Tag Archives: sustainable

The Failure of Modernist Architectural Design

June 4, 2019

By Dom Nozzi

The reason the classical building is far more likely to stand for centuries than the modernist glass box is that, as the name “classical” implies, classical design has stood the test of time with regard to how loved the design has been over the course of several generations or centuries.

Modernist architects have opted to throw away “test of time” designs and have arrogantly decided that “innovative” is the only design criterion. That a person can just dream up an innovative design that will stand the test of time.  It is utterly unsurprising that nearly all “innovative” modernist buildings are considered hideous by the great majority of people surveyed.

When a building is loved, it has a far greater chance of lasting for centuries than buildings that few if any people love.

Almost no one (except modernist architects and those looking for amusement or the bizarre) will visit a neighborhood as a tourist to enjoy the beauty or charm or romance or lovability of a neighborhood or collection of buildings consisting of modernist buildings. Admittedly, some will, as a tourist, visit INDIVIDUAL modernist buildings, but almost always this is to observe a building because it is so peculiar or outlandish. Hundreds of millions of tourists, by striking contrast, flock to admire a city skyline — a collection of buildings within a town or neighborhood — largely consisting of classical or traditional building design.

Rome. Copenhagen. Paris. St Augustine. French Quarter. Amsterdam. Prague. Utrecht. Bologna. Bath. Assisi. Florence. Venice. Berlin. Cologne. Dresden. Lucca. Siena. Barcelona.

Each time one of these widely loved cities has a modernist building built within it, that city incrementally becomes less loved. The modernist building in such cities becomes a scar that people look away from, and try to keep out of the photos they shoot of the otherwise charming city.

An important reason why NIMBYism is so rampant is that unlike in the past (before modernism), citizens have come to expect that any new building built in town will be unlovable modernism. Nearly every new building built makes the town less loved.

Modernists are infamous for not using any sort of ornamentation whatsoever. For obvious reasons, this tends to make buildings appear boxy or cubical or so lacking in features that it fails to provide any interest to the observer. Architects did not use ornamentation for several centuries simply because they enjoyed wasting time and money to install it. They used ornamentation because it is a time-tested way to give the building appeal or interest. When I (and many others I’ve observed) am traveling to a new city, I have zero interest in photographing a metal or glass cube building because it is so minimalist and therefore uninteresting and unlovable. However, I (and many others I’ve observed) am strongly compelled to photograph buildings that are richly ornamental.

It is a myth that everyone has his or her own opinion about what is a lovable building design. Survey after survey shows that classical, traditional building design is far preferred. After all, why else would classical, traditional design be so replicated for so very many centuries? By contrast, I know of no modernist building designs that have been (or will be) replicated. That is telling. It is no coincidence that people from all over the world have flocked to the same classical and traditional buildings for centuries to admire them. I and many others believe that this is in part due to the fact that humans are hard-wired to admire certain building designs. Again, the fact that certain designs have been replicated for so many centuries is a testament to that.

Nearly all modernist architects, as part of their ruinous obsession with being “innovative,” take great joy in designing a building that completely ignores the contextual design (the design vocabulary) of other buildings on its street or neighborhood or community. It is an arrogant, selfish quest is to design a jarring “LOOK AT ME!!” building that sticks out like a sore thumb with regard to other buildings.

I believe humans tend to enjoy the pleasing character of assemblages of buildings, not individual buildings. People flock to Assisi or Florence or Venice not so much because of the desire to enjoy individual buildings, but to enjoy the collection (assemblage) of (time-Hero bldgs vs soldier bldgstested) buildings built with traditional designs.

There is a place, of course, for “look at me” (“heroic”) buildings that are designed to not fit into the context of nearby buildings. But that design must be reserved for civic buildings such as churches or important government buildings. When most or all buildings ignore context (as modernist buildings, by definition, strive to do), they create a chaotic public realm that is confusing, disorienting, and stressful to most people.

Consider, for example, the photos above. The image of a modernist city on the left exemplifies chaos and confusion and lack of coherence. It will never be tourist attraction (except for those who want to experience something bizarre or crazy).

Modernist buildings tend to be extremely notorious for being staggeringly expensive to maintain. They also tend to be terrible in achieving energy efficiency. After all, by tossing out traditional design tactics for the all-important need to be “innovative,” modernists blindly toss out such efficient (and affordable) tactics as how the building is oriented toward the sun, abandoning the need for large roof overhangs (to shade the building), installing windows that cannot be opened from the inside, using non-local materials that cannot be locally sourced or repaired, using flat roofs that are extremely likely to leak or collapse under the weight of snow or water, and using glass or other wall materials that are far more costly to maintain or clean than brick or wood.

