Tag Archives: suburb

Appropriate and Inappropriate Noise in a Town Center

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 4, 2005

If we are striving to design a quality community, the level of ambient noise needs to vary based on your location in the community. If you desire a walkable, compact, urban lifestyle, you should expect higher levels of ambient noise, because a walkable lifestyle necessarily has more noise. Through compact concentration, activities occur in closer proximity — in other words, it is condensed in a smaller space. And because a walkable lifestyle means that there is a more vibrant public realm, there is more noise-producing “hustle and bustle.”

As we move away from the walkable core, into suburban areas, ambient noise expectations appropriately ratchet toward less noise. In rural and preserve areas out further still, we should expect an even quieter ambience.

I personally don’t mind the necessary, expected, traditional urban noises in the walkable core of a city, even though they tend to be relatively louder and more 24/7 than those in the suburban or rural areas. I am happy to accept higher ambient noise levels as an acceptable trade-off for better walkablility.

However, I believe it is entirely valid to object to noise pollution that is not a NECESSARY ingredient to a walkable city core. Over the past few decades, noise pollution has shot up noisepollution460significantly. Leaf blowers, parking lot vacuum trucks (at 3 am), emergency vehicle sirens (which tend to be louder, more numerous and more often used than in the past), an enormous growth in burglar alarms, boom boxes, high-decibel car stereos, etc., are proliferating throughout the nation.

[Much of the growth in noise, by the way, comes from a growth in what I would call “uncivil” behavior by citizens who increasingly disregard their fellow citizens and think only of themselves — and much of this incivility comes from the growing American abandonment, neglect and degradation of our public realm.]

I would insist that the above sources of noise are NOT what those of us living in walkable locations should passively accept as an inevitable part of living in a city. Each of these noise sources is creating a significant increase in stress levels for even those of normal hearing sensitivities, and all of them can be eliminated or substantially reduced without causing harm to the operation of a healthy, economically sustainable community.

The great cities of the world were, over the course of great periods of time, perfectly fine without any of these recent contributions to urban noise.

Yes, those living in walkable core areas should expect higher noise levels. But at some point, it is appropriate to draw the line. There is an exponential growth in noise pollution — particularly from sources that are not a necessary part of urbanism — and quality communities need to have the self-respect to say “enough is enough.”

 

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Urban Design

Local Government Development Regulations as a Recipe for Sprawl

 

By Dom Nozzi

August 5, 2005

I worked as a town planner for Gainesville, Florida for 20 years. Like most cities, Gainesville’s plans, policies, regulations, elected officials, and planning staff proclaim that the City supports compact development, more bicycling and walking and transit use, and less sprawl.

Tragically, however, Gainesville has adopted a long list of development regulations that require dispersed, drivable suburbia. Examples are nearly endless.

Gainesville’s building setbacks, like in nearly all cities, are gigantic and desperately fought for by staff.parking_sea

Gainesville’s parking requirements, like in nearly all cities, are ENORMOUS, and staff aggressively fights for as many parking spaces as it can extract from the developer. To do this is to be a “hero” for nearby neighborhoods concerned about “spillover” parking – one of the great bugaboos in American town planning.

Nearly everyone in Gainesville — including most public works staff — join the Florida Department of Transportation in fighting for HUGE intersections and wider roads (I recall that my proposal to limit use of turn lanes downtown in the Transportation Element I prepared for the City was shot down, and my 4-lane maximum road size was subsequently removed after the plan was adopted.

Gainesville has over 33 zoning districts. More single-use districts means more sprawl.

Sidewalk requirements don’t really do much to discourage sprawl when located in suburbia, because distances are too large to encourage people to walk to destinations. They just ease our guilty conscience.

Maximum “floor area ratio” (FAR) requirements (which set the maximum square footage of building that can be built on a property) are extremely low. Low FARs strongly discourage walking, and undercut the need for creating an urban fabric that possesses human-scaled charm.

Minimum lot widths are excessive. Relatively small lot widths promote vibrant, sociable, convenient walkability.

Maximum building height limits are nearly always less than 5 stories. As such, compact urbanism is extremely difficult to achieve.

