Tag Archives: mixed use

Oversizing Our Community

By Dom Nozzi

January 29, 2016

The first task of the urbanist is to control (horizontal) size. American cities have utterly failed to do that.

Either America has too few urbanists who understand that, or too rarely listen to the urbanists who do understand this.

Despite the conventional wisdom, most all of Boulder’s areas intended to be urban have WAY too much “open space.” By space, I refer to the crazy wide stroads (motor vehicle traffic routes that try and fail to be both a street and a road), the over-sized building arapahoe-ave-boulder-cosetbacks, the over-sized parking areas, and the place-killing plazas that are not human-scaled (and therefore become dead zones). Why is Boulder so allergic to creating human-scaled, lovable, charming spaces? Why are we so in love with horizontal gigantism?

Perhaps the biggest offender when it comes to oversizing our communities is parking for motor vehicles.july-2015

Parking is a fertility drug for cars. Yet Boulder – despite decades of lip service paid to reducing car use – continues to be quite far behind the times when it comes to parking. Boulder continues to use outdated, conventional, excessive parking requirements for new development.

What are the effective tools that will result in some people owning and using a car less? (and therefore reducing the ruinous demand for more parking space)

First, compact, mixed-use development to reduce travel distances and increase the financial desirability to create neighborhood-based retail.

Second, less car subsidies and other financial inducements. Tools to do this include priced parking, unbundling the price of parking from housing, tolling roads, and higher gas taxes.

Third, less space for cars. We need to shrink size of roads, parking lots, and building setbacks so motorists are obligated to drive/park more slowly and attentively.

Fourth, we need a lot more traffic calming to reduce motorist speeds.

Designing for People or for Cars?

It is highly appropriate and extremely important that space-hogging motor vehicle drivers not feel happy, that parking (and pricing) is a “bitch,” and that driving a vehicle be a huge, inconvenient pain in the ass. That is exactly the recipe for creating places people love (rather than places that only a car could love).

Nearly all environmentalists in Boulder furiously fight against even modest density increases. For the stunningly powerful PLAN Boulder County advocacy group I served on for a few years, it is nearly the be-all and end-all of “protecting” Boulder.

It would appear that the only thing Boulder environmental activists care about is fighting to stop density increases (even modest ones). Such activists are convinced that more density means more emissions, more loss of wildlife, more cars, and more loss of open space. The opposition to density is much more pronounced in Boulder than in Alachua County, where I lived and worked as a town planner for 20 years. Understandable, since many came to places such as Boulder seeking wide open spaces they assumed the West would deliver.

As my “The Frustration Syndrome” essay points out, because most environmentalists must drive a car everywhere, it is understandable that so many environmentalists are ENRAGED by more density because it seems obvious that more density means more cars, which means more driving frustration (ie, loss of quality of life, as they understand it). Many environmentalists express concern that more density will be environmentally harmful, but I have come to learn that for most environmentalists, the unspoken agenda is the fight to retain easy motoring.

Yes, there is a diverse range of environmentalists (and Feminists and LBGT advocates and Republicans and parents…), but in extremely car-dependent America, the one thing that unites nearly all advocacy groups is the nearly universal desire to find easy driving and easy parking. After all, as my essay notes, nearly all of us drive a car multiple times every day of our lives, and it is therefore very frustrating multiple times a day for both Republicans and Conservationists to FIND A DAMN PARKING SPACE or AVOID THOSE SLOW DRIVERS. The inevitable consequence for nearly all Americans (regardless of their ideology) is to confuse easy driving with quality of life. Since increased density seems like such an obvious culprit for our daily driving frustrations, nearly all of us (regardless of whether we love money or Bambi) hate more density. I’d say 95 percent of the environmentalists I know in Boulder hate more density (and they disingenuously claim it is due to environmental harm, rather than unhappy motoring).

I don’t believe that this can be explained away by referring to where a person lives in a community. I’d say nearly all residents of my very compact, walkable, mixed use Boulder neighborhood are VIOLENTLY opposed to more density. And in Boulder, since we are ringed by a 55,000-acre greenbelt, nearly all proposed increases in density are for in-town development. Yet opposition to more density is huge here. Regardless of location.

