Tag Archives: population growth

A Quality Future for Boulder CO Means Something Vastly Different from What No-Growthers Seek

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 8, 2017

The great irony of those in Boulder, Colorado who seek to protect the low-density character of neighborhoods (and to allegedly protect the “small town charm” of Boulder) is that by following the tactics recommended by too many “no-growthers,” Boulder will continue to take the Anywhere USA path that so many other American cities have taken (and continue to take).

Fighting against compact development is a recipe for keeping this city from becoming more walkable, charming, and human scaled. Such a fight will make it more likely that our future will be more car-dependent, more isolated, less walkable, more filled with surface parking lots, and less affordable (due to a growing lack of travel choices). Much of Boulder was built in an era of failed community design ideas that are unsustainable. Many of those who seek to “protect” neighborhoods are those who like the privatopia of suburbs and don’t like cities, and therefore don’t understand or appreciate those elements that make for healthy cities: slow speeds, human scale, compact development, agglomeration economies, diversity, conviviality, and choices.

Such advocates, instead, ruinously seem to believe that free-flowing and high speed traffic and easy car parking are the keys to quality of life. Actually, such objectives are toxic to a 51df393d218c6-imagehealthy city because they undermine the elements I list above.

The lifestyle of those who live in low-density Boulder neighborhoods compels them to fight for a halt to population growth, fight to minimize density and building heights, fight to oppose traffic calming and modest street and parking allocations, and fight to oppose mixed use.

Why?

Because fighting for those things helps protect their ability to travel easily by car. Because their neighborhood design obligates them to make most or all trips by car, they must fight for these things to protect their suburban lifestyle. Car travel becomes highly inconvenient when a community is more compact and slow speed. Densities over 2 or 3 units per acre make car travel much more inconvenient.

Conversely, densities below 3 or 4 units per acre make walking, bicycling, and transit nearly impossible.

It is therefore easy to understand why so many in suburban Boulder have concluded that easy driving and parking are equivalent to quality of life. Tragically, easy driving and parking are enemies of a quality city.

It is important to note, despite the unfair, inflammatory falsehoods we often have thrown at us urbanists, that this is NOT a call to make all neighborhoods in Boulder more compact. It IS a plea to recognize that for too much of Boulder’s history, the only acceptable form of development is high speed, car-happy suburban.

And that it is NEVER acceptable for there to be slow speed, compact walkable development.

Anywhere.

The result is a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development — which has no future, by the way — and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Indeed, I would be hard-pressed to point to ANY compact development in Boulder. Because there is a big and growing demand for a walkable lifestyle — particularly among the younger generations — the price of such housing is skyrocketing (there are other reasons, but this one is substantial).

Boulder must do what it can to provide a larger supply of walkable housing — in appropriate locations.

Not doing so will lead to a grim, more costly future for Boulder.

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Population Growth, Density, and Cars

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 3, 2016

I have a friend who fears a huge growth in population in our area due to how attractive our area is considered, and is worried that it will result in intolerable density.

I informed her, to the contrary, that for the past 80 years, America has seen population growth WITHOUT higher density. There is absolutely no certainty that more people in the area will mean more density. If the NIMBYs remain powerful in the region (extremely likely), we will instead see more low-density, car-dependent sprawl.

In addition to a lot more cars on the road.

We will see a lot more cars on the road than would be the case if the NIMBYs did not block cities like ours from having the projected growth in our area live in more compact settings. The NIMBYs fighting for low density, in other words, are responsible for giving our area a traffic jam on huge hwyLOT more cars. What an irony, since NIMBYs HATE more crowded roads and parking lots.

Yes, there is a trend over the past several years of people (especially young people) to want to move into town centers and not want to live in sprawl. A huge problem in our community, I informed her, is that the NIMBYs loving low density will continue to violently fight to stop ANY development in the town center because they HATE more compact development.