I do not believe it is true that a person who pays for a building to be built should be able to build anything he or she desires. The exterior building design, unlike paintings or furniture inside a building, is something that everyone in the community must be exposed to for the remainder of their lives. That is why I agree with the many cities that have found it very important to adopt development regulations that prohibit certain designs or exterior colors or flat roofs or large setbacks or weeds/litter/car wrecks in a front yard. The public has a right to not be subjected to what amounts to an eccentric who gets enjoyment out of flipping off his fellow citizen by what amounts to “mooning” the public realm with a jarring, shocking building design.

It is telling that modernists tend to prefer to live in houses with traditional, classic, timeless design rather than the modernist experiments they inflict on us when they design for clients. It is also telling that modernists tend to strongly oppose conducting citizen surveys to determine which building designs are the most appealing. Why? Because building using modernist designs nearly always rank as the most undesirable.

I would be remiss not to mention one of the very few “advantages” of modernist design. Because so few find the modernist style appealing, the market for those who wish to buy modernist homes is tiny. Which means that modernist homes promote affordability because so few want to buy it.

Modernism also fails in several ways at the neighborhood level. Emily Talen, in her book Neighborhood (2019), notes that the highly influential Congress International Architecture Modern (CIAM) successfully influenced — for decades and to this day — the design of neighborhoods throughout the world so that they included the highly dysfunctional features of separating homes from offices, retail, civic, and manufacturing; prioritizing the car over the pedestrian; rejecting the street as public space; creating superblocks that promote insularity; treating buildings as isolated objects in space rather than as part of a larger interconnected urban fabric; rejecting traditional elements such as squares and plazas; demolishing large areas of the city to make unfettered places for new built forms; and creating enclosed malls and sunken plazas that deaden public space. I would also note that these modernist designers also brought dysfunctional, disconnected, disorienting, curvilinear roads to neighborhoods.

Buildings must be built well. That is one of the main reasons why I reject modernist design. Modernism is too often using designs and materials that fail or are extremely costly to maintain. Another “advantage” of modernist buildings, then, is that because they tend to be fall apart or become too costly to maintain, and are so commonly unloved in appearance, they will provide a great many jobs in building demolition, as modernist buildings are destined to be quickly considered blighting eyesores that need to be removed from a city.

I agree with those who state that one of the most essential ways to promote energy conservation and material conservation is to use a building design that is loved. When traditional more sustainable than modernismthe building is loved, it is much more likely to last for generations, because citizens will be more likely to defend it from demolition. Time-tested buildings, by definition, are the most loved. I am completely convinced that “innovative” modernist buildings will, in nearly all cases, not stand the test of time, and be demolished relatively soon. To build buildings that are so unloved that they are soon demolished is dreadfully wasteful.

“Nothing is more dated [and, in my opinion, unloved] than yesterday’s vision of tomorrow.”

Modernism is a failed paradigm for the reasons I give above. We need to toss this paradigm into the waste basket.

Other Blogs I Have Written Regarding Modernist Architecture

The Failure and Unpopularity of Modernist Architecture

The Failure and Unpopularity of Modernist Architecture

Modernist Architecture is a Failed Paradigm Ruining Our World
https://domz60.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/modernist-architecture-is-a-failed-paradigm-ruining-our-world/

Modernist Cult of Innovation is Destroying Our Cities
https://domz60.wordpress.com/2017/01/24/the-modernist-cult-of-innovation-is-destroying-our-cities/

Opposition to More Housing
https://domz60.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/opposition-to-more-housing-or-better-urbanism/

Moses and Modernism and Motor Vehicles
https://domz60.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/moses-and-modernism-and-motor-vehicles/

Indirect Opposition to Affordable Housing

The Indirect Opposition to Affordable Housing in Boulder, Colorado

Video from another source on how modernism has made our world so ugly

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Filed under Economics, Energy, Environment, Politics, Urban Design

Planners Recommending Road Widening?

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 29, 2008

The author of “Our Daunting To-Do List” (Planning Magazine, October 2008) rightly points out the pressing need to address the staggering and neglected backlog of infrastructure repair needs throughout the U.S.—particularly with regard to roads and bridges. But in the next sentence, he informs us that our failure to widen roadways has resulted in growing congestion.