I fully agree, as an aside, that compact development is inappropriate in sensitive outlying areas.

Too many residences in the US now front hostile, high-speed, dangerous, noisy 4- to 8-lane highways (streets that were improved to “meet contemporary needs.”) Healthy cities require lower speeds and agglomeration economies and adaptability. Too often, “contemporary needs” in road design undercut those essential ingredients. In my view, in-town streets should not generally exceed three lanes. Anything more will undercut the healthy cities factors I mention above. We need to draw the line somewhere. I choose to draw it in such a way as to not go beyond street designs which induce excessive motorized speeding, excessive sprawl, and loss of transportation choice.

Very, very few traffic engineers understand the needs of a healthy city and end up being single-mindedly focused on the sole objective of moving as many cars as they can as quickly as possible through a road. By confusing that objective with quality of life or an “improvement,” they (or their elected officials) end up pushing for a design that is toxic for a city.

For the record, no one I know is seeking to “intentionally inflict pain and inconvenience” on motorists. However, many of us do seek to design cities so that we have fairness, transportation choices, a thriving city, and lifestyle choices. Designing cities in such a way has the unavoidable consequence of increasing the inconvenience of motorists (because the size required by cars is excessive).

It comes down to a few simple questions: Do we design for a financially and socially healthy town with a high quality of life for people? Or do we design our town in such a way as to enable ease of car travel? (which delivers us places like Detroit or Houston) This is not a win-win game. It is a zero-sum game. I would add that this is NOT a call for the elimination of travel by car. It IS a call for a return to designing for fairness, choices, and resilience. The century-long effort to pamper cars has reduced fairness, reduced choices, and reduced resilience. We need to restore a balance. A big way to do that is to move much more toward user fees for travel. But that is another topic…

Imagine if we had a quiet two-lane neighborhood street, and a traffic engineer wants to design it to allow convenient 18-wheel tractor trailer use of that street (they have faced this issue countless times). In my view, it is important that for a quiet neighborhood street to remain pleasant for its fronting homes, the street SHOULD feel inconvenient for an 18-wheeler. If it was convenient for such a large vehicle, wouldn’t that street therefore be unsafe and unpleasant for homes?

None of the four tools I mention above will mean that ALL people will opt to not own or use a car. It will mean that SOME people will own less cars, use their car less often, or both.

By contrast, stopping development, reducing development densities, or fighting against population growth are not effective in reducing car trips or car ownership — because it is pretty much impossible to stop development or population growth locally and especially regionally. On the contrary, Boulderites who try to stop development or population growth and force development to be less compact (lower density) actually INCREASE the per capita car ownership and use in the area — both in the short term and long term.

For too many in Boulder, compact development means more cars. More cars means less free flowing traffic and less parking spaces. The only tool such folks see to address this is to battle for lower density and slowing the rate of development. And battle they must, as they wrongly mistake free flowing cars and easy parking as equivalent to quality of life. They thereby fail to understand the transportation feedback loops that result in more cars as a result of their only tool.

Such people cynically believe that the reduction in per capita car ownership and car trips elsewhere in the nation (following the establishment of compact development patterns) will not be seen here in Boulder if we provide compact development. Of course, ALL communities have that same cynical view of their own town.

Who needs enemies when we have ourselves?

An important problem is that in the US, we have way too often designed streets (“improved them”) so that it feels convenient for a car that consumes way too much space. I have been to Europe many times, and the streets that tourists flock to from all over the world are extremely inconvenient for cars. Would those streets be “better” if they were convenient for cars? It seems clear to me that the massive size of cars is a big problem. We face a choice between conveniencing big metal boxes or designing streets for happy, safe people (which, almost inevitably, feels inconvenient when you are in a huge metal box).

Personally, I would opt for designing for happiness and safety for people. Every time.

 

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The Ingredients of a Quality Street in a Town Center

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 17, 2002

Many people put “nature” at the top of their list of what makes for a great street or neighborhood or town center.

