Tag Archives: sustainability

Boulder’s Outdated Progressive-ism on Transportation and Land Use

By Dom Nozzi

February 28, 2018

Something occurred to me recently about Boulder, Colorado’s growth and development strategies.

It struck me that in the 1970s, many Boulder residents came to decide that the popular growth and development tactics of that time were so commonsensical and so progressive and effective that such tactics would forever be necessary. They had drunk the Koolaide of the 1970s, in other words, and had become hard headed zealots who would forever crusade for all eternity to “save” Boulder by holding fast to these strategies. Not holding tight to them would be an unforgivable compromise that would ruin Boulder.

The problem, though, is that today in the 21st Century, an overwhelming number of scholars and professional practitioners have come to realize that many of these 1970s tactics that are held so firmly by so many Boulderites are terribly outdated and quite counterproductive.

These 1970s tactics are outdated because they are pro-car, which makes them anti-city, anti-environment, anti-walkability, anti-transit, anti-bicycling, unsustainable, anti-affordability, anti-sociable, bad for city character, and bad for quality of life.

Here is a listing of such failed ideas that too many in Boulder fiercely and stubbornly continue to hold on to with all their allegedly progressive, enlightened, heroic might:

  • Support for large building setbacks.
  • Support for very low densities.
  • Support for large lot single-family (residential-only) zoning for neighborhoods.
  • Support for free-flowing car traffic.
  • Support for zero population growth.
  • Opposition to small lot sizes.
  • Opposition to small homes.
  • Opposition to buildings taller than 1-2 stories.
  • Opposition to large numbers of people living in the same home.
  • Support for requiring developers to provide abundant off-street parking.
  • Support for using speed humps and stop signs.
  • Support for one-way streets.

Each of these tactics have now been thoroughly discredited in recent decades.

Why are so many in Boulder so stubbornly holding on to these outdated ideas? My guess, at least in part, is that the 55,000 acre greenbelt the citizens taxed themselves to buy since the 1960s has been so successful in promoting quality of life that a lot of folks wrongly concluded that the entire bundle of growth and development strategies from that era remain valuable.

I’m sorry, but while the greenbelt idea remains as powerfully effective in the 1970s as it is today, the list of other 1970s strategies I mention above must be tossed out as failuresdi that are inhibiting Boulder’s ability to retain and continue advancing toward a better future.

Another possible reason comes from Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (citing Max Planck). Kuhn would note that many Boulderites who continue to cling to the outmoded 1970s tactics had invested so much of their lives and their efforts into those ideas that they are now unable to discard them despite overwhelming evidence. Such people, Kuhn would point out, are simply not able to accept the idea that they wasted so much of their lives and efforts promoting concepts that are now known to be wrong-headed. Many such people will go to their graves continuing to believe in the 1970s tactics (regardless of how overwhelming the counter-evidence grows), because it is too much of a terrible blow to admit they were so wrong on topics they had grown to accept as eternal iron laws.

Under this grim Kuhn scenario, Boulder’s best hope is that the Old Guard will, through attrition, grow smaller and smaller as they move from Boulder. Or die off.

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Selecting Sustainability Indicators

By Dom Nozzi

In January 2005, a committee in my community evaluated the value of various “sustainability indicators,” which are measures of trends that show whether a community is advancing or declining with regard to various measures selected by the community to show how well it is doing.Upward Trend

For example, a sustainability indicator might be the amount of gasoline consumed on an annual basis, either for the entire community or per capita.

The committee reviewed all the relevant documents from various community organizations, officials, media, and other sources.

The committee then vetted the indicators, discussed them with regard to the instructions from the Indicators Committee, and then seven members ranked them.

The results were as follows:

#1 Rank: SOx/NOx and other priority air pollutants

My evaluation:

This indicator would be relatively difficult to obtain on a regular basis and air pollution measurements in this sort of community tells us very little, or tells us the wrong thing. For example, higher air pollution levels in a town center could very easily be an indicator of a healthy, sustainable community because it can quite plausibly be due to more people/cars being in the town center. And this increase in the number of people or cars is likely to be due to an increase in town center health, attractiveness, or both. Manhattan certainly has higher Sox/NOx levels than most town centers, but Manhattan is perhaps the greenest city, per capita, in America.

#2 Rank: Total CO2 equivalent emissions

My evaluation:

Again, this data would be extremely difficult to come by, particularly on a regular basis. And might give us incorrect impressions of community health or sustainability. I am certain, for example, that the most UN-sustainable, environmentally ruinous communities in America have (or could have) an impressive collection of LEED buildings (buildings that are highly rated for energy efficiency and other green measures associated with building design), homes using solar energy/water, an impressive tree canopy, etc. Have we achieved sustainability and environmental conservation and a healthy community if all our homes have solar water heaters, but thousands of such homes are in remote, utterly auto-dependent, sprawling suburbs that are served by 8-lane arterials? Hardly. Every single building/home in Los Angeles could be an EnergyStar/LEED building. Every home could be consuming “green” energy. Does this mean that LA is meaningfully healthy?

#5 Rank: Acres of parks & conservation, preservation lands

My evaluation:

The supply of park acreage is very difficult to employ usefully. For example, if urban parks are located on large arterial roads and cannot be reached by bicycle or foot, they will tend to be underused (because of poor accessibility), and therefore not correlated to a more physically fit community. In town centers, parks can contribute to an enormous existing problem: Most all American town centers – despite what he conventional wisdom tells us — has a huge excess of open space (mostly consisting of parking or roads or private yards). Much of this urban “open space” needs to be put to urban uses such as residential, retail or office. Indeed, Steve Belmont (Cities in Full) makes the crucial point that the most important indicator of a healthy city is that lands are being converted from less intense to more intense uses (parking converted to retail, for example). Too often, in-town parks have a deadening effect on a town center. Note that I strongly agree that greenbelt land that rings the perimeter of a community is a very important sign of sustainability and health. Again, would LA be noticeably more healthy and sustainable if it had a big increase in parks? Absolutely not.