So while much of the remainder of the nation will see a growth in town center housing, the NIMBYs in our community — who love low density — will do whatever they can to stop pretty much all of that healthy trend.

Ironically, the NIMBYs will fight new housing to keep roads and parking from getting more crowded. The result of their efforts will, however, be MORE cars than would have been the case had they not fought against new housing.

Be careful what you fight for, I told her. You might get it.

 

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Do People Inevitably Ruin Pleasant Places?

By Dom Nozzi

May 22, 2016

Do humans inevitably ruin pleasant places? I hear this proclamation often from a good friend.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Making cars happy by fighting against traffic congestion and fighting for more free parking inevitably and powerfully fouls the human habitat – our neighborhoods and cities. Many of us have fled our car-happy fouled nests for greener pastures.july-2015-2

Why did we foul our original nest to make cars happy? Why don’t we return to the timeless tradition of making our nest PEOPLE-happy places?

Because it is inconceivable to us to make car travel inconvenient and costly. We have made the awful mistake of equating happy, cheap car travel with quality of life. It is a recipe, ironically, for fouling our own nest and fleeing to the “untouched” outlying areas.

In sum, this pattern has little or nothing to do with population growth or humans being hard-wired to want to destroy what they love. It has a LOT to do with our drive to make the car habitat wonderful, which unintentionally and unknowingly fouls the human habitat.

Humans don’t hate compact living arrangements. Indeed, we LOVE such design when we travel to ancient European cities.

Humans in space-hogging cars hate compact living arrangements.

When we get behind the wheel of a car, we think like a car. We think paradise is wide open highways and huge free parking lots. What we don’t realize until it is too late is that our cities then become like Houston. Or Buffalo. Or Detroit. Or Phoenix.

A huge number of Boulder CO greenies and intellectuals, for example, unknowingly promote loss of Colorado wilderness by ruinously thinking the key to their quality of life is to “stop growth,” fighting against traffic congestion and fighting for more free parking.

Shame on them. Shame on most all of us for agreeing with this.

 

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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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Filed under Road Diet, Transportation, Urban Design

Will Our Communities Inevitably Become Worse If Our Population Grows?

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 22, 2016

I have at least one friend – probably more than one – who believes that humans always foul their own nest, which means to her that population growth in the community necessarily means the community will worsen due to population growth.

We must therefore do whatever we can to stop population growth.

I disagree. It does not have to be that way.

In my view, making cars happy by fighting against traffic congestion and fighting for more free parking WILL inevitably and powerfully fouls the human habitat – our neighborhoods and cities. Many of us have fled our car-happy fouled nests for greener pastures.

Why did we foul our original nest to make cars happy? Why don’t we return to the timeless french-quarter-inn-charleston-city-view1tradition of making our nest PEOPLE-happy places? Indeed, because humans tend to be hard-wired to be sociable – and tend to be happier and healthier when there is a good amount of social capital – more people can add to the pleasures of life and the community. Some of us who have visited places such as the historic towns in Europe know from experience that some places are wonderful despite their being home to more people than we are familiar with. It is a matter of how they designed their community. Does it feel charming? Human scaled? Romantic? Or is it choked with massive roadways and parking lots?Macys-at-29th-St-July-2015-sm

We foul our own nest to make our cars happy because it is inconceivable to us to make car travel inconvenient and costly. We have made the awful mistake of equating happy, cheap car travel with quality of life. It is a recipe, tragically, for fouling our own nest and fleeing to the “untouched” outlying areas.

In sum, this pattern has little or nothing to do with population growth or humans being hard-wired to want to destroy what they love. It has a LOT to do with our drive to make the car habitat wonderful, which unintentionally and unknowingly fouls the human habitat.

Humans don’t hate compact living arrangements. Indeed, we LOVE such design when we travel to ancient European cities. Humans in space-hogging cars hate compact living arrangements.

