Tag Archives: suburbanization

Incorporating Drive Throughs in a Walkable Neighborhood

By Dom Nozzi

May 5, 1998

I am torn about allowing drive-throughs at businesses in a neighborhood intended to be walkable (such as a “traditional neighborhood development,” or “TND”). I’ve considered drive-throughs to be the Great Satan for a number of years, and have wanted to do what I can to prohibit them in pedestrian-oriented areas.dr

In the past, such an effort was clearly admirable, in my opinion, since all we would lose by stopping them are stand-alone banks or fast food restaurants. We could live without those, I believe.

But now, as we edge toward quality urbanism in certain American cities, we must decide if we are willing to accept them in exchange for something wonderful — something that might allow us to reach the much-sought-after critical mass of urbanism.

I have reached the point where I can be comfortable with a drive-through if, on balance, it is a net positive for pedestrians and urbanism. As a result, I am willing to accept a drive- through at a newly proposed compact, walkable TND neighborhood — especially if accepting the drive-through is the only way to get such fabulous projects built. And I’ve become convinced that this is true for many proposed TNDs in America.

I agree that we must crawl before we walk. But I think we need to be careful for a couple of reasons:

  1. We could get black hat developers who have no interest in quality neighborhoods or quality urbanism proposing to install a drive-through not because it is necessary for making the project feasible, but because they want to dramatically increase their profits at the expense of our quality of life. They might see that the community likes New Urbanism and give us some token “window dressing” urbanism like some picket fences or front porches, and fool us into thinking this wonderful New Urbanism will compensate for the ills of the drive-through. Then we find out later that it was a bait and switch, and what we end up with is pseudo New Urbanism.

So I guess we would need to protect ourselves from this is an informed staff, informed elected officials, and good New Urbanist ordinances to protect us from this potential negative.

  1. I think we need to be careful that we don’t end up with too much suburbanization. I’m not as concerned about the outlying single-family residential subdivisions in American cities because I think a lot of it is The Lost Land and is too far gone to be threatened with more suburbanization. But at some point, our downtown might reach the point of no return — a point where no one would ever want to live downtown, shop downtown, work downtown, or recreate downtown because it has become an auto slum. I think we nearly reached that point of no return in many American cities in the later decades of the 20th Century, and we are starting to turn it around. I’d hate for us to lose the momentum of getting more residential and pedestrian-oriented commercial downtown by going too far with parking or drive-throughs downtown.

But again, I agree with you that we must be pragmatic and guard against being purists who oppose anything that is not perfect New Urbanism. I’m very excited about proposed new TNDs in American cities and believe it will be an important turning point for urbanism in such cities.


It has been noted by urbanists such as Andres Duany that it is best to designate a select number of streets that will be designated for high-quality urban design (called “A” streets), and allow suburban design on less important streets (called “B” streets). Striving for high-quality urban design on all streets leads to mediocrity on all streets.

On the issue of only allowing drive-throughs on “B” streets, I like the idea in theory, but wonder how difficult it would implement. Does the community have the political will to decide which are the “A” and “B” streets? And wouldn’t it be a moving target? Would we want to designate all of them up front, or do it in an ad hoc way as the need arose?

In the case of a local government TND ordinance, it is probably wise to craft that ordinance so that instead of a drive-through prohibition, the ordinance just requires them to only be allowed if not on an “A” street.

I’d also like to consider other conditions if a city is going to allow drive-throughs in a walkable location. I do not believe that a city can design a stand-alone establishment in such a way that the drive-through is benign. For example, I do not think it is just a matter of hiding the drive-through from view or providing more landscaping, or providing pedestrian street lights. None of that would give us a net positive — and one essential goal for me is to at least avoid making things worse. I’d want us to say something like “Drive-throughs are allowed if the following conditions are met:

  1. It is not on an “A” street; and
  2. It has no more than one drive-through lane.

And at least one of the following:

  1. It is part of a mixed use (including residential) project; or 2. It is part of a project that conforms to the city TND ordinance.”

Let us continue the important quest to reach a critical mass in creating urbanism in American cities.


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

Lessons From Europe


By Dom Nozzi

April 16, 2004

Is Europe on the road to ruin, due to increased auto ownership?  To what extent?

As traditional neighborhood architects would say, Europe has “good bones.” That is, many European communities are extremely fortunate in comparison to most American communities in the sense that they were largely built BEFORE the emergence of the ruinous shift to “car cparis narrow sidewalkraze” travel patterns. As a result, these European communities were built for transit, walking and bicycling. That is, their traditional, in-town areas are compact, mixed-use (residential mixed with shops and offices), multi-story, and modest in the provision of surface parking and street size.

This explains why these European communities remain such fantastic places (that millions of non-Europeans love to visit as tourists). They were built using timeless principles – principles that will never go out of style. The design was intended to make people happy, instead of cars.

What this all means is that increased auto ownership in Europe is troublesome but not necessarily fatal to what they have. In their urban areas, car ownership will be obligated to struggle to fit in. For the foreseeable future, it will remain inconvenient and costly to own and use a car in these European places. The danger is that European leaders may incrementally allow suburbanizing, car-friendly changes to the design of their communities — if they do not have sufficient pride in what they have, or leadership.

An enormous obstacle to undesirable suburbanization Europe is that it may be cost-prohibitive to retrofit the space-intensive needs of cars in communities that are now modest in size.

Can the US learn any lessons from European cities, which have within walking distance everything Americans in most cities must drive to reach?

The lessons that can be learned in the US are that traditional community design patterns that we have largely abandoned and forgotten about since approximately WWII are timeless. They remain wonderful, envied places centuries after they were first built. Those traditional principles — mixed use, higher density, walkable compactness, multiple stories, modest parking and street sizes — are an essential component for all communities. They must remain a lifestyle choice in all communities — a choice that is rapidly vanishing in the US. There will always be citizens who wish to enjoy the merits of the traditional, sociable lifestyle. And in the future, the number of citizens who seek such a lifestyle will grow as the auto-dependent lifestyle becomes increasingly unsustainable, unaffordable, and unrewarding.

Why is it that many in the US are stunned when they learn that a large number of European citizens live quite comfortably in cities such as Barcelona without a personal car?

Roughly since WWII, Americans have built their communities to make cars happy. Among other things, this has led to a substantial number of citizens fleeing the downwardly spiraling quality of life in town centers. This flight from the center is in large part due to the fact that car-friendly design in centers almost inevitably worsens the quality of life for people. They flee due to the decline in quality of life AND the fact that they were now able to do so because travel by car means that jobs and other daily needs no longer need to be close to each other. The result of the growing irrelevancy of distance is that we have low-density land use dispersal. Most homes are now quite remote from all daily destinations: work, retail, culture, entertainment, civic, etc. It should therefore not at all surprise us that we find ourselves forced to make nearly all trips by car. The dispersal locks us into extreme car dependency. It naturally seems impossible to nearly all of us that life could be at all possible without continuous access to a car (or someone who can give us a ride). Most of the Baby Boom and more recent generations have never experienced life in a place that is not designed for car dependency. We have lost the cultural memory of the tradition we have left — a tradition rich in travel choices.

Sadly, it is now nearly impossible to a fulfilling live life in America without a car. Too many sacrifices need to be made. Loss of independence. Loss of time. Loss of ability to go to certain places, buy certain things, or work in certain places. Without a car in America today, one is looked upon as a weirdo. A bizarre anachronism.

But as Paul Bedford, the Toronto planning director has pointed out, the sign of a quality city is that it is possible to live an enjoyable life without owning a car.




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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design