#6 Rank: Water quality (TMDL)

My evaluation:

Again, it would be exceptionally difficult to obtain this data. And there are a number of transportation indicators that can proxy for this indicator.

#8 Rank: Total Municipal Solid Waste Disposed & Recycled

Would it matter if the residents of LA all recycled their beer and soda cans? Or is this just an exercise in finding a convenient way of easing our guilty consciences because our lifestyle is so overwhelmingly unsustainable?

#9 Rank: Stormwater runoff

My evaluation:

Very, very difficult to gather data for this. And what would our public policy response be if we saw a declining trend? Put a moratorium on increasing the amount of asphalt parking? Much as I’d love such a tactic, it is a non-starter in American communities. Other conventional tactics, such as requiring the construction of enormous storm basins are commonly counter-productive because they create more unwalkable, car-dependent places.

#10 Rank: Biodiversity

My evaluation:

Again, this would be very, very difficult to gather data for.

In sum, it is crucial that the following criteria be used to select useful indicators:

  1. Tracking. Is the data for the indicator available? And is it easily tracked over time? Is it available on an annual or otherwise regular basis? If not, the indicator is nearly useless.
  2. Relevance. Can the indicator be used to draw conclusions based on the adopted community goals and objectives? Can it be used to make policy decisions? If not, how would the information be used?
  3. Durability. Can the indicator be used for the foreseeable future? Will data for the indicator be available in the future? For example, some indicators, such as lead levels in the air, are interesting, but may not be useful as a future measure of air quality if lead is completely removed from gasoline in the future.
  4. Accuracy. Does the indicator have a measurement methodology that produces accurate data?
  5. Responsiveness. Is the indicator relatively sensitive to subtle changes over time? If not, important changes can occur without being shown by the indicator.
  6. Clarity. Is the indicator readily understandable by the general public? Does it allow for a single interpretation, or is it so ambiguous that several conflicting theories can be used to explain the data?

Given the above six measures of indicator quality, I would suggest the following indicators for a community:

  • Citywide and town center residential density. There is no measure that more effectively creates a sustainable, environmentally benign community, on a per capita basis, than higher density. And nothing more environmentally ruinous than a low-density city. Higher densities are the most effective way to increase transit use/bicycling/walking, improve physical health, increase the number and viability of small & locally-owned/neighborhood-based retailers, discourage sprawl, minimize per capita energy/water use, and minimize per capita air/water pollution. Most, if not all, of the proposed indicators are strongly and directly correlated to residential density.
  • Mileage of travel lanes per capita. An effective measure of community quality of life, potential for sprawl, potential for transportation choice, and degree of tax burden. There is a strong inverse relationship here to a healthy, sustainable community. Less mileage per capita means more health and sustainability.
  • Gasoline consumption per capita. A powerful indicator of car dependence and community sustainability. More per capita consumption indicates more pollution, lower quality of life, and less sustainability. A relatively easy—yet meaningful—indicator to gather data for.
  • Total number of town center parking spaces. Nothing degrades the walkable town center lifestyle and town center residential and retail viability more than excess (particularly free, surface) parking. Any net increase in the supply of town center parking puts another nail in the coffin of town center health. Currently, nearly all town centers in America have an enormous excess of town center parking spaces.  For a town center to be healthy, it must be compact, walkable, and cozy – which is delivered by relatively high density. Parking is perhaps the most effective way to minimize density and reduce walkability. Less town center parking is an indicator of a healthier, more sustainable town center.
  • Per capita motor vehicle registration. A powerful indicator of car dependence and community sustainability. More per capita motor vehicle registration indicates more pollution, lower quality of life, and less sustainability. A relatively easy—yet meaningful—indicator to gather data for.
  • Average speed of cars on major town center streets. Higher average speeds directly correlate to more sprawl, lower quality of life, less viability for town center residential and retail, and a less healthy town center.
  • Annual number of road diets. This is a very direct correlation to higher quality of life, community health, sustainability, retail and residential health, and minimizing sprawl and pollution. A larger number of diets indicates a positive trend.
  • Traffic congestion in the town center. For locations where the community seeks to promote more infill, residential density, or commercial health, the most effective tool available is a growth in vehicle congestion. Increased congestion is also a powerful disincentive to suburban sprawl. And an effective way to promote transportation choice.

In sum, without adding a number of transportation indicators I suggest above, the proposed indicators I evaluate above from the sustainability indicators committee are “feel good,” lip service measures that will have very little utility for the purposes of measuring health and sustainability, or guiding public policy.

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Hometown Democracy: Should We Give Citizens the Right to Vote on Proposed Development Projects?

By Dom Nozzi

I worked as a long-range town planner for 20 years.

In 2007, a constitutional amendment was advanced in the state of Florida that would give citizens the right to vote on whether they approve of or disapprove of a proposed development in the community, or a proposal to change the zoning or land use designation of a property. On the surface of it, such a form of direct democracy sounds like a great idea.

But is it?

Over the past several decades in America, even town center residents (who live in a relatively dense, compact, mixed use location) have regularly been angry opponents of infill development in very appropriate locations.

This is predictable.

Predictable for two reasons. First, because nearly all development that has occurred over the past century has been awful, car-based schlock. And second, because when one lives in a world of massive subsidies for car travel and suburban sprawl, the citizen concern that overwhelms all others is the single-minded focus on MINIMIZING DEVELOPMENT EVERYWHERE.admin-ajax (7)

The citizen must plead for this because nearly all Americans live in dispersed, low-density, single-use locations that require car travel for nearly every trip. This means that the number one priority for most Americans is minimizing density (or opposing any form of new development) everywhere (including in the relatively dense town center, where compact development is most appropriate and desirable).

Why?

Because cars consume space so voraciously, car travel becomes dysfunctional and nearly intolerable with even a relatively small population. The level of frustration goes up exponentially when the neighborhood population increases, because there will now be even more people consuming enormous amounts of road and parking space!

