user-fee based.

And we are seeing the Millennial generation showing much more interest in compact town center living and much less interest in being car happy.

It is way past time for our society to a people-happy rather than car-happy world.


Leave a comment

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

One Explanation for “Scrap Offs” and Pop Ups”


By Dom Nozzi

November 19, 2002

Neighborhoods in American communities sometimes see a smaller, more modest, older home removed from a property and replaced by a larger, more extravagant home. This is sometimes referred to as “scrap offs” and pop ups.”20150206__20150208_k1_bz08scrapesp2

In a city such as Boulder, Colorado, where property values are so high, much of this can be explained by the fact that it is often nonsensical, for a number of reasons, to retain a small, modest house on an extremely expensive piece of property. Why have, say, a thousand square foot home worth $50,000 sitting on a property that is worth $500,000?

But there are other reasons why such home replacements occur in America.

My impression is that around the nation, there is a noticeable growth in scrape offs and pop-ups. I would attribute it largely to a point I make in my published book, The Road to Ruin. That unlike in places like western Europe, the American “public realm” (streets, sidewalks, parks) are the most desolate and miserable in the developed world because Americans have spent over 50 years single-mindedly trying to make cars, not people, happy. And because this is a “zero-sum” game (all “gains” by cars are losses for people not in cars), we have spent over 50 years destroying the quality of life in our public realm. We now have the most miserable public realm in the developed world.

Americans have responded to this by fleeing the public realm. We set buildings back from the now hostile, high-speed street as far as we can. We spend as little time as possible outside (unless we are cocooned in a car). We thereby become increasingly fearful and suspicious of what might lurk in those desolate streets and sidewalks and parks.

Part of our flight from the desolation of the public realm is that we increasingly strive to achieve a PRIVATIZED, inwardly-turning quality of life. Inside the private confines of our homes, we often find pure, unmatched luxury. Plush, expensive furniture. Expensive electronic equipment. Opulent kitchens and bathrooms. Sumptuous car interiors. A growth in the size of our homes.

This turning away from our degraded and neglected suburban, car-happy public realm means that we have chosen to seek out a privatized, isolated, individualized quality of life. Joy in life is to be achieved as individuals or amongst our family inside our McMansions, and not, as has been traditionally the case, out in the community with our neighbors and fellow citizens.

But it is an empty, plastic, financially bankrupting, fleeting pleasure if it is only inside our private world.

The loss of civic pride — the loss of caring about our community — is ultimately catastrophic to our future.

By contrast, a quality public realm is an equal opportunity quality of life, because it is available to all ages, skill levels, income levels, and races. A quality public realm is a COMMUNITY-BUILDING attribute. And it doesn’t require us to go into endless household debt, as does our “need” to buy the latest car, computer, TV, stereo system, or bathroom.

There is growing evidence that Americans are moving in this downwardly-spiraling direction. Purchase of household and auto goods is enormous in scale.

Governments at all levels continue to bankrupt themselves by hopelessly trying to achieve the unachievable: free-flowing happy cars in cities. Making cars happy is an engine for the privatizing, inwardly-turning trend we are in.

I’ve heard this week that there is an observable increase in the size of American homes. Given the above, this is completely predictable. If our quality of life is to be achieved in our homes and cars, it is clear that we’ll be induced to create larger and larger homes (and cars) to expand the size of that private quality.

Which brings me back to scrape offs and pop-ups.

The growing desire to demolish smaller homes and replace them with HUGE McMansions is an obvious symptom of our desire to privatize our quality of life.


Leave a comment

Filed under Economics, Urban Design

Gigantism is the Key to Our Downfall


By Dom Nozzi

February 11, 2010

I believe that gigantism — exemplified by excessive distances, building setbacks, parking, and excessive speeds – is the primary agent destroying community Safeway-July-2015-smsustainability and quality of life.

And the primary cause of the sickness of gigantism is our over-reliance on motorized travel. While it is not necessary to eliminate car travel completely, it is essential that we end the century-long practice of making too many of our trips by car – trips that can often be made in other ways – and overdesigning for convenient car travel, to the extreme detriment of the needs of human beings.

We must return to the timeless tradition of making people happy, not cars, by designing for modest sizes and speeds.

This is the core message in my writings and speeches.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Stopping Development or Ensuring Quality Development is Fair to All?

By Dom Nozzi

Stopping growth and development, despite the conventional wisdom, is mostly what planners and elected officials try to do in high-growth areas.

They try to find as many fees and regulations as possible to punish developers and stop them. But we do the opposite of what we should be doing, because the typical “punishment” is that we force them to build huge parking lots, huge landscape setbacks, and a strict separation of residential and non-residential land uses, while the government spends billions to widen roads. All this does is ensure that everyone is forced to drive a car for everything and guarantees that the development will be loved by cars and despised by people.

No wonder we have a nationwide NIMBY epidemic where neighborhoods fear all new developments. No wonder we have intolerable traffic congestion that gets worse and worse every year. No wonder our governments are bankrupt. No wonder our public planners have no credibility and our developers are the most hated people on earth.

What we need are developers, planners, and government officials who return to the timeless, traditional ways of building communities that are designed to make people, instead of cars, happy.

Sure, things are more difficult when your rate of growth is higher, but a high rate of growth can be wonderful for our quality of life if our design is for people instead of cars. I am strongly pro-growth if it is designed to make people happy by using timeless principles. So no, I do not believe that my position is that we just “stop sprawl,” although that certainly needs to be part of it, since sprawl is part of the make-cars-happy paradigm.

We have workable solutions.

They mostly focus on having growth pay its own way, that it be sustainable, and that it contribute to the overall quality of life. Currently, car-happy dispersed suburban development promotes lifestyles that 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 am not saying 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.

Let’s return to the days of striving for choices and quality of life for people.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design