Trees and wetlands are essential. They are extremely important. They are critical. In fact, in the suburban and rural/preserve portion of the urban-to-rural transect, trees and wetlands are near the top of the priority list.

However, they are not sufficient. And in a town center, they are nowhere near the top of the list of important ingredients in creating a healthy place.

In a walkable urban neighborhood center or town center of a transect, I would create the following priority list for design elements of a street.meatmarket

Dom’s Vibrant Street Casserole (serves…everyone)

  1. Building facades abuts or are very, very close to the streetside sidewalk, with entrances on the sidewalk.
  2. Relatively high residential densities on the street or otherwise near the street.
  3. A mix of residential and non-residential development on the street.
  4. On-street parking.
  5. Short blocks, modest turn radii, no more than 3 lanes of 2-way street (3rd lane is landscaped median with pocket turn lanes), prominent crosswalk.
  6. Verticality — buildings are at least 2 stories high.
  7. Aligned building facades.
  8. Modest street light and traffic signal height.
  9. Alley.
  10. Narrow lot width.
  11. Transparency on building facade — adequate windows at eye level — implicit here is an absence of excessive blank wall horizontally.
  12. Shading street trees — limbed up, formally aligned and spaced so as to avoid blocking the view of at least the first floor building facades.
  13. Streetscaping — street furniture, etc.
  14. Ample sidewalk width — wide enough for sidewalk cafes, couples to comfortably walk side-by-side, street furniture.
  15. Modest sign size.

 

 

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Boulder CO Struggles with Too Many Jobs

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 9, 2003

A friend asked me what I thought about Boulder, Colorado trying to get a handle on the “problem” of too many jobs.

Here is what I told her…

In looking at Boulder efforts, I think it would be wise if Boulder went ahead with its proposal to expand the use of mixing housing, jobs, and retail. This step is very important for quality of life, but because nearly every community is its own worst enemy, such a policy would undoubtedly draw a FIRESTORM of opposition in Boulder, as it has done in the past in that city.

Boulder also needs to grow its residential densities in appropriate, job-rich areas.

Working toward a jobs-housing balance is a good idea, as the City proposes.

The big mistake that nearly all communities continue to keep making is to look upon in-town traffic congestion as THE evil that must be fought at all costs — apparently the primary evil being targeted in this Boulder jobs-housing study. Unless Boulder can find the wisdom and leadership to accept congestion as an ALLY and not a foe, it will increasingly degrade itself. I say this because the conventional tools to fight congestion are tools that Boulder seems eager to want to use. While more mixed use and jobs-housing balance is a good idea, conventional (and, in the end, destructive) tools include:

  1. Fighting to minimize residential growth and density within the city.
  2. Widening roads with more travel lanes or turn lanes.
  3. Increasingly providing more surface parking.
  4. Fighting the “intrusion” of non-residential into residential areas.

It is crucial that Boulder realize that not only is congestion an ally–it promotes more compact, walkable urban development, reduces regional air pollution and fuel consumption, slows cars, etc. Congestion is also SELF-REGULATING. People have a tolerance level for how much congestion they are willing to put up with, and will decide to do things to adjust if it gets too intolerable: They’ll live closer to the places they need to go to (work, school, shopping…). Or they’ll drive on different routes. Or drive at non-rush hour times. Or start walking, bicycling, or using the bus. People that cannot do any of those things (probably a lot of people cannot do those things Boulder) will, in the long run, simply move somewhere else in the country. Probably something not considered catastrophic for folks in Boulder…

Fighting against development density, or fighting for BIG ROADS, short-circuits that self-30th-and-arapahoe-double-leftsregulation. By doing so, it accelerates the downward spiral of a community’s quality of life. Because it means that the city is increasingly making life pleasant for cars instead of people. It will end up as a big roads, big parking lots, strip commercial land of misery.

An important problem in places like Boulder is that the quality of life is so high, that people are willing to put up with higher levels of congestion, long commute distances, and other travel nuisances because it is compensated by a high quality of life. As a result, congestion and long commutes will be worse in places like Boulder than in places like, say, Toledo.