Therefore, if one is compelled by community design and government subsidies to drive everywhere, the only possible community design agenda is to angrily oppose density increases (or any new development) every time it is proposed – and no matter where it is proposed. I am (but shouldn’t be) astonished by how many times I’ve seen even town center neighborhood residents fight like the dickens to oppose new development (and the fear that “spillover” parking by the new development will take away “our” neighborhood parking) in or nearby the neighborhood. Again, this is predictable in a society where car pampering — and the extreme car dependence that results from such artificial promotion of the car — means that nearly all of us have a vested interest in fighting to stop new development.

The same sort of negative citizen response regularly occurs if there is a proposal to change the zoning or land use of a property within the community. After all, one would think that the adopted land use and zoning plan for a community is designed to promote quality of life. It therefore seems wise to “follow what the community long-range plan specifies for land use and zoning designations,” instead of letting some “greedy developer” harm the community plan by selfishly changing such designations.

However, city and county land use and zoning maps don’t tend to be a “plan” at all. For nearly all communities, the adopted land use and zoning maps are not designations chosen by planners, citizens and elected officials to achieve a better quality of life. Rather, such maps tend to merely adopt what is on the ground already. If an area has low-density residential development, the map will specify “single-family” for that area. If another area has offices, the map will specify “office” for that area.

That ain’t plannin.’

It is a spineless, leadership-less way of memorializing what already exists. No thought whatsoever went into an evaluation of whether certain parts of the community should evolve into a different land use pattern to achieve community quality of life objectives. Maybe once or twice in my 20 years as a town planner did my city meaningfully propose a land use that differed from what was on the ground already.

In the early years of our nation, Thomas Jefferson pointed out that a healthy democracy depends on an educated electorate. I don’t believe he wanted the direct democracy envisioned by giving citizens the right to vote on proposed developments or proposed changes to land use or zoning designations. I don’t think that direct democracy is at all workable – logistically – nor do I think it improves decision-making. Indeed, particularly when there is little citizen education, having large numbers vote inevitably dumbs down decisions when lots of uninformed people are able to vote about complex societal decisions.

Are we comfortable with the idea of dumbing down community design decisions? What sort of future can a community expect if citizens are given the such “direct democracy” power, and use it in a short-sighted way? A way that is now unduly, artificially distorted by car pampering, which leads most citizens to desire low-density sprawl and happy car travel? Won’t that lead to decisions that leave a community without a “Plan B” when faced with extreme climate change or peak oil problems? A community, in other words, without the resilience to adapt to a changing future? A community that suffers significantly because it did not plan for land use and transportation patterns that would reduce costs and provide options when the price of low-density land uses and car travel become unaffordable?

An important concern with the direct democracy of citizens voting on proposed development or proposed land use changes is the risk of driving development further out into the countryside, away from existing town centers.

As I look around the nation over the past several decades, this sort of sprawling is already happening – even without the added boost of citizens voting for more sprawl.

When I see remote subdivisions sprouting up like weeds, all I can think about is how we are paying for the ugly sins committed by our forefathers and mothers who were part of a pro-car generation. We are still embedded in that pro-car world. A world where the price of car travel is substantially hidden from us, so we drive more than we would have without such a clouding of our awareness. A world where we feel it is necessary for us to vote for nest-fouling, pro-car, pro-sprawl decisions because we are trapped in car dependency. In the end, we have become trapped in being our own worst enemies.

I am firmly convinced that representative democracy works better than direct democracy – particularly in larger, more complex societies such as ours. Most citizens do not have the time, interest, or wisdom to be sufficiently knowledgeable about community planning or transportation issues that must be decided upon.

Despite all of the above, I must admit that I have some sympathy for direct democracy applied to planning and transportation decisions to the extent that the amendment is an expression of unhappiness about the long parade of awful car-centric road projects and strip commercial sprawl developments that have occurred in American communities so frequently since the 1940s. I would have loved the opportunity to have been able to vote against the monster highway widening projects and massive shopping center developments that have been built in my community (and using public tax revenue to boot).

So in a sense, I am sympathetic to the idea of applying direct democracy to town planning. But overall, I believe the idea does more harm than good. It is a sledgehammer that wipes out the good with the (admittedly) bad.

Examples of good? Increasingly, developers and property owners are proposing high-quality, sustainable projects because there is growing evidence that compact, mixed-use development that promotes a higher quality of life, an affordable lifestyle, and transportation choice is the most profitable way to go. In part, this is due to the emerging Millennial Generation, which seeks more of a lifestyle that is based more on town center living and reduced use of car travel than previous generations. And in part, it is due to price signals and growing concerns about a sustainable future in a world where unstable energy and climate change are making a car-based lifestyle seem increasingly inadvisable.

By killing good and bad, we are left with the status quo, which is awful in so many instances (every American community is infected by unlovable, unsustainable, strip-commercial sprawl). We NEED developers and property owners to propose projects that will heal such car-happy insults to our quality of life.

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Should the Development Transect Include a Suburban Option?

By Dom Nozzi

The “Urban to Rural Transect” is an idea pioneered by the new urbanist movement. The concept acknowledges that individuals have a range of different lifestyles and forms of travel that they desire. Instead of having a community establish only one set of design regulations for new development in a community (a set which tends to offer only a suburban, drivable lifestyle), it is most equitable that regulations should be tailored to the full range of choices: walkable for the town center, suburban and drivable for the suburbs, and rural/conservation for the periphery of a community.

Not only is this tailored approach much more fair and equitable than the typical one-size-fits-all approach, it is also more resilient: The future is likely to be rather different than today, particularly due to likely resource, financial, demographic, energy and climate changes. It is obviously most prudent to have a full set of community designs so that a significant community shift to a new way of living and getting around will not be as painful and costly.

In addition, establishing a range of regulatory zones is more sustainable, politically. Conventionally, the community must engage in endless, angry philosophical battles to determine the most acceptable one-size-fits-all lifestyle preference (which inevitably means that the regulations must be watered down to a mediocrity that no one likes as a way to minimize objections). Instead, when lifestyle zones are established (urban, suburban, rural) and regulations are calibrated differently for each lifestyle zone, political battles are minimized and the regulations can be more pure and aggressive. “You don’t like the restrictive parking regulations we are applying to the town center? Fine. If you prefer less restricted parking rules, you clearly should be opting to live in the drivable part of the community.”