Am I to understand that “sufficient” road widening would allow us to avoid this costly congestion? That a growing amount of “induced demand” research is wrong? That we can, in fact, build our way out of congestion?Carmageddon highway

And even if widening could eliminate congestion, where would this debt-ridden nation find the revenue? Furthermore, given the scarcity of public revenue, is it advisable to continue expanding infrastructure when we cannot come close to maintaining the infrastructure we already have?

The last time I checked, we have entered the 21st Century. Don’t we know by now that widening does not ease congestion? That widening will induce catastrophic, unaffordable and unsustainable sprawl? That widening results in substantial increases in motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and gasoline consumption? That wider roads make it more difficult to walk, bicycle or use transit. That widening subverts quality of life?

Shouldn’t planners be urging travel choices, sustainable and lovable communities, environmental conservation and fiscal responsibility? Don’t we have a professional responsibility to point out that widening results in the undercutting of these essential objectives?

Is there anything worse, in other words, for American planners to advocate than widening roads?

 

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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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Filed under Energy, Environment, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Traditional, Sustainable, Affordable Urban Design

By Dom Nozzi

When I was a town and transportation planner in Florida, I sought to incorporate the following traditional neighborhood development principles into the long-range land use and urban design plans for my community. I was not allowed to do so, but I hope that planners elsewhere will be able to incorporate some or all of this in the plans of their communities…

Cities throughout the country face many of the same problems — increasing traffic problems, worsening air and noise pollution, the loss of outlying farms and open spaces to suburban sprawl, the growing need for costly road widenings and the provision of expensive urban services to such remote development, increasing visual blight, traffic injuries and deaths, wildlife habitat loss, the decline of downtowns, loss of independence for children and seniors who cannot drive, loss of civic pride, a growing household financial crisis, a loss of serendipity, and a loss of a sense of place and community.

City character becomes blurred until every place becomes like every other place — all adding up to no place.

Our streets become increasingly congested and our destinations further and further away. We increasingly spend our time as anonymous individuals waiting at the traffic light instead of socializing with friends at the corner store or playing with the kids at the park.

All the places where people could meet in public and experience a sense of community — the square, the corner pub, the main street — have been replaced by oceans of asphalt for the movement and storage of space-hungry cars.

There were neighborhood design principles that characterized development in the U.S. before WWII. The following principles exemplify these conventions:

* Neighborhoods are limited in size and oriented toward pedestrian activity.

In general, “limited in size” means that most every form of daily household need is within a five-minute walking radius (approximately one-quarter mile);

* Residences, shops, workplaces, and civic buildings are interwoven within the neighborhood and in close proximity, which creates a vibrant, livable neighborhood featuring transportation choice. This mixed use is primarily achieved by calling for compatibility of scale and intensity;

* Streets are interconnected and the blocks are small. This street pattern, in combination with other design features of the traditional neighborhood development, strikes a balance between the needs of the car, the bus rider, the pedestrian and the bicyclist;

* Civic buildings are given prominent, high-visibility locations that thereby act as landmarks, symbols and focal points for community identity. These buildings are therefore assigned the proper level of community priority and serve as places of assembly for the neighborhood;

* There is a distinct edge, or transition, between the developed area and outlying farmland and greenbelts;

* Public spaces create a pleasant, safe public realm and are formed and defined by the proper alignment of buildings;

* A full range of housing types is provided, which allows all age groups and income classes to be integrated.

A traditional neighborhood also features the following benefits:

* Gives people without access to a car, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled, more safety and independence in their world.

* Substantially reduces government and household costs — especially because of the enormous savings in the building and maintaining of road infrastructure, and the purchase and maintenance of cars.

* Features streets designed to slow traffic. It increases travel choices and reduces the length and number of vehicle trips. This, in addition to providing proximity by mixing land uses, allows the traditional neighborhood development to achieve a relatively high “trip capture rate,” which vastly reduces the significant transportation impacts the neighborhood displaces to the larger community.

* Contains structures built for permanence, instead of structures designed, as too many contemporary structures are, for a short-term “throw-away” life.

* Makes walking feel more enjoyable.

* Minimizes strip commercial visual blight.

* Increases citizen access to culture.

* Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.

* Creates a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of belonging and restores civic pride and place-based loyalty.

* Increases transit viability, primarily through density, access, traffic calming, community-serving facilities, compactness, mixed use and pedestrian amenities.

For these reasons, City land development policies and land use categories should be revised to make such traditional, “timeless” development more feasible – particularly because such development is highly desirable for the reasons described above, yet there is little or no choice to live in such developments. Important ways to incentivize such traditional developments:

* Adopt a traditional neighborhood development (TND) ordinance.

* Revise land use categories to make TNDs allowed by right.