The City adopted a huge and growing “transportation concurrency exception area” (TCEA). This was done when it was realized that requiring developers to show that “adequate” road capacity was available for the new car trips the development would produce was counterproductively promoting car-oriented sprawl. But instead of adopting a TCEA that covered only the relatively discreet downtown, Gainesville adopted a TCEA that applied to the entire city – including suburban locations.

Which promotes sprawl.

And even if it properly only applied to the downtown, it would still have been unhelpful because it did not effectively require any form of meaningful compact urban design. To correct this, the City should have only been granting a TCEA if the City was getting urbanism in exchange for exception. As it is, all the City got was what amounted to little more than a few shrubs for landscaping.

Overall, Gainesville – like nearly all cities in America – has adopted land development regulations that ensure a future of unlovable, car-happy sprawl.

How odd, since the plans and elected officials and staff always seem to be united in opposing sprawl…

Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

A Dinosaur Piloting the Titanic

By Dom Nozzi

September 2, 2008

Car happy suburbanites must be bewildered that the costs to operate and maintain a car — as well as to build the road and parking facilities cars need — are skyrocketing in recent years.

After all, they have had a love affair with the “freedom” that they fervently believed the car delivered to people formerly trapped in the “dense and dirty central cities.” A freedom that allows them to flee to the bliss of the drivable suburbs.

But with exploding car travel prices, the suburban dream is rapidly becoming an unsustainable, unaffordable nightmare, because a car-based lifestyle is bankrupting governments, businesses and households, and leading to an national epidemic of outlying suburban homes rapidly losing their value and attractiveness, as large number of Americans are now flocking back to the more sustainable and more convenient walkability of compact, charming, historical downtowns (where housing values are rapidly increasing due to the growing demand for such housing).

The free-market libertarian variety of the drivable suburban resident should be ashamed of his- or herself for stubbornly supporting the most heavily subsidized (read: socialized) artifact in world history: the American car (largely due to free parking).

Why do suburbanites insist on enlarging this subsidy by calling for governments to force private businesses to provide even MORE excessive, often bankrupting, car-travel-inducing parking? Why do suburbanites loudly argue for road-widenings, traffic congestiondespite the fact that doing so amounts to extreme socialism for motorists?

Such suburbanites have become dinosaurs in a society teetering on the edge of economic collapse. Dinosaurs because we are in an enormous oil and gasoline predicament. Our nation must take action immediately to avoid costly, agonizing pain that soaring automotive costs are bringing to America.

Given the horrifying and unstoppable rise in car travel costs, a suburbanite must feel like the captain of The Titanic just after learning that icebergs will send his or her unsinkable ship to the bottom of the Atlantic.

Without delay, we must take steps to avoid societal icebergs. We must immediately start adopting effective mechanisms to reduce car dependence.

Such as reforming our local development regulations to make compact, mixed-use, walkable, low-speed lifestyles legal again (most all cities make such sustainable development largely illegal).

Such as starting to re-build a national train system.

Such as putting an end to the enormous government subsidies issued to cars and suburbs.

Such as providing a full range of lifestyle choices and travel choices, instead of only allowing one choice: car-dependent suburban living.

Are suburbanites willing to be part of the solution instead of part of the (obsolete, dinosaur-like) problem?

Do they naively think that oil would somehow miraculously be abundant forever, and that gas would always be cheap? How many future wars will America be forced to engage in to continue the desperate, hopeless struggle to keep oil abundant?

Far from being the source of “prosperity” and “freedom,” as many suburbanites assert, cars are rapidly becoming a dysfunctional millstone around the necks of large numbers of suburban Americans who are trapped in a world where they are now forced to take out a bank loan every time they buy gas. Their living arrangements don’t allow them the freedom to opt for walking, bicycling or using transit. Instead, they must cut corners to afford expensive gas. Less money for food. For health care. For entertainment. For housing. For savings. As Peter Maass writes in the 8/21/05 NYT, “[Dwindling oil supplies]…could bring on a global recession…The suburban…lifestyles, hinged on two-car families…might become unaffordable.”

How ironic. And how tragic that the suburbanite’s support of socialism for cars and hostility to transit is akin to The Titanic captain not ensuring enough lifeboats on his ship and ordering “all engines full ahead.”

And by the way, if, as many suburbanites say, cars are not detrimental to our quality of life, why do we not find Detroit and Houston and Atlanta to be a paradise, where cars and highways have long been king? Why are they, instead, an awful place to live? (and where housing prices plunged most steeply during the 2008 real estate crash).