Given the clear fairness and prudence of the approach, I am always surprised when I hear people express reservations about the transect.

Many advocates of a “greener,” more “walkable” and “compact” lifestyle will claim that we should simply PROHIBIT the drivable suburban portion of the transect, since that form of design is inherently anti-socical, anti-environmental, and unsustainable. Several who subscribe to this position traffic jam on huge hwyargue that we will not be able to survive as a civilization if we retain the suburban designs of our community for the long term, given the likelihood of “peak oil,” climate change, or various forms of resource constraints in our future.

I believe there is some validity to this point.

 

However, for several decades, nearly every American community has established development regulations that seek to establish the drivable suburban lifestyle EVERYWHERE in the community (an anti-choice, one-size-fits-all approach).

For the first time since before WWII, thankfully, we are now seeing a large number of people and organizations saying NO!!!! to this one-size-fits-all approach. That approach is ruinous, they rightly say, and eliminating lifestyle choices!

The transect – which is a concept which wisely includes a suburban zone — is the only system I know of that can start to move us out of that downwardly spiraling rut of one-size-fits-all suburbia.

Given that communities have mostly applied only suburban development rules throughout the community for so long, it seems highly unlikely that we can abruptly eliminate the community-wide suburban approach in our lifetimes. It is strategically unwise to suddenly replace drivable regulations with walkable regulations community-wide. The vast majority of people are extremely supportive of a suburban lifestyle, as can be seen by the fact that this interest group has succeeded in inappropriately forcing suburban design down the throats of urban and rural areas, as well as suburban areas throughout the nation.

Given the common (albeit wrong) assumption that suburbia is a consensus desire, abruptly eliminating that lifestyle option community-wide is akin to vegetarians suggesting we should abruptly end the sale of any meat in a grocery store.

Clearly, it is appropriate that communities need to stop assuming that everyone prefers the suburban lifestyle. To stop applying suburban regulations everywhere in the community. But going from suburban regulations EVERYWHERE to suburban regulations NOWHERE is not politically feasible. Or fair.

If some people desire the relatively anti-social, inconvenient aspects of a suburban lifestyle, and are able to afford the expensive nature of such a lifestyle without harming others seeking another lifestyle, we are right to continue to allow it.

We need to fight community battles that have a chance of success, instead of squandering our efforts on something that will only happen via a pie-in-the-sky “green” dictatorship.

Striving to prohibit suburbia might also distract us and slow down our important, pressing need to politically gain acceptance of some of the crucial transect concepts. We must IMMEDIATELY start applying compact and walkable development regulations in our town centers.  We must IMMEDIATELY start applying rural/preserve development regulations in our outlying areas. And we are able to politically buy such changes by allowing suburban development regulations to remain – at least for the time being.

Sure, while we do that, we can continue to believe that we will probably need to bulldoze suburbia in the future, or see it be abandoned on its own because corrected price signals make such a life undesirable for most.

But in this interim period, politics and the on-going lifestyle desire for many requires that we retain the suburban option.

Similarly, when it comes to transportation, it is clear that we must eventually put some suburban roads on a diet – taking, say roads that are five lanes and dieting them down to three lanes. But rather than calling for suburban road diets NOW, I believe it is politically wise and fair at this time to do no more than put a moratorium on widening those roads (i.e., let’s not let them get worse than they already are). In the meantime, we can let residents of those suburban places voluntarily ask for road diets (and traffic calming) if they so choose (after seeing the obvious benefits of diets in other parts of the community).

Of course, this “moratorium” approach can also happen on its own, as we are increasingly unable to afford to widen roads.

In the meantime, we DO put in-town, walkable areas on the right path. In those places, we happily put roads on a diet and employ lots of traffic calming and sidewalk installation and walkable development requirements.

And we do so with less political opposition because we have retained the suburban option.

Such an approach allows us to minimize antagonism. Suburban advocates can have their suburban utopia as long as they give us what we desire outside of those fiasco locations. Locations that will increasingly be seen – even by today’s suburban advocates – as a failed paradigm compared to the increasing value, profitability and desirable nature of the walkable locations of the community.

We will more quickly see walkable locations become shining and enviable preferences to suburbia if we follow the savvy approach of allowing suburbia in the interim period. By allowing suburban advocates to opt for suburbia, we give ourselves the ability to employ the politically unhindered road diets and strong walkability development regulations in the walkable locations of the community.

A transect that includes a suburban option, in sum, is the preferred approach.

_________________________________________________

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Leave Your Car at Home Day

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Many cities admirably seek to promote a reduction in car use. Often, this entails a voluntary program such as “Bike to Work” Day or “Leave Your Car at Home” Day or “Car Free [name of city]” Day.

While such programs are a needed community acknowledgement of the desire to reduce car travel, I would be even more impressed if they used effective strategies rather than voluntary techniques. After all, studies have shown for decades that voluntary programs (with the possible exception of such simple actions such as curbside recycling) are almost entirely inadequate in achieving desired changes in undesirable behaviors.

Indeed, use of voluntary programs is a good sign that the community is not serious about correcting a problem. That there is insufficient leadership in the community to enact effective correctives.

What can a community do to meaningfully reduce car use?

Certainly we have learned that rigid “command economy” or other forms of authoritarian government edicts can be spectacular failures, and severely restrict human freedom and choice, as we were horrified to see in the former Soviet Union.

There is, after all, some merit in using market or price signals to retain freedom of choice, and to efficiently, sustainably allocate resources.

After reading the book Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, I have learned that there is, indeed, a way to effectively shape community behavior without losing freedom of choice. Thaler and Sunstein call this method the oxymoronic “libertarian paternalism.”

The concept suggests that the fairest, most equitable way to “nudge” community behavior in a more socially desirable direction is to allow most all behaviors (even the undesirable ones), rather than prohibit them by law. But while undesirable behaviors are allowed, they are also made less convenient, more costly, or both.

An example the authors cite is a grade school cafeteria. Rather than ending the sale of high-calorie, fatty foods in the cafeteria, healthy foods are placed in the most visible, convenient locations in the cafeteria line, while less healthy foods are placed in less visible, less convenient locations.