* Establish town center design guidelines that will transform centers into walkable, transit-oriented developments (TODs). See the Transportation Element for a description of TOD elements.

* Reduce fees, and the review and approval process, for TNDs and TODs.

The Ahwahnee Principles (adopted in the long-range plans of several communities around the U.S.)

Preamble

Existing patterns of urban and suburban development seriously impair our quality of life. The symptoms are: more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on cars, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to streets and public services, the Haile Village9inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. By drawing upon the best from the past and present, we can, first, infill existing communities and, second, plan new communities that will more successfully serve the needs of those who live and work within them. Such planning should adhere to these fundamental principles:

Community Principles

  1. All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
  2. Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
  3. As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of each other.
  4. A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
  5. Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
  6. The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
  7. The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
  8. The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
  9. Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
  10. Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
  11. Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.
  12. Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage, and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
  13. The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
  14. Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought-tolerant landscaping and recycling.
  15. The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.

Regional Principles

  1. The regional land use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than highways.
  2. Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
  3. Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
  4. Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.

Approve proposed accessory dwelling units, such as “granny flats”, carriage houses, garage apartments, and add-ons to a detached single-family residence. When done properly, this allows the city to retrofit higher, more livable densities without harming neighborhoods. Encourage or require a mix of housing types.

Strategies:

* The City will promote a mix of land uses and activities that will maximize the potential for pedestrian mobility throughout the city.

* Buildings should be sited in ways to make their entries or intended uses clear to and convenient for pedestrians.

* The location and pattern of streets, buildings and open spaces must facilitate direct pedestrian access. Commercial buildings should provide direct access from street corners to improve access to bus stop facilities.

* Creating barriers which separate commercial developments from residential areas and transit should be avoided.

* Direct sidewalk access should be provided between cul-de-sacs and nearby transit facilities.

* Traffic calming should be further developed on city streets to enhance the safety of street crossings. Curb radii should be minimized to reduce the speed of right-turning vehicles and reduce the distance for the pedestrian to cross the street. Calming should be used to discourage speeding and cut-through traffic. Street widths should be as narrow as possible.

* The City will encourage the provision of pedestrian scale improvements that fit the context of the area. The color, materials, and form of pedestrian facilities and features should be appropriate to their surroundings, as well as the functional unity of the pedestrian network.

* The City will encourage housing development near major employment centers to foster travel to work by all forms of transportation.

* The City will encourage a variety of housing types and densities, including mixed use developments, that are well-served by public transportation and close to employment centers, services and amenities. In particular, the City will promote the siting of higher density housing near public transportation, shopping, and in designated neighborhoods and districts.

* The City will recognize accessory housing units as a viable form of additional — and possibly affordable — housing, and will develop special permit procedures, criteria, and restrictions governing their existence that are designed to facilitate their development while protecting existing residential neighborhood character.

* Neighborhood streets and sidewalks will form an interconnected network, including auto, bicycle, pedestrian, and transit routes within a neighborhood and between neighborhoods — knitting neighborhoods together and not forming barriers between them. Dead ends and cul-de-sacs should be avoided or minimized. Multiple streets and sidewalks will connect into and out of a neighborhood.

* To keep all parts of the community accessible by all citizens, gated street entryways into residential developments will not be allowed.

* On long neighborhood blocks, intermediate connections in the pedestrian network should be provided, with a maximum distance of about 500 to 700 feet between walking connections. In particular, direct walkway and bikeway routes to schools should be provided.

* All multiple-family buildings should be designed to reflect, to the extent possible, the characteristics and amenities typically associated with single-family detached houses. These characteristics and amenities include orientation of the front door to a neighborhood sidewalk and street, individual identity, private outdoor space, privacy and security.

* Home occupations should be allowed in all residential areas provided they do not generate excessive traffic and parking, or have signage that is inconsistent with the residential character of the neighborhood.

* To foster visual interest along a neighborhood street, the street frontage devoted to protruding garage doors and driveway curb crossings will be limited. Generally, garages should be recessed, or if feasible, tucked into side or rear yards, using variety and creativity to avoid a streetscape dominated by the repetition of garage doors.

* If possible, the view down a street should be designed to terminate in a visually interesting feature.

Converting Conventional Shopping Centers into Walkable Urban Villages

Conventional shopping centers containing only retail, office and service uses, tend to be designed only for the car. Asphalt parking lots tend to be enormous, and push buildings a tremendous distance from the street. This form of “auto architecture” significantly reduces transportation choice, makes access difficult for those without a car, create urban “heat islands” and stormwater problems, and eliminate the possibility of buildings defining a pleasant, human-scaled public realm. The atmosphere tends to be unpleasant. There is no sense of place, sense of community, unique character or sense of civic pride.