When we get behind the wheel of a car, we think like a car. We think paradise is wide open highways and huge free parking lots. What we don’t realize until it is too late is that our cities then become like Houston. Or  Buffalo. Or Detroit. Or Phoenix.

 

 

 

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Is Population Growth a Sprawl Lynchpin?

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 21, 2001

In my opinion, we need to identify sprawl lynchpins if we are to effectively and efficiently control sprawl — particularly because we don’t have the time or money to mis-identify the critical causative agent that we have some control over.

It seems clear to me that suburban sprawl is not possible unless sprawl is enabled by car travel (through near universal ownership of reasonably affordable cars, free and abundant parking, and high-capacity urban roads). Without such a transportation environment, I downloaddon’t believe that sprawl is possible.

By contrast, sprawl IS possible without population growth. Therefore, transportation is a sprawl lynchpin and population growth is not.

Granted, sprawl is worse due to population growth, but in theory, we could have population growth without sprawl. In contrast, we cannot avoid sprawl in an auto-enabled environment.

As an aside, I would point out that in theory, population growth can be beneficial if we insist that it happen in helpful ways (i.e., through proper infill that delivers us the density increases we so desperately need). Auto dependency is not beneficial in any ways I know of, even theoretically.

This is not to say that I believe population growth is not generally a problem. I think it is an enormous problem. I just don’t know of any effective ways to slow it meaningfully and humanely.

Finally, my degrees in environmental science and urban planning inform me that it is much more feasible for us to control urban design, development patterns, and our transportation system than to control worldwide population (I’m assuming that we must control worldwide population because I know of no humane way to control immigration).

Even if we do not have the wisdom and courage to intentionally, through planning, control worldwide population or transportation, I believe that we will much sooner be forced by environmental and financial conditions to substantially change to a transportation choice system (as opposed to a “no choice” car system) than the time at which worldwide population growth will be forced by natural conditions to stop.  Both will inevitably stop. I just think auto dependency will stop WAY before worldwide population growth.

Given all this, my work and advocacy focuses on addressing transportation and development patterns. I remain intellectually supportive of population control, but don’t believe it is possible for us to build a better future with that tool in my lifetime.

And I also worry that if we focus too much on population control, we’ll be wasting time and money that could be better spent on correcting the bad urban design being built all around us each day. And it will be too easy for us to scapegoat “others” instead of accepting personal responsibility for our own unsustainable behavior.

Many of us seem to have given up on controlling unsustainable, excessive auto dependence. I’m not willing to be pessimistic about this, in part because we are aware of effective tactics to address this, and just need the leadership to use those tactics. And by “giving up” on trying to rein in auto dependence, many have conveniently latched on to the handy scapegoat of population growth, which, again, allows us to blame other people and “wash away the guilt and sins” of our own unsustainable lifestyles.

Before the emergence of auto dependence at about the time of WWII, sprawl (as we know it) did not exist. Since WWII, we built up a lot of fuel for the sprawl fire by building crappy, auto-oriented cities. This was the fuel of widespread American dislike and discontent for the dirty, unsafe, unpleasant cities, and the dream of fleeing it for life in the pastoral “nature” of outlying areas — Kunstler’s cabin in the woods.

Yes, the sprawl fire is more intense if we pour the population growth gasoline on it. But I am convinced that we must set about the task of not using the auto dependency matchstick to light the sprawl fire in the first place.

We can look upon population growth as a bacterial epidemic that can uncontrollably spread across our landscape like a cancer. But this population growth bacteria can be made harmless and benign if we use the proper antibiotic: walkable design and transportation choice.

By contrast, an auto-dependent community will inevitably spread like a cancer. THERE IS NO ANTIBIOTIC OR CURE for the auto dependent bacteria, once the infection sets in. When we do everything we can to make cars happy, the sprawl cancer spreads REGARDLESS of whether we control population or do not.

As a quality-of-life doctor, then, my prescription is to use walkable design and transportation choice, rather than population control, to cure my urban patient.

 

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