To appy libertarian paternalism to the societal desire to reduce car use, then, many communities opt to use market economics (price signals) to more effectively achieve this goal. Some of my favorite tactics include:

  • Market-priced parking for both on-street and off-street parking. Donald Shoup, the nationally-acclaimed guru of parking, points out that about 98 or 99 percent of all parking by American motorists is free, which means parking is the biggest subsidy in the US. Free parking is not free, because someone must pay to buy the land, and construct and maintain the parking spaces. We are therefore sending a “price signal” that you should drive a car as much as possible, since you will have a free parking space waiting for you (and paid by others). Charging for parking (with, for example, a parking meter) does not prohibit car parking, but does nudge some people (via an equitable “user fee”) to consider other, more societally desirable behaviors, such as carpooling, parking at non-peak periods, or opting to walk, bicycle or use transit.
  •  Parking cash-out for employee parking, if paid parking at the jobsite is not possible. Nearly all employees in the US park for free. Parking cash-out tells the commuter they can keep their free parking (they retain this choice), or they can get more money in their paycheck instead. Why do we subsidize people who drive alone to work but don’t provide a subsidy for those who bike, walk or use transit to get to work? Again, a price signal nudges some to opt to carpool, walk, bicycle or use transit to get to work (over 40 percent in national studies). But they retain the freedom of choice to drive alone to work, if they are willing to forgo the financial benefit of doing otherwise.
  •  Increase the local gas tax so that gas is not so heavily subsidized. Gas prices are artificially low because they do not take into account the externalized costs associated with providing gas: military expenditures to protect overseas oil, air/noise/water pollution associated with emissions from car tailpipes and engines, injuries and deaths due to car travel, reduced property values near roads, etc. Most communities have the ability to increase the tax charged for using gasoline locally. Increasing that tax does not prohibit car travel, but it nudges some (with a price signal) to consider traveling in a more sustainable way.
  •  Convert free roads to toll roads. Free roads are another big subsidy to motorists because only a small fraction of road costs are paid by the gas tax. Most of the cost of roads is paid for by such sources as property taxes, sales taxes or income taxes. Again, driving on tolled roads does not prohibit the use of such roads, but it does send a price signal that nudges some to consider other ways of traveling (or other times of day or week).
  •  Put “overweight” roads (roads with an excess number of lanes) on a diet by removing those lanes. The most popular, common way to achieve such “road diet” conversions in the US is when a community humanizes a road by slimming it down from four lanes to three. Such a conversion often results in a quick, dramatic increase in retail health along such dieted streets, an improvement in residential property values (due to increased livability), and a dramatic reduction in crashes and speeding. All of these important benefits occur, typically, without a loss in the number of cars the street carries (and at very little local government cost). Once again, driving on such roads is not prohibited, but some will opt not to drive on the road because they are unwilling or unable to use an alternative route to avoid a loss of a few seconds of time on the dieted road (many others, of course, are more than happy to use another route or have a few seconds added to their drive).
  •  Provide car insurance at the gas pump. Currently, motorists pay the same car insurance regardless of how much they drive. Paying for insurance at the gas pump creates more equity, as those who drive more pay more for insurance (studies show that the more you drive, the more crashes you experience). Another example of libertarian paternalism, where driving is not illegal, but is more costly for those who opt to drive more often.
  •  Unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing, office or retail space. Currently, one is forced to pay more for housing, office space or retail space because the cost of parking is bundled into that cost. Instead, use a price signal by providing people with the option of not having to pay extra for parking. This would be particularly fair for those who have a location or life situation where they do not need to use a car much, if at all (for example, in a downtown with good transit, or proximity that allows more walking or biking).

There are other tactics, but this is a good start. All of the above strategies retain freedom of choice by not prohibiting undesirable behavior (in this case, excessive car travel), but do nudge some to consider other, more socially desirable ways to travel.

What can be more American than using the market to retain freedom of choice, yet at the same time promoting the pursuit of happiness?

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

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https://domz60.wordpress.com/

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Environment, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Why Dumping Florida’s Growth Management Law Is Not Such a Bad Idea

By Dom Nozzi

For 20 years, I was a long-range comprehensive planner for Gainesville, Florida. I was hired by to be a planner in 1986 to help that city comply with the 1985 Growth Management Law that the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) administered.

Frankly, I would find it difficult to shed tears if, as was proposed a few years ago, DCA (or the Growth Management Law) were dismantled.

The 1985 Growth Management Law was adopted largely as a way to protect quality of life in Florida, and prevent costly sprawl in Florida cities and counties.

But it almost entirely failed to do either.

The reason for its failure was that the “teeth” of the Law was “road concurrency.” That is, new development could not be approved unless it was demonstrated that adequate road capacity was available to serve the new development. This road concurrency standard, therefore, had as its implicit assumption that ensuring adequate road capacity and “free-flowing” traffic was the key to promoting quality of life and discouraging sprawl.

The consequence of the law, of course, was that roads were widened, in some cases, to maintain “adequate” road capacity, as a condition for development approval. When that was not possible, themonstor hwy development was either not given permission to build, or its density was substantially reduced as a condition for development approval.

Sprawl was therefore powerfully and unintentionally promoted because widened roads are the most powerful engine I know of for sprawl inducement. As noted above, the Growth Management Law was largely compelling developers and communities to widen roads, ironically.

Another enormous irony is that the road concurrency standard is anti-city and anti-infill (which promotes sprawl). Why? Because town centers and other infill areas tend to have the LEAST available/unused road capacity, and remote sprawl locations have the MOST available road capacity.

So the unspoken message from the Growth Management Law is if you wish to get road concurrency approval to obtain permission to construct a development project, you should build in sprawl locations rather than in town center locations to get road concurrency approval. After all, that is where the road capacity can be found!