Increasingly, however, such shopping centers are being rebuilt to form a pleasant, walkable urban village. Shops, offices, and residences face each other in a compact atmosphere reminiscent of traditional main streets.

Because they promote transportation choice, they equitably allow access and enhance environmental conditions. And they provide a superior quality of life and ambiance that allows them to profitably compete with more conventional centers.

Clustering higher density housing near the walkable urban villages can substantially increase transit use.

Features of a Walkable Urban Village:

* A gridded street network lined with street-facing buildings, and interspersed with squares and plazas.

* A comprehensive sidewalk and street tree network.

* Compact, vertically and horizontally mixed land uses including residences, retail, office, service, and civic activities.

* A “Park Once” environment.

* A strong connection to transit service.

* Bounded by relatively high residential densities.

* A vibrant public realm created by healthy pedestrian volumes, street vendors and performers, a broad mix of uses, and 24-hour activity.

The City should adopt land development regulations that lead to the transformation of conventional shopping centers to walkable urban villages.

Causes of sprawl:

* Widening major roads with travel lanes and turn lanes;

* Free and abundant parking for cars;

* Lack of quality public facilities in core areas, such as schools, parks, and trails;

* Poor codes enforcement in core areas, which leads to excessive noise pollution, car parking problems, unsightly signage, and unkempt homes;

* Poor public schools in the city center, and construction of public schools and community-serving facilities in areas remote from the city center;

* Land development codes which excessively promote the convenience of the car instead of transportation choice;

* Water and sewer extension policies;

* Low-cost gasoline;

* Poor quality transit service;

* Low overall quality of life in the city;

* Flight from crime, poverty, and “auto architecture”;

* For non-residential uses, more convenient access for cars throughout the region due to abundant space for parking, lower costs for building construction, lower land values, and easier access to Interstate highways;

Negative effects of sprawl:

* Increased city costs for infrastructure and services;

* Increased per capita trips by car;

* Increased travel times;

* Increased household expenditures for transportation;

* Reduced transit cost-effectiveness and frequency;

* Increased social costs (increased air, water, noise pollution);

* Loss of farmland;

* Reduced farmland productivity and viability;

* Loss of sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat, or fragmentation of  such areas;

* Loss of regional, community-separating greenbelts and open spaces;

* Increased urban ugliness due to “auto architecture”;

* Weakened sense of community, sense of place, and sense of civic pride;

* Increased stress;

* Increased energy consumption;

* Reduced historic preservation;

* Segregation by income, age group, and race;

* Separates low-skill, high unemployment areas from new jobs;

* Increased fiscal stress for the city;

* Increased rate of inner city decline;

Returning to these design principles is a recipe for a more sustainable, affordable future rich in lifestyle and transportation choice, equity and quality of life.

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Finding the Political Will to Revolutionize Transportation and Land Use

By Dom Nozzi

Many of us have spent decades trying to identify the lynchpins that will catalyze needed reforms in our transportation system and our land use patterns. It is obvious to anyone paying attention that if we continue on our century-long path of making car travel the only reasonable way to travel, our future will be grimly unsustainable.

The most common solutions discussed? “Educating people” is perhaps the most common “solution.” Sadly, our education efforts to change behavior or values are fighting against decades of trillions of admin-ajax (4)dollars spent by the public and private sector to make cars (and suburbanites) happy. Every single day, a person drives their Lexus and a huge, blaring educational message screams at them: “Widen this arterial! Reduce gas prices!!! Make me happy driving my Lexus by allowing me to drive fast!!”

Other common “solutions”: Elect the “right” politicians.  Build more bike lanes and sidewalks. Improve our bus (transit) system.

But none of these tactics will be effective, because none of them will motivate the majority of citizens to change their views and desires about transportation and land use. Without a change in what a community desires, it seems to me that only a benign dictatorship can create changes needed for a better future.

I’m not optimistic at all that we can build much public support for transportation choice until traffic and parking congestion, high parking fees, scarcity of parking, or high gas prices force us to think and behave differently. We made progress on this in the 1970s because the oil price increases forced us to. Candidates for office that supported needed change were doomed from the start (i.e., had no chance of being elected) because it was too cheap and easy to drive a gas guzzler to rent a video across town.

What can be done at the local level that are effective in nudging behaviors and desires toward those which will give us a brighter future?

Gas price increases can be extremely beneficial. Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to increase gas prices locally.