Not sure what to do about that. Maybe nothing needs to be done. It is a problem that may sort itself out on its own.

For me, personally, I have a very low tolerance level for congestion or long commutes. Even a high quality of life is not sufficient compensation for me (for many in Boulder, the quality apparently DOES compensate). If I were to live there and accept the relatively high congestion and commuting patterns there, the only way I could do it would be to figure out a way to live in or near downtown. If I could not figure out a way to do that, I’d leave the Boulder region.

In other words, congestion controls not only the location of growth, but the rate of growth…

 

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The Junior Academy (Trailhead) Residential Project at 2600-block of 4th Street in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

April 25, 2015

A new neighborhood has been proposed on the west side of Boulder, Colorado. It is the former site of the Junior Academy, and is called “Trailhead” (due to its proximity to the popular Sanitas trail in western Boulder.

The proposed project is located adjacent to a walkable, compact, pre-1930s historic Mapleton Hill neighborhood within walking distance of the Boulder town center. The Mapleton neighborhood Bldr Aug 2015 (4)intent of my recommendations for the project is to see that the design of the project promotes walkability, sociability, neighborhood safety and security, travel choice (particularly for seniors and children), relatively low noise levels, timeless styles and design, and low per capita car trip generation.

Parking

Providing two-car garages for each unit is radically out of character within the Mapleton Hill neighborhood, undercuts pedestrian ambience by creating more sterile facades that send the message that the area is suburban drivable, rather than walkable. If any is provided, the project must unbundle the cost of the parking provided for each residential unit so that owners/renters have the option of paying less for the residence in exchange for having less parking provided to the unit. Ideally, no parking should be provided off-street for any of the residential units. On-street metered parking is highly preferable. Should this project provide any publicly-accessible parking, such parking must be modest in number and priced or metered.

Street Design

In the vicinity of this project, 4th Street must be traffic calmed. On-street parking – perhaps pocketed on-street parking formed with bulb-outs to reduce curb-to-curb width – should be at least one component of the traffic calming. Calming tactics should be focused on horizontal interventions (such as very narrow shared or slow or give-way streets, and perhaps using roundabouts or bulb-outs) rather than vertical strategies such as speed humps. Sidewalk on 4th Street must be provided along the length of this project. Any street lighting provided for/by the project on 4th Street must be pedestrian-scaled (i.e., no more than 15 feet in height) and full cut-off.

Density

This project should achieve the maximum allowable density and floor area ratio allowed by the land development code. If allowed by code, this project should incorporate accessory dwelling units. Front porches should be aligned and either abut the front ROW/sidewalk or be no more than a “conversational distance” from the sidewalk (i.e., front porches no more than 10 feet from the back of ROW/sidewalk).

Mixed Use

If allowed by code, this project should incorporate small scale retail and office components.

Re-Zoning (amendments to the land development code)

If not allowed by the land development code, the project property (and the Mapleton Hill neighborhood) should have its land development codes revised to allow higher densities, accessory dwelling units, more than one-family allowed per property, mixed use (to allow small-scale retail and office), smaller (or no) yard setbacks, a prohibition on (incompatible) modernist architectural styles, and elimination of any minimum parking requirements (maximum parking requirements should replace any minimum requirements).

In general, each of the above design recommendations will ensure compatibility with the Mapleton Hill neighborhood and would minimize per household car trips in the long run.

 

 

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Congestion and Transit in Toronto

By Dom Nozzi

May 2013

In 2013, a Toronto friend told me that traffic congestion is a problem in that city and its economy.

I told him that I don’t agree that congestion significantly harms the local economy (in most cases). See, for example, this from the economist Todd Litman : http://www.vtpi.org/UMR_critique.pdf Transportation “improvements” to “reduce” congestion suffer today from the law of diminishing returns.

Each transport dollar we now spend results in fewer and fewer benefits than in the past (indeed, in my view, most all dollars WORSEN our communities and their economies).

It is not a coincidence that the most economically healthy cities tend to be severely congested. Because cars consume so much space, only a tiny number of people in cars are needed to create congestion. Given that, there is a problem if a city is NOT congested in certain locations. The problem is not congestion. Congestion is a sign of a healthy, attractive city that people want to be a part of. The problem is when there are no alternatives to avoid the congestion.