In addition, if road capacity is not available for the proposed new development, it is quite common for the developer and the community to have insufficient funds to widen the road for more capacity. The common solution, as I noted above, is to therefore reduce the proposed development density (to load less car trips on the roads serving the development). To make it more suburban in density. Low suburban densities are ruinous to cities, and promote extremely high levels of unsustainable car dependency (by making walking, bicycling and transit extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Given this, my hope is that a challenge to the existence of DCA, the Growth Management Law, or both, in Florida will result in much-needed reform. Reform that can actually serve to promote quality of life, urbanism and sprawl reduction objectives.

Florida needs a substantially revised Growth Management Law. One that does not emphasize “adequate road capacity” as the key condition for development approval. Instead, it needs a law that requires something more in the direction of transect-driven, form-based coding (see http://transect.org/transect.html) as the key condition for approval. One that is designed to reward walkable, town center development – not punish it. One that is designed to promote a quality habitat for people, not cars.

All of this is not to say that Florida has a governor and legislature that is in any way sympathetic to quality urbanism. But I do believe that like with major hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana in recent times, this “dismantling” of DCA or the Florida Growth Management Law may be a critical opportunity for proponents of form-based land development codes to be involved in the much-needed reform of state planning laws and the state planning agency (DCA), so that the law delivers compact urbanism, not car-based sprawl.

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

Reinventing Collapse (2008). By Dmitry Orlov

 

 

Review by Dom Nozzi

 

This is a grim, unnerving book. It is a short, quick read.

 

The author grew up in the Soviet Union and experienced the economic collapse they had there. He therefore has a unique, fascinating way of seeing America for what it is—a way that most Americans are blind to (and saying things about Americans that Americans dare not say about themselves). He compares what happened in Russia to disturbingly similar patterns happening here in America. His writing is lucid and illuminating. Nearly every one of his paragraphs contains a brilliantly tragic insight.

 

The book provides a sobering, frightening comparison between the survivability of the Soviet system before their collapse, and the lack of survivable counterparts in America (what I often refer to as a lack of a “Plan B”). Our system of food, housing, transportation, etc., have little or no ability to sustain themselves if or when this nation must confront drastic change. For example, most Soviets lived in publicly-owned housing, whereas most Americans live in housing whose mortgage means they are essentially owned by banks. Meaning that while most Soviets were able to stay in their homes after collapse, an enormous number of Americans (including middle- and upper-income) face homelessness.

 

The Soviets also had central planning of communities, which meant much less car-dependent sprawl and nearly all homes connected to a transit system. In America, most homeowners have no access to transit, which means they are trapped without a way to travel once gas stations disappear.

 

Another advantage the Soviets had over us is that they have more intact family structures where most family members tend to live relatively close to each other. Family support, therefore, was more available in a crisis situation. American families, by contrast, tend to be scattered hundreds of miles from each other. And what is perhaps even worse, we have become a nation of loners. Few of us have more than a few people we could call good, reliable friends.

 

An important drawback Americans face in comparison to the pre-collapse Soviets is a profound lack of a “craftsman” class. Very few Americans retain or have any sort of skills in craftsmanship or manufacture—skilled workers are much fewer than in the Soviet population. Being able to build or repair things will be an essential skill after a collapse.

 

The section in the second half of the book pertaining to medicine and education is particularly poignant. And a strong indictment of the American system, where the author notes persuasively that it is enormously unethical that the profit motive is applied to treatment of the sick. And that the goal of higher education is not to educate (it is to make us conform to being wage slaves).

 

His style is very along the lines of Kunstler. Less funny, but nevertheless right on the mark on a large number of world and domestic issues.

 

If you continue to believe that the American society is not teetering on the verge of collapse despite the recent meltdown of the financial system, this book will quickly convince you otherwise. The book contains a troubling yet important message about what to expect when America collapses, and how to survive collapse.

 

As Kunstler says, most Americans suffer from the delusion that we can find ways to avoid fundamental changes to our American Dream lifestyle. Orlov warns us that Americans have a “faith in the Goddess of Technology: that she will provide. On her alter are assembled various ritualistic objects used to summon the Can-Do Spirit: a photovoltaic cell, a fuel cell, a vial of ethanol and a vial of bio-diesel. Off to the side of the alter is a Pandora’s box packed with coal, tar sand, oceanic hydrates and plutonium: If the Goddess gets angry, it’s curtains for life on Earth…I would suggest against waiting around for some miracle device to put under the hood of every SUV and in the basement of every McMansion, so that all can live happily ever after in this suburban dream, which is looking more and more like a nightmare in any case…the coming widespread unavailability of cars has placed American politics outside the scope of reality, and it is only a matter of time before people are forced to notice this particular inconvenient truth. Al Gore’s prescription…is basically to drive carefully so as not to leave too many carbon footprints. I believe this rather misses the point. What are you supposed to do with your last tank of gas? Drive off a cliff slowly, so as to conserve energy?”

 

The coming economic collapse in America is nearly inevitable. Yet Americans remain in an utter state of denial. “Perhaps most importantly,” Orlov informs us, “America’s national mythology makes it anathema to think of collective failure. All failure is to be regarded as individual failure—something that happens to somebody else, or to you, but only if you happy to be unlucky or do not try hard enough. Fair enough: economic collapse will in fact happen for each of you individually, in turn. For some, like the retired schoolteacher in Santa Barbara who lives in a car with her cats, it has happened already. Certain others will have to wait their turn, until one day they find that the mansion is cold and dark, the Rolls Royce is out of gas and the bank is out of money, so there is nothing left to do except mix really stiff drinks and sit around the fireplace.”

 

In many ways, as noted above, Orlov’s book points out how the Soviets were much better prepared for collapse than Americans. “America’s economy will evaporate like the morning mist. Its population will be stranded wherever they happen to be, and will wait to be rescued. They will expect to be fed, sheltered, defended from each other and told what to do. Many of them will be angry and disoriented and look for someone to blame.”

 

Having been in Russia during their economic collapse, the author is able to provide us with a number of examples and lessons learned when he explains what happened to various types of people after the collapse, and what coping mechanisms were most successful. He describes ways in which individuals and a nation can reduce the suffering. For example, he recommends that America begin now to slowly release prisoners from prison, as a sudden, collapse-induced release of the millions that now languish there would be extremely problematic, to say the least.