The things we can change are things I often push for:

1. Scarcity of parking. We can revise our land development regulations to make it much easier and less costly to replace deadening asphalt surface parking lots with offices, shops, and residences. We can also change our local regulations to eliminate “minimum parking” requirements (by converting them to “maximum parking” requirements. “Minimum” requirements require developers to provide excessive amounts of free parking as part of their development. Requiring this is ruinous to a city and undermines housing and business affordability – not to mention increasing our cost of living, increasing our taxes, and reducing our quality of life.

2. Increased parking charges. Similarly, we can convert free parking in our community to priced parking. Currently, nearly all of our parking is free. That state of affairs induces “low-value” car trips, increases the costs of goods and services we buy (because “free” parking ends up being paid by the business owner), and forces us to make a vast percentage of our community land area to consist of awful asphalt parking. Besides making our driving and parking more efficient, properly priced parking will provide us with new revenues we can use to improve our transit system and the landscaping along our streets, among many other pressing community needs.

3. Travel lane removal. Too many of our roads and highways are over-sized. Like free parking, free roads have induced too many “low-value” car trips, which have congested our roads and compelled us to excessively widen our roadways in a hopeless, bankrupting, never-ending process of trying to “build our way out of congestion.” As a result of this state of affairs, a great many of our roads and highways are too big, and can be substantially improved by being put on a “road diet” (converting the road from, say, a four-lane to a three-lane roadway).

4. Moratorium on street widening. Coupled with road diets, we should put a stop to future widening of roads and intersections. Widening roads and intersections is extremely costly initially, and leads to gigantic future costs due to increased operation and maintenance expenses, increased car crashes, degraded public health (due to increased car emissions and reduced bicycling, walking, and transit), worsened household/government/business finances, degraded community aesthetics, and worsened suburban sprawl (among many other problems associated with road and intersection widening).

5. Local models. It is also beneficial to revise counterproductive local development regulations to make “smart” development (development that is walkable, compact, and sustainable) more likely. Too often, local development regulations make us our own worst enemy because they require unsustainable, ruinous, car-dependent development, and make sustainable, lovable development illegal. If we revise our local development regulations to make the lovable and sustainable development the default, and make the unsustainable, car-dependent development hard to do (in other words, reverse the current approach we use), we can more quickly see a proliferation of on-the-ground models — models where we can see with our own eyes that sustainable, walkable design is not only popular, but highly profitable.

In each of the above five tactics, we have local control to effectively nudge our community behaviors and desires toward those that are consistent with a better future.

In my opinion, it will only be then that we can find success in achieving the changes we have so long desired.

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“Punishing” Developers: Are We Actually Punishing Ourselves?

By Dom Nozzi

It is no secret that a great many Americans HATE land developers.

They try to find as many ways as possible to punish developers and stop them. But too often, the tactics of those opposing new development request that the developer do the OPPOSITE of what a developer should be doing to promote quality of life or sustainability.

Because so many of us have come to conclude that quality of life means abundant free parking or free-flowing roads, and because so many of the buildings built over the past several decades have been so utterly unlovable (largely due to the epidemic of “modernist” architecture), development opponents force developers to build huge parking lots, huge building setbacks, and a strict separation of residential and non-residential land uses. At the same time, dsc03864government spends billions to widen roads and intersections to “accommodate” the new development.

By insisting on these development “concessions,” we ensure that everyone is FORCED to drive a car for every trip they make, and guarantees that the development will be loved by cars and despised by people. In other words, our demands trap us in a downwardly spiraling vicious cycle. The more we scream that new development provide MORE PARKING or BIGGER ROADS or LOWER DENSITY or BIGGER SETBACKS or SEPARATION OF HOMES FROM BUSINESSES, the more likely it is that we will be trapped in a future of unsustainable car dependency, loss of civic pride, and a dwindling quality of life.

Is it any wonder we have a nationwide NIMBY (not in my backyard) epidemic where neighborhoods fear ALL new developments? Is it any wonder that we have intolerable traffic congestion that gets worse and worse every year? Is it any wonder our governments are bankrupt? Is it any wonder our public planners have no credibility and our developers are the most hated people on earth?

How Can We Convert This Downward Spiral Into a Virtuous Cycle?

A virtuous cycle, the opposite of the downward spiral of a vicious cycle, is a self-perpetuating advantageous situation in which a successful solution or design leads to more of a desired result or another success which generates still more desired results or successes in a chain.

How can we create a virtuous cycle in the development and maintenance of our community?