Congestion is a powerful motivator. It can be very helpful in generating the political will to create alternatives to avoid the congestion, as Toronto is finding with its interest in more transit. Other ways to avoid the largely inevitable congestion: More housing in town center locations. More street connections (by reducing dead ends and cul-de-sacs). Tolling roads. Putting roads on a diet. Making streets more “complete” so they handle more than just cars. More jobs and shopping in residential areas. Properly priced car parking (nearly all cities provide too much underpriced or free parking). Cash-out parking. Unbundled parking. Paying for car insurance at the gas pump. And so on.

As a Michael Ronkin and I often say these days, creating more walking, bicycling and transit is much more about TAKING AWAY things from motorists (subsidies, road & parking space, etc.) than it is about providing facilities for bicycling, walking and Safeway-July-2015-smtransit. So while sidewalks, bike paths and better transit are usually important, it is typically the case that such things are secondary to doing the things I list above.

Too many cities put the cart before the horse by providing transit with the necessary prerequisites of properly managed parking, proper pricing, and proper land uses, for example. Toronto has done reasonably well on this. But I also suspect there is much more they can do to create better conditions for healthy transit.

Easy and fair way to pay for more and better transit is tolling roads and properly pricing the parking, among other things. I suspect as good as the city is compared to most other cities, Toronto has a long way to go in creating fair user fees for transport. I’m sure that like in most larger cities, transit is well-used because it is costly and inconvenient (as it should be, for fairness and quality of life) to drive a car.

“Agglomeration Economies” are very important for the (economic and social) health of a city, and things that “ease congestion” tend to create urban DISPERSAL, which directly undercuts the agglomeration economies that cities need to be healthy.

Something else to consider: the “travel time budget,” which informs us that humans are apparently hard-wired for a certain amount of time allocated to daily commuting. Cross-culturally and throughout history, that budget tends to be about 1.2 hours per day (some do more, some do less, but the average is about 1.2). Given that, we can know the consequences of certain actions regarding congestion: When faced with the “time tax” of congestion, many will (in the long run) live closer to work or travel at non-rush hour times or take different routes, or travel by bike/bus/walking as a way to stay within their travel time budget.

The conventional (and mostly failed) approach is to “ease congestion” by widening roads and intersections. The triple convergence and travel time budget let us know that by doing so, we will NOT ease congestion for very long (by widening). About all we will achieve is greater geographic dispersal of where jobs, shopping and housing are found in the city (city sprawl accelerates). That, of course, quickly worsens sprawl and increases commute times.

 

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Essential Ingredients for a Walkable, Compact Town Center

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 20, 2013

I attended a joint citizen board meeting regarding “Sustainable Streets and Centers” in Boulder, Colorado. Here are my thoughts about necessary strategies.

Assumptions

  • Boulder has adopted a clear vision for one or more newly emerging walkable, compact centers in locations such as East Arapahoe Road, Colorado Street, and East Boulder, and intends to use effective tactics to induce the creation and sustainability of such centers.
  • People that desire to live in walkable, compact living arrangements seek a setting that is conducive to such a lifestyle. That setting features low-speed, narrow and human-scaled streets and intersections, very short walking distances to most destinations, buildings pulled up to the sidewalk to create enclosure, and a vibrant experience (in contrast to deadening expanses of parking and large building setbacks). The market for higher density housing will be very weak and unsustainable if such a walkable setting is not provided.
  • 15-minute neighborhoods are an important Boulder objective, which will require the creation of a relatively large number of centers.
  • The objective for centers is a drive to rather than drive through experience, a park-once setting, and a design that makes the pedestrian the design imperative.