 

Orlov concludes by telling us that “I have tried to express what many people think but fear to say, and perhaps even a few things that people fear to think.” Orlov has “worked very hard to write a book on an important but seriously depressing subject that’s nevertheless fun to read…all that I ask in return is that you retain the ability to see things clearly, decide for yourself, and keep your sense of humor—no matter what happens.”

 

Yes, the book is exceptionally bleak. “Why should I read a book so depressing?,” you might be asking yourself. For at least two reasons: First, it is always good to know in advance about a likely crisis one must face in the future. Second, the book offers a number of useful suggestions about how to survive the crisis, if or when it happens.

 

Don’t walk to a library or store to get this book. RUN!!!!!! You MUST read this book at your earliest convenience. It is that good.

 

In its own twisted way, it is also an entertaining read.

 

Enough…I need to get back to building my bombshelter…

 

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

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Filed under Economics, Peak Oil, Urban Design

Squandering the Transformative Moment

By Dom Nozzi

 

The Wednesday, January 28, 2009 Washington Post reports that there is some congressional disappointment that Obama’s $800 billion stimulus bill has only a “small amount devoted to long-lasting infrastructure investments in favor of spending on a long list of government programs…[these government programs] fall far short of the transformative New Deal-like vision many of them had entertained…Obama, with a public mandate to do something big, is missing a rare opportunity to rebuild the country.”

 

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) stated that “every penny of the $825 billion is borrowed against the future of our kids and grandkids, and so the question is: What benefit are we providing them?…It’s the difference between real investment that will serve the nation for 30, 50 years and tax cuts, and that’s a very poor tradeoff.” Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said that the money proposed for infrastructure is “almost miniscule” and expressed regret that Obama was not proposing a transformative project such as building high-speed rail in 11 corridors high-speed-railaround the nation (which Mica says would cost $165 billion).

 

“They keep comparing this to Eisenhower, but he proposed a $500 billion highway system, and they’re going to put $30 billion” in roads and bridges, said Mica. “How farcical can you be? Give me a break.”

 

According to some in the House, “…Obama may never again have as good a chance as this to act boldly.”

 

Frankly, I am deeply disappointed. Obama has perhaps more political capital than he will ever have in his term as president, and might have the most political capital of any president in recent history (or in the future). Given the fact that America has no “Plan B” in transportation to face the inevitable, exponential increase in gasoline prices, it is a breath-taking squandering of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform America’s transportation system towards one that is sustainable (not to mention the fact that a healthy rail system powerfully supports healthy city agglomeration and strongly discourages costly sprawl).

 

I urge the Senate and the Obama administration to delay approval of this historic bill until it contains a visionary, long-term, sustainable, transformative plan. Creating high-speed rail, as Mica points out, is a fantastic way to start on that desperately needed path.

 

I would also add to Mica’s vision. Some of our stimulus billions should be dedicated to restoring our roads and highways to sustainability. Countless numbers of them need to be transformed into “Complete Streets” through “road diets” (removal of travel lanes) and other traffic taming, livable tactics for road and highway modification.

 

American may never have this chance again.

 

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

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Gainesville Florida Joins Many Cities in Promoting Suburban Sprawl

By Dom Nozzi

May 15, 2005

I wrote the following essay at 4 a.m. in 2005, “inspired” by my rage after being woken up, once again, to the infuriating sound of a vacuum truck vacuuming the large asphalt parking lot in a nearby shopping center. The vacuuming had been an on-going outrage that the City of Gainesville was unwilling to address.

What are the primary causes of “suburban sprawl”? In general, it is recognized that widespread ownership of cars, abundant free parking and free-to-use roads, combined with the construction and widening of urban highways, the footloose nature of employers, the desire for larger yards for children to play in, and rising incomes, have been important influences that have led people to flee the city.

In Gainesville in 2005, it was commonly pointed out that the flight from in-town neighborhoods in recent years was driven primarily by two problems: (1) A high crime rate (or at least a perception of a high rate); and (2) Poor quality public schools.

Unfortunately, five additional problems had emerged in Gainesville and a great many other communities in America — factors that are probably most noticeable in neighborhoods near the town center. Problems that mostly originated from service tasks that originate in the town center. Problems that I believe are influencing people living in or near the town center to “pull up the stakes” and move out to sprawlsville.

  1. The Vacuum Truck. At a frequency of three or four times each week back in 2005 (I do not know if this assault on nighttime peace and quiet continues to this day), I was awakened sometime between midnight and 4 a.m. on a regular basis by the high-pitched whine of a vacuum truck. The truck was hired by shopping centers in and near the town center to vacuum their enormous asphalt parking lots. This work — akin to the sound of a dentists’ drill — usually lasted about 30 minutes, but can sometimes go on for over an hour.

Part of the problem was the Gainesville noise ordinance, which I had written a few years earlier in my role as a town planner for Gainesville. To deal with the problem of officers not having a noise meter or not being trained to use one during a violation, I inserted a “plainly audible” rule, that allows a “reasonable person” (such as an officer) to determine, by listening, that the noise is plainly disturbing from a distance in excess of 200 feet. Unfortunately, despite this standard being upheld around the country, a Florida court had recently rejected it.

A second problem was that the vacuum truck produced a high-pitched whine that, while annoying, probably did not exceed the decibel limits in the ordinance. The remedy was to amend the ordinance to establish “octave band” limits used by a number of other cities. What this would mean, however, is more expensive meters would be needed, and more training for our officers.

Unlike in the relatively open, dispersed land use patterns found in sprawl locations, those living in or near town centers tend to be so near other homes, shops and services that noise pollution is much more of a problem. The utter inability of Gainesville and many other American cities to control the unbearable, on-going noise bombardment of vacuum trucks into nearby neighborhoods, then, is a guarantee that the flight to sprawlsville will continue at its high rate.

  1. The Malathion Truck. Each summer, I dreaded the “hissing sound” when I lived in my in-town neighborhood in Gainesville. It was a sound that forced me to leap to my feet, dash to the windows, and shut them before The Malathion Truck passed by — invading the outdoor and indoor air with a sickly-sweet smell of the Malathion pesticide. Among other things, I was forced to frantically shut the windows because the spray gave me headaches.