The most effective way to create a virtuous cycle for our community is to insist that developers, planners, and government officials return to the timeless, traditional ways of building communities that are designed to make school neighborhood basedpeople, instead of cars, happy.

Hard as it might be to believe, there are a growing number of “enlightened” developers who are realizing that it is now quite profitable to build such people happy (instead of car happy) places. Places that are walkable, sociable, safe, and charming.

We need to welcome such developers (instead of the knee-jerk response of opposing ALL developers). We can do that by updating our local development regulations so that they make it easy to do the right thing (i.e., building for people rather than cars).

I am strongly pro-growth if the new development is designed to make people happy by using timeless principles, rather than using conventional, out-dated car-happy tactics.

We have workable solutions to our growth and development problems. Solutions that go beyond STOPPING GROWTH. They mostly focus on having growth pay its own way, that it be sustainable, and that it be focused on making people happy and not cars.

Instead, in too many instances, too many new developments and suburban lifestyles EXTERNALIZE and EXPORT their costly, negatively-impacting behaviors on all of the rest of us with their cocooned “McMansions” on isolated cul-de-sacs (which belch a relatively high number of car trips on the rest of us, and make it more costly to serve).

I do NOT say that certain lifestyles should be prohibited. I just want to see that those that enjoy those lifestyles are paying the full cost for them, instead of having me pay some of the cost through higher taxes or a lower quality of life. We also need more CHOICES in housing and transportation, since increasingly, our only choice is the isolating, community- and environment-destroying auto-dependent suburbs, where everyone enjoys subsidies not in the public interest, and everyone is forced to drive a car for every trip.

Americans have built far too much low-density, drivable, suburban housing. So much that we are glutted by this option – an option that is now declining in preference, as demographic and financial shifts are now resulting in a growing interest in compact, walkable housing options. At the same time, we have built far too little compact, walkable housing options. There is a serious mismatch regarding the supply of and demand for these two forms of housing.

Because we have over-built car-dependent, unwalkable suburban housing, and the interest in such housing is now declining, such housing is losing value and is comparatively troubled financially.  Conversely, because we have built too little compact, walkable, town center housing, and the interest in such housing is now growing, such housing is becoming extremely expensive.

We need to build a lot more compact, walkable housing. And do so quickly.

To make such housing more available and affordable, to restore the development community to the admired status they once had a century ago, and to make our future both more lovable and sustainable, let’s return to the days of lifestyle and travel choices. To the days when we insisted on building to create a quality of life for PEOPLE, not cars.

 

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Parking and Urban Design Tactics for Creating a New Urban Village

By Dom Nozzi

A large percentage of American communities have experienced an enormous amount of dispersed suburban sprawl. Unless we are to eventually need to abandon and perhaps bulldoze such unsustainable development (probably a more likely outcome than most realize), we need to talk about retrofitting drivable, unsustainable sprawl development with something more compact, walkable, transit-friendly and sustainable.

Indeed, the creation of “activity centers” (an utterly terrible yet common term referring to efforts to create multiple downtowns or town centers in a community, rather than the traditional, centrally-located downtown) is being discussed by academics and city councils throughout the nation.

Commonly, the vision is to transform a conventional, car-based strip commercial shopping center (that largely consists of a huge surface parking lot and giant roadways serving it) into a walkable, mixed use places (what I will call an “urban village”).

One of the first questions that tends to come up in such discussions is “What about the parking??”

First, it needs to be understood that it is not an immutable law that all residents living at such a newly-created urban village will forever want or need a parking space for a car (or even have a car).

As a matter of fact, we are seeing car ownership and use leveling off and sometime declining around the nation – particularly with the “Millennium” (younger) generation.

Believing that the provision of suburban parking is forever necessary is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we provide that level of excessive parking, we actually induce many to want more parking and more cars than they would have wanted had we not enabled such car ownership and use with excessive “free” parking. After all, surface parking makes walking less likely, and the resident has a vested interest because they have already paid for the parking spots we have forced them to own. Excessive suburban parking regulations also kill any chance of having the developer provide the necessary compact residential development, because more compact residential development is, by definition, no longer compact when we must add the enormous amounts of acreage required to fulfill suburban parking rules.

Walkability is impossible when seas of asphalt separate destinations. Surface parking dramatically increases walking distances, and obliterates vibrant and walkable urbanity by creating dead zone gap tooth “no man’s lands.”

“Unbundling” the price of parking from the price of residences in a new neighborhood is an effective financial incentive for reducing car ownership and use, because some residents will opt not to own or use a car if they are able to opt for housing that is lower in cost due to the lack of provided parking.