General comments

First, strive to use words that resonate and are understandable to non-professional Boulder citizens. Terms such as “multi-way” or “activity center” or “alternate modes” or “corridor” are confusing, uninspiring, and negative. Second, when visioning or seeking comments from citizens, it is important that citizen comments be guided and informed by skilled design professionals (such as Dover-Kohl) who are skilled in presenting information in an understandable, inspiring way (particularly through use of quality graphics). Third, existing housing, employment, or land use patterns should not necessarily dictate visions if such patterns conflict with Boulder objectives. Fourth, the needs or convenience of regional commuters should not trump the low-speed, vibrancy, pedestrian scaled needs of Boulder’s centers.

Toolbox of Strategies that are Essential in Creating a Walkable, Compact Center

(somewhat different toolboxes are needed for other lifestyle zones – “transect zones” – in Boulder)

Land Development Regulations:

  • Motor vehicle parking is behind buildings.
  • Shorter blocks via cross-access pedestrian ways between buildings.
  • Mixed-use zoning to reduce walking/biking distance, and increase 24-hour vibrancy and safety.
  • Relatively high residential densities and commercial intensities.IMG_3045
  • Remove any regulatory barriers to infilling existing parking with buildings.
  • Do not allow gas stations at intersections.
  • Convert parking minimums to parking maximums. Require that the price of parking be unbundled. Increase allowable shared use and leased parking opportunities.
  • Relatively modest building setbacks. At intersections, a sense of place is achieved by requiring buildings to abut the back of sidewalks.
  • Exemption from landscaping requirements.
  • Relatively small minimum lot sizes.
  • Relatively small signs required by the sign ordinance (to help signal a low-speed, pedestrian scaled setting).
  • Proactively overlay a street grid with small block sizes before development is proposed.
  • Do not allow fences to cut off non-street access to adjacent parcels. Fences used should not exceed three or four feet in height along a sidewalk.
  • Emphasize multi-family housing rather than single-family housing in centers and along major streets.
  • Consider requiring at buildings at least two-stories in height for more of a sense of place, a sense of enclosure, mixed use opportunities, and better adaptability to change over time.

Infrastructure

  • Shorter street blocks (200 to 500 feet max).
  • When streets passing through the proposed center are 4 lanes or more in size, they need to be necked down (road dieted) to no more than 3 lanes.
  • Intersections must be kept relatively small in size so that they are pedestrian-scaled. No more than one turn lane in a given direction, relatively narrow travel lanes, and small turning radii.
  • Continuous left turn lanes are to be discouraged. Raised medians with turn pockets are to be encouraged.
  • Raised crosswalks when feasible and appropriate.
  • Street (including lane width) and turning radii dimensions are small and slow-speed.
  • Street lights should be pedestrian-scaled so that light bulbs are no more than 14 feet in height. Taller lights create a highway ambiance and induce higher car speeds.
  • Bus bays are inappropriate in a compact, walkable center due to loss of pedestrian scale and increased pedestrian crossing distance.
  • Sidewalks have straight, rectilinear trajectories rather than curvilinear, suburban trajectories. Curvilinear trajectories, by adding unnecessary distances to walking, are annoying and patronizing to pedestrians. They are mainly benefiting motorists, who obtain a more pleasing view as they drive along a street with curving sidewalks. They also increase the likelihood of dirt cowpaths being formed by pedestrians seeking the shortest route.
  • On-street parking is allowed and priced.
  • Consider visually prominent gateway features at the entrances to centers to clearly signal to motorists that they are entering a low-speed, walkable setting that requires attentiveness.

 

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Questions and Answers About My Planning Career and Lessons Learned

By Dom Nozzi

September 26, 2013

In September of 2013, a college student asked me about my city planning career and the lessons I learned in my work.

  1. What were your primary responsibilities in City of Gainesville, FL?

DN: As a long-range senior comprehensive planner, I prepared staff recommendations for proposed zoning, special exception, special use permit, and land use changes. I authored several environmental, transportation, and urban design land development regulations for Gainesville. I also authored the long-range transportation, land use, urban design, environmental conservation, recreation, and solid waste plans for Gainesville. My specialties and passions were promoting quality of life by properly designing for walkable streets, form-based codes, transportation choice, and employing “plain English” when writing land development codes.