Why do people the world over flock to enjoy the timeless charm of the great European cities, built before the emergence of the car?

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation, Urban Design

Ingredients for Walkability

By Dom Nozzi

How do we make a place walkable?

Proximity is crucial as a measure – perhaps reducing all other measures to insignificance by comparison. In nearly all of America, unfortunately, our car-centric history has dispersed destinations to a point where it will be nearly impossible to retrofit walkability into American cities. Tragically, it will require decades or generations Prague May 2014 (14)before we will see sufficient infill and densification in our communities for any semblance of area-wide walkability to be established.

In addition to lack of proximity, another enormous problem we face in striving to encourage more utilitarian walking (and bicycling and transit use) is that America is drowning in an over-abundance of free parking. When we know that plenty of free parking awaits us nearly everywhere we need to go, we are essentially being begged to drive a car, and we end up seeing many drive even when their destination is only a short distance away (and even though there may be wide sidewalks and vibrant, pulled-up-to-the-street buildings).

[As an aside, the fact that free and abundant parking is so strongly demanded and is such a powerful way to manipulate travel behavior is curious. Why? For most Americans, there is little that is more anathema than deliberate behavior modification. And free parking is a powerful form of such “social engineering.”]

It is therefore essential that we work to restrict the availability of free and ample parking. Some strategies: unbundling the price of parking from housing, parking maximums (instead of minimums) for new construction, applying a market-price to parking (being sure that the revenue is spent in the vicinity of such parking), and locating the parking on the side or rear of new buildings.

In November 2006, I enjoyed a two-week trip in southern Italy and Sicily. It was magnificent, charming, romantic, delicious, boisterous, and invigorating. We visited some of the world’s most walkable cities, and enjoyed the experience of walking in places filled with pedestrians (mostly local, as we were there off-season). We were immersed in a walking culture.

Guess what? Most all of the places we walked had no sidewalk at all (or had “sidewalks” only a meter or so wide). Is the “pedestrian level of service” (the quality of the walkability) high or low in these Italian cities? I believe so many walk in these wonderful Italian cities because of proximity, the difficulty in finding parking, and the expense of owning and driving a car. Very little (or none) of it is due to wide sidewalks or pleasant landscaping.

I believe that to promote walkability, many Americans call for the installation of wide sidewalks because truly effective strategies (proximity and restrained/priced parking) are too costly, too painful, too long-term, or not seen as realistic in any way at all. So we build sidewalks (sometimes) because we can. It helps many of us pay lip service to providing walkability. And when no one ends up using the sidewalks, skeptics point to them as confirmation that Americans will never be pedestrians in any meaningful way.

In this interim, grim time for pedestrians, we need to encourage compact, human-scaled, parking-restrained, place-making projects that can serve as shining examples of what we need on a broader scale.

We have spent enormous sums of public and private dollars, and several decades, to do all we can to enable car travel. For most of America, there will be no overnight path to walkability. Indeed, as Kunstler argues, much of America may not have a future.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Urban Design, Walking

Suburbs Are More Dangerous Than City Centers

By Dom Nozzi

Contrary to conventional wisdom, recent studies have found that it is statistically safer to live in city centers than the suburbs.

Why?

Because a person is way more likely to be injured or killed in a suburban car crash than to be  injured or killed in a town center. Since people drive a lot more in the suburbs, their chances of injury or death are therefore a LOT higher in the ‘burbs.One person died in this three-car crash. (KATU News photo)

This is according to studies by William Lucy, professor of Urban and Environmental Studies at the University of Virginia. See this report, for example.

I’m actually thankful that I was raised in the sprawling suburbs in Penfield, because it led me to discover how sterile, boring, and dependent-on-others life can be for people who live out there. Unless you can drive a car and find a lot of entertainment in sitting alone inside a small metal box all day, much of life in the ‘burbs is screaming misery. The result is that I’ve grown up to write a book and work as a planner to do what I can to alert people to the horrible consequences — particularly for kids and seniors — of living in sprawlsville suburbs.