Some argue that unbundling the price of parking from the price of the housing is impractical, because there will be “spillover” parking by people using a space they did not pay for. But there is an easy solution for this concern: Enforcement of parking regulations at the development via parking permits or parking meters. Despite the conventional wisdom, there are a surprisingly large (and growing) number of citizens who want the option of being able to pay less for housing in exchange for not having parking provided. This is particularly true in cities where a healthy supply of bicycling, walking and transit options are provided. It will also be true if the new urban village is properly designed with human-scaled mixed use, walkable design.

Any “minimum” parking requirements that a community uses (for example, many communities require at least four parking spaces per 100 square feet of retail development) should be converted to parking MAXIMUMS. Why? Because the big risk over the past several decades has not been that a developer will provide too little parking. In large part because most financers for new development insist on the provision of abundant parking as a condition for financing a proposed development, developers tend to provide TOO MUCH parking. Too much parking is particularly a problem if the design objective is to create compact walkability and reduce neighborhood car use.

On-street parking is desirable and tends to be priced in an urban village.

The new urban village should liberally allow shared use of parking by multiple residential and commercial developments in the village. One way to do this is to create parking that can be leased, rather than obligating all land residences and commercial to have their own parking.

If a developer insists on wanting to provide excessive amounts of suburban surface parking, they must be denied approval in the same way as a developer proposing to, say, develop a smokestack industrial use in their residential neighborhood.

For the relatively modest amounts of parking that must be provided at a new urban village, nearly all (if not all) parking should be in multi-story garages that are wrapped with residential, retail, and office “liner” buildings. Any surface parking that needs to be provided should be behind buildings, and buildings pulled up to the streetside sidewalk.

If a prospective resident of a new urban village wants free and abundant parking, they should be told that there are plenty of other, more suburban places where they can opt for that lifestyle in the community.

 Other Essential Ingredients for a Walkable, Compact Village

Streets should have shorter blocks (200 to 500 feet). For relatively long blocks, cross-access pedestrian ways between buildings can be created. Streets also benefit by being paired with alleys. Proactively overlay a street grid with small block sizes before development is proposed. Another way to keep walking distances relatively short is to not allow fences to cut off non-street access to adjacent parcels. Fences used should not exceed three or 4 feet in height along a sidewalk (anything higher inhibits neighborly conversation and pedestrian enjoyment of street-facing building facades).

When streets passing through the proposed center are 4 lanes or more in size, they need to be necked down (road dieted) to no more than 3 lanes.

Intersections must be kept relatively small in size so that they are pedestrian-scaled. No more than one turn lane in a given direction, relatively narrow travel lanes, and small turning radii.

Continuous left turn lanes are to be discouraged in the village. Raised medians with turn pockets are to be encouraged.

Raised crosswalks, when feasible and appropriate, are desirable to slow car speeds and increase pedestrian visibility.

Street (including lane width) and turning radii dimensions are small and slow-speed.

Street lights should be pedestrian-scaled so that light bulbs are no more than 14 feet in height. Taller lights create a highway ambience and induce higher car speeds.

Bus bays are inappropriate in a compact, walkable center due to loss of pedestrian scale and increased pedestrian crossing distance.

Sidewalks have straight, rectilinear trajectories rather than curvilinear, suburban trajectories. Curvilinear trajectories, by adding unnecessary distances to walking, are annoying and patronizing to pedestrians. They are mainly benefitting motorists, who obtain a more pleasing view as they drive along a street with curving sidewalks. They also increase the likelihood of dirt cowpaths being formed by pedestrians seeking the shortest route.

Visually prominent gateway features at the entrances to centers are highly desirable to clearly signal to motorists that they are entering a low-speed, walkable setting that requires attentiveness.

Mixing residences with offices, retail, recreational and cultural activities substantially reduces walking and biking distances, and increase 24-hour vibrancy and safety. Relatively high residential densities and commercial intensities are also important, and for the same reasons. Emphasize attached housing rather than detached, single-family housing in centers and along major streets.

Buildings should be at least two-stories in height for more of a sense of place, a sense of enclosure, mixed use opportunities, and better adaptability to change over time.

Should the community have any regulatory barriers to infilling existing parking with buildings, those barriers need to be removed. Similarly, the community needs to exempt the proposed new urban village from landscaping requirements, as such requirements tend to require too much spacing for compact walkability. Ample landscaping belongs in the drivable suburbs.

While common because of their high visibility nature, gas stations should not be allowed at street intersections.

Building setbacks need to