  1. Could you share some of the highlights of your career?

DN: In 1989, I heard a speech by Andres Duany, and read essays by Walter Kulash, Jeff Kenworthy, Anthony Downs, and Peter Newman. The remarks by these individuals were an epiphany for me. I realized that the key way to design a community for quality of life was to return to the timeless tradition of making people happy, not cars. Particularly in town centers, I realized that the pedestrian was the design imperative. And that tactics which promoted or convenienced car travel were counterproductively degrading quality of life. The professional achievements I am most proud of were being the lead planner for creating a bicycle and pedestrian greenway path system in Gainesville, and being the lead planner for creating creek setback regulations. I am also proud of writing the long-range transportation, land use, and urban design plans for Gainesville, and authoring the “Traditional City” form-based code for Gainesville’s town center. Most importantly, the Traditional City code eliminated parking minimums for cars, and inverted those minimums so that they became parking maximums. I prepared land development regulations for large-format retailers, customized form-based codes for the University Heights and College Park neighborhoods, substantially revised and updated Gainesville’s noise ordinance, substantially revised the definitions used in Gainesville’s Land Development Code, created an urban design toolbox, prepared a sustainability indicators report for Gainesville, and incorporated a great deal of “Plain English” and drawings in Gainesville’s Land Development Codes to make them more understandable. Late in my career, I published a book called Road to Ruin about suburban sprawl, transportation, and quality of life, and gave speeches throughout the nation describing ideas from that book. More recently, I published The Car is the Enemy of the City, which touched on many of the same topics. After I retired, I became a nationally certified Complete Streets instructor, and served as a co-instructor to help communities throughout the nation design more complete streets.

  1. What is the most significant planning issue you have met during your career? What is the solution?

DN: Establishing tactics that promote quality of life, realizing that the most effective way to do that was to reduce the promotion and conveniencing of car travel as well as promoting quality pedestrian design, and recommending such tactics in a society where nearly all citizens are fierce proponents of car travel. One solution was to adopt the new urbanist tactic of creating a “transect” which calibrates land development regulations for a walkable town center, a drivable suburbia, and a rural lifestyle. In other words, creating transportation and lifestyle choices.

  1. Which school of ideas had the most influence on you as a planner?

DN: New Urbanism

  1. Do you have any advice for someone entering the field?

DN: Academic emphasis should be on design: architecture or urban design. The ideological focus of the school and its professors should be the new urbanism. The future will be to design for happy people, not happy cars. Tragically, most all planning schools (and nearly all communities) put too much emphasis on promoting happy cars. Become a highly skilled writer, a highly skilled public speaker, and a person highly skilled in drawing. Strive to emphasize speaking and writing in “Plain English” and conveying information that is both inspirational and understandable to a non-professional audience. Become passionate in recommending tactics that promote quality of life for people rather than cars. Such passion will be more rewarding and sustainable than a high salary.

  1. When you first entered the field, how did you apply what you had learnt in the college to practice?

DN: Primarily, when I first entered the profession of planning, I used planning terminology I had learned in college, and applied a number of planning concepts such as zoning to my work as a planner. I regret that my college studies were overly focused on policy rather than design.

  1. From your view, what’s the biggest barrier to create walkable streets?

DN: Allocating too much road space, too much parking space, and too many subsidies to car travel. The most effective way to induce more walking (as well as bicycling and transit use) is NOT to provide sidewalks, bike lanes or new transit facilities. It is to take away road space, parking space, and car subsidies, as well as shortening distances to destinations via compact, mixed use development. By doing those things, an environment conducive to walkability will inevitably evolve. Street widths and distances between buildings will be more human-scaled rather than car-scaled, travel distances to destinations will be considerably shorter, car speeds will be much more modest and attentive, residential and commercial densities will be higher and interspersed, and it will be less financially and physically rational to drive a car.

