Tag Archives: suburban sprawl

Sprawl, Traffic, Taxes and Quality of Life

By Dom Nozzi

August 15, 2006

We live in troubled times. Times that require wise, courageous leadership. Here is what I see in our communities, and what I plan to do about it.

Taxation

Taxes are high and are constantly rising because new growth is not paying its own way.

All levels of government are financially strapped. Households are struggling to be able to afford the skyrocketing costs of transportation and rising property taxes.

Aren’t you tired of high and rising taxes?

Transportation

Automakers keep producing gas-guzzling cars. There is no quality transit system. We have no transportation choices. Little Billy and little Suzie cannot safely go for a walk or ride a bike in their neighborhoods because traffic is too dangerous.

Our hard-earned money and national wealth is vanishing. Our money is being used to enrich Middle Eastern oil-producing nations—many of which are not our friends.

Aren’t you tired of our unhealthy transportation system?

The Quality of Our Neighborhoods and Communities

Our farms are vanishing because they are being paved over by sprawling subdivisions.

We keep getting dumb growth instead of smart growth. Our neighborhoods are afflicted by rising levels of noise pollution. We’ve lost the tradition of having neighborhood-based schools, which means our kids cannot get to school on their own. We have forgotten that a high quality of life is a powerful economic engine.

Aren’t you tired of the sprawl? The ugly, dangerous, costly, “Anywhere USA” strip commercial development that keeps popping up in our communities?

My Vision

Let’s restore our communities.

  • Imagine communities rich in transportation choice. A place where we and our kids can get around safely by car, by transit, by walking and by bicycle. Communities, in other words, where one has the choice to be able to walk to get a loaf of bread, instead of being forced to drive 4 miles to get that loaf.
  • Imagine communities where our property taxes are reasonable and our government is able to afford to build quality public facilities and provide quality public services.
  • Imagine communities where we don’t see our beautiful forests, natural areas and farms bulldozed, acre-by-acre, day-by-day, to build endless, sprawling subdivisions.
  • Imagine communities where streets are not choked by rapidly growing numbers of cars.
  • Imagine communities where we don’t see our roads torn up and widened every year, causing infuriating road construction delays.
  • Imagine communities with pleasant, safe, beautiful, slow-speed shopping streets instead of communities full of 10-lane strip commercial monster roads.
  • Imagine communities with healthy air and water, and neighborhoods that place public parks a short distance from our homes.
  • Imagine communities that provides choices about how to live. Communities where one can happily live an urban, suburban or rural lifestyle.
  • Imagine communities where it is actually legal to build smartly. Traditionally. Sustainably. Where building smartly is the rule, rather than the exception. Local government regulations encourage smart growth, and are not an obstacle to it.  Communities that makes it fast and easy to build smartly, and makes it more difficult and costly to build crud.
  • Imagine communities full of energy-efficient homes and offices.
  • Imagine communities that are quiet. Where one can sleep peacefully each night without being awoken by endless sirens and the roar of traffic.
  • Imagine places with a strong sense of community. Places that are a community, not a crowd.

Imagine communities, in other words, that we can be proud of.

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

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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Our Sprawling Fate

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 15, 2002

Nearly all American cities are locked into the downwardly spiraling death grip of suburban sprawl because our predecessors built big, multi-lane roads with big capacity.

sprawl-developmentWe are condemned to sprawl nearly endlessly because of the vast blunder of constructing huge roads and highways.

Plans and regulations that prohibit sprawl, or wise and courageous elected officials will be unable to save us from a sprawling fate.

Why? Because transportation drives land use. Big roads — not long-range comprehensive plans or development regulations or courageous, wise politicians — determine if we will sprawl. The big roads have created a POWERFUL market that screams sprawl, sprawl, sprawl to property owners, developers, and speculators in remote locations. No force on earth can stop that tidal wave of market demand created by big roads.

In the long run, we only have one realistic way to avoid sprawling. Those big roads either need to be put on a serious diet by removing travel lanes, or we need to passively allow such roads to become more congested (by not counterproductively widening them or synchronizing traffic signals or reducing development densities or adding more turn lanes).

Let’s fantasize wildly for a minute: Let’s say that we find the hundreds of millions of dollars we need to create quality transit in our city. Does that put people on transit?

Nope.

It is still exceptionally irrational to use even high-quality, free transit when you compare it to all the massive advantages of driving a car alone. Travel by car is way too fast, too convenient, too cheap, too unrestricted, too status-building, too much of a suit of armor, etc.

Transit cannot compete with such advantages unless we have lots of congestion, connected and dense and modestly-sized streets, expensive and scarce parking, higher residential densities (which, by the way, are unavoidably created by congestion), mixed use, and walkable and compact design of developments.

Quality transit exists in most of our big cities because they have lots of these essential ingredients, not because they have lots of money for transit, or great plans and regulations, or brilliant, fearless politicians.

 

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