In sum, to live a full, rich, pleasant, safe, car-free, independent life, one needs to live in-town.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Announcing Victor Dover Presentation in Boulder CO

CITY OF BOULDER COMMUNITY EVENT

“The Art of Street Design”

 Presentation and Community Discussion

with Victor DoverVictor_Dover

When: Wednesday March 26, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

      • Opening reception: 5:30 – 6:00 p.m.
      • Presentation and Q&A: 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

 Where: Chautauqua, Grand Assembly Hall, 900 Baseline Rd., Boulder

Who: Victor Dover, cofounder of Dover, Kohl & Partners, Town Planning in Coral Gables, Florida, has 25 years experience restoring healthy neighborhoods and creating walkable communities. The coauthor of Street Design: The Secret of Great Cities and Towns, he has designed 150 neighborhoods, urban revitalization programs, and regional plans across five continents, including the 1994 North Broadway Plan for North Boulder.

What:   Victor Dover will describe how to fix our streets, and, in the process, shape enduring cities that people really love.

  • Information regarding City of Boulder North Boulder Plan Update, Envision East Arapahoe Plan, and Transportation Master Plan Update
  • Book signing for new book Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns

Why: America is rediscovering its streets. A revolutionary makeover is underway to promote walking and cycling and appeal to a new generation of creative, demanding citizens.

RSVP:  No RSVP required.  Free. For more information – https://bouldercolorado.gov/calendar

About the book: Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns (January 2014) by Victor Dover and John Massengale with foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales shows how to create great streets where people want to be. That begins with walkable streets where people feel comfortable, safe, and charmed by their surroundings. Through hundreds of examples of streets old, new and retrofitted, Street Design shows how good street design can unlock value, improve life and re-knit neighborhoods.

 

Leave a comment

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

A Fuel-Efficient Car is Less Important Than Where One Lives

By Dom Nozzi

James Howard Kunstler has made the point that we should “not give a fuck” whether a person drives an SUV or a Toyota subcompact. That over reliance on either worsens everyone’s life. That lifestyle decisions matter far more. That technology, as conservatives like to claim, won’t save us.big-car-and-small-car-parked-photo246

Is Kunstler right?

Let’s consider two households:

Household/Lifestyle A lives in a historic, town center neighborhood and works at a job about a mile from the neighborhood.

Household/Lifestyle B lives in a remote suburb and works at a job several miles away.

Household B commutes about 10 miles per day and drives 8 miles per day for errands. Household A commutes about 2 miles per day and drives about 2 miles per day for errands.

Gas consumption implications:

1. Let’s be generous and assume that Household B owns a super gas miser that gets 30 mpg in city driving.

2. Let’s look at worst case scenario and assume that Household A owns a gas-guzzling SUV that only gets 10 mpg.

Obviously, the disparity on the mpg difference between households would almost never be as large as in my hypothetical. I’m just using worst case scenario.

The result of the above assumptions, which I believe are, in anything, biased toward Household B:

Household A car travel per year = 1,460 miles=146 gallons of gas consumed.

Household B car travel per year = 6,570 miles= 219 gallons of gas consumed.

Even if you believe my assumptions are unfair for Household A, Household A (with the gas hog SUV still wins. For example, even if we are overly generous and assume that Household A drives 5 miles per day, we still find that Household A consumes 36 less gallons of gas than Household B.

Note that gas consumption is only one of several impacts that a motorist has on the quality of life of the community. For our purposes, it seems safe to use it as a proxy for overall quality of life impact on the community. That is, more gas consumption equals more per capita delivery of the following suburban insults to the community: more noise pollution, more wildlife road kills, more air pollution, bigger asphalt parking lagoons, bigger and less safe and higher speed roads, bigger and more cluttered sign pollution problems, more glaring light pollution problems from places trying to attract motoring customers with their lighting, more water pollution, more soil pollution, more loss of wildlife habitat, more flooding, more injuries and deaths, more loss of independence for those who do not drive, etc.

How many people who adopt and defend the unsustainable suburban lifestyle believe, pathetically, that they are “environmentally friendly” simply by driving a Honda that gets a zillion miles per gallon? That owning such a vehicle neutralizes their contribution to the ruin of their community?

That it forgives them of the subsidized sin of living in Sprawlsville?

That they can ease their guilty conscience?

In sum, it would appear that lifestyle and location decisions (and the ecological footprint such a decision creates) are far more important than the car a person decides to buy and drive.

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Bicycling, Energy, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design