  1. Sustainable transportation has become a hot issue, how can new urbanism play a role in sustainable transportation?

DN: Americans devote an excessive amount of space to motor vehicle travel, which is enormously unsustainable, and greatly reduces the transportation choices needed for a more sustainable future. Because a motor vehicle consumes so much space (on average, a person in a car consumes as much space as 17 people sitting in chairs), cities in America are dying from a disease I call “Gigantism.” New urbanism, by making the timeless traditional focus on pedestrians the design imperative, is effectively restoring the pattern of building neighborhoods that are human-scaled rather than car-scaled. Because this creates a charming, lovable ambience, new IMG_3045urbanist design is highly profitable, which makes such design sustainably self-perpetuating (developers are self-motivated by the profitability of new urbanism to design in such a human-centered way, rather than being unsustainably forced to use such design due to government regulation). New urbanism has introduced the tactically brilliant idea of the urban to rural transect, which calibrates design and regulation differently in each transect zone so that all lifestyle and travel choices are provided for in each zone (forcing everyone to live in a compact, walkable town center setting is, today, politically unsustainable). But in the walkable, town center portion of the new urbanist transect, the compact design is inherently rich in transportation choices. A person is able to easily and safely walk, bicycle, use transit, or drive a car. Transportation choice is the most politically successful way to create sustainable transportation. Over time, as the cost of car travel becomes unsustainably expensive, the compact, walkable, design created by new urbanists – a design, again, rich in transportation choices – will become increasingly desirable to a larger percentage of Americans, which will mean that a larger percentage of Americans will be living in a setting that makes more sustainable transportation more feasible and less costly.

  1. What’s the best way for citizens to be involved in the planning process?

DN: Citizens should insist that new planning and development projects in the community use the “charrette” process, where skilled presenters, drawers, and designers begin by making a brief, educational, inspiring presentation about town design and transportation principles to an audience of citizens. When done well, charrettes abundantly employ many drawings of ideas by the charrette professionals as well as ideas from citizens. As a result of such a presentation, citizens become skilled and empowered to make town and transportation design decisions for the new plan or proposed development (or road) project. When citizens are making such decisions in a charrette format, there is much more community buy-in as to the design of the plan or project, and elected officials are thereby more likely to approve of such designs. The end result is commonly a design that makes sense to professionals, even though much of the design has been recommended by citizens and elected officials (ordinarily, design recommendations by non-professional citizens and elected officials is misinformed and prone to not-in-my-backyard opposition to even the best, most sustainable and well-designed plans and projects).

  1. Brief introduction of your latest book “The Car is the Enemy of the City”. Do you think people can maintain the same life quality without a car?

DN: Car travel and over-designing cities to accommodate such travel is deadly to cities. Healthy town centers need low speeds, human scale, and proximity. Yet a town center over-designed for free-flowing car travel is a city designed for high speeds, gigantic sizes, and sprawling dispersal of jobs, housing, shopping and culture. This book describes why cars and their “habitat” are toxic to town centers, and the features that create a walkable, lovable quality of life that a well-designed town center should provide. The book therefore illustrates how we can return to the timeless tradition of designing town centers to make people happy, not cars.

I am convinced that a person can maintain not only the same quality of life without a car, but a HIGHER quality of life. Owning a car in America today costs, on average, over $8,000 per year. Instead of spending that money on cars, a person can afford to buy or rent significantly better housing, and can have more money for education, better food, recreation, and so on. Indeed, in my own personal life, despite the fact that I did not earn a large amount of money in my job, I was able to retire at the relatively young age of 47 due to how much lower my expenses were without a car.

By not owning a car, a person tends to be more physically healthy, as more travel by walking, bicycling, or transit means that a person is exercising more and suffering less from growing health problems such as obesity and diabetes.

By reducing travel by car (because a person does not own a car), a person tends to be more sociable with neighbors and other citizens in the community. The car, after all, is an extremely isolating way to travel, because when one is commonly alone inside a car, interaction or serendipity with others is much less likely. Such interaction is also much more likely to be hostile towards others (via such things as “road rage”) rather than being friendly towards others.

When a person travels by walking, bicycling or transit, enjoyment of the trip route is much more likely. Sounds, smells, and enjoyment of other details of life and buildings are much more possible than when inside a car.

Finally, by not owning a car, a person is more motivated to see that her or his community is designed to be more friendly to people rather than cars. And there is no better way to enhance quality of life and sustainability than to do that.

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