I realize the truck is used to try to kill mosquitoes, but I have an environmental mosquitomainpic01science degree, which gives me the knowledge that if we want to control mosquitoes, such spraying is about as effective as spraying water vapor.

I’m concerned that spraying might make the mosquito problem worse over time, since it could be harmful to the critters in our neighborhood that naturally feed on mosquitoes.

Again, unlike in the dispersed, outlying sprawl neighborhood locations, those of us living in or near town centers tend to be much more likely to be inflicted with toxic pesticides sprayed into the air we breath. (remember the old adage: “The solution to pollution is dilution”?). The practice of Gainesville to engage in frequent spraying of toxins into the relatively confined spaces of town center neighborhoods is, again a guarantee that many will be chased to sprawlsville.

  1. The Banner Planes. Each fall, during the college football season, Gainesville’s in-town neighborhoods are frequently treated to the loud, low-flying sound of the “banner planes” — planes dragging large advertisements over the thousands of fans at the UF football stadium during games. Loud, flying billboards on a Saturday afternoon inflict terrible noise pollution into town center neighborhoods on each and every football weekend.

The City of Gainesville is not allowed to regulate planes, due to federal law. The result, once more, is another reason to relocate to the relatively quiet sprawl locations.

  1. Emergency Vehicle Sirens. Living near a town center in an enormous number of American cities, one is given the impression that she or he is living in a war-torn area, given how often in-town neighborhoods are treated to the shriek of emergency vehicle sirens racing down the town center streets (where a “hub” for emergency services tends to be located). In cities lacking in elected leadership, this problem is particularly severe, as the elected officials don’t have the courage or the wisdom to control their emergency service providers. Gainesville, like so many American communities, has lacked leadership for decades, so it was no surprise to me that friends and family visiting Gainesville would often point out to me that the sirens in Gainesville were much more noticeable than in any other city they had visited or lived in.

I’ve heard of one city that informed its fire and police supervisors that they need to ease up on the sirens in the middle of the night between intersections, since there are so few cars on the road at those times, and the supervisors complied. I’ve not heard that this particular city has suffered from an epidemic of babies dying in burning buildings, regular traffic accidents, or widespread burglaries, as a result of that effective policy to control the exponential growth in out-of-control emergency vehicle sirens.

How many people in Gainesville, consciously or unconsciously, relocated out of a town center residence because they found the screaming discomfort of rampaging fire trucks to be intolerable?

  1. The Police Helicopter. When I lived in Gainesville, the city police department and county sheriff jointly purchased a law enforcement helicopter. Like the banner planes, it was loud and low-flying. Unlike the banner planes, it was often used late at night, and frequently used an invasive searchlight to scan areas. The helicopter would sometimes circle for what seemed like an endless amount of time. Fortunately, the helicopter problem has apparently subsided over time.

Like the emergency vehicle sirens, police helicopters tend to be much more frequent in the town center skies than in outlying areas of a community. Escaping the Big Brother helicopter is, of course, commonly achieved by moving to the hinterlands.

Am I Being Thin-Skinned?

Could it be that I am just a hyper-sensitive, thin-skinned person when it comes to these five items? I don’t believe so. On a number of occasions during my time in Gainesville, I had people tell me that they noticed these problems to be significantly less noticeable in cities much, much larger. I also had a number of people over the years complain to me about the vacuum truck, the banner planes, the Malathion Truck, and the police helicopter.

Due to the enormous number and scale of benefits I enjoy by living centrally, I am committed to living in town center neighborhoods, so these problems have not chased me away from living in such locations. But I wonder how many of my neighbors have left because of these growing nuisances…

Are these problems inherent for those that live in town center neighborhoods — problems that people should expect as part of the ambient conditions of living in such a central location? Again, I don’t believe so. I believe that it is possible for a healthy downtown to function without such an excessive amount of vacuum trucks, relentless sirens, banner planes, helicopters, and Malathion trucks. It has been successfully done in nearly all healthy cities over the course of human history. We got by without such things in the past, and did quite nicely. Why is it not possible now?

Until some of these problems are resolved, cities such as Gainesville will continue to see people fleeing in-town residences for the perceived peace and quiet of sprawlsville. If we are truly committed to sustainability, infill, and compact development, I believe we should do what we have an obligation to find the leadership to reduce the nuisances I’ve summarized above.

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Good and Bad Social Engineering

By Dom Nozzi

In American society, there is a near consensus that citizen behavior (or citizen purchases or citizen consumption) should not be manipulated (what some disparagingly call “social engineering”). It is utterly un-American to design communities or roads to nudge behavior in a more sustainable direction. Or establish regulations (or set prices) to reduce consumption of energy, cars, sprawl areas, etc.

There is, on the other hand, an enormous double-standard.

It is required and morally upstanding that we do everything we can to manipulate citizen behavior to be less sustainable (by, for example, obligating citizens to drive a car everywhere). It is necessary and ethical to induce Americans to purchase and consume more. It is appropriate and laudable to encourage people to consume more energy, buy more cars, live in a more dispersed and sprawling location, and so on.

Manipulation is good if used to have us consume more. It is bad if used to have us consume less.

And this is what we should expect in a market economy that depends on ever-growing consumption.

But is it sustainable?

When I lived in Florida and worked as a long-range town planner for Gainesville, people were often surprised when I tell them that the Gainesville area is on the road to ruin. This quote from the May 2005 Gainesville Sun says it all.

“[Ed] Braddy, who took pride in being called one of the most vocal members of the [city] commission, pledged at the [swearing in] ceremony to continue advocating the stances he has taken thus far, whichspaghetti highways include wider roads, a more streamlined development review process [i.e., ensuring that Gainesville continues to be a doormat] and more road construction.”

This from a man who was re-elected for a second term of office by a city that some people continue to insist is “progressive.” This from a man who vigorously opposes “social engineering.”

Except when it is to modify human behavior in a direction he favors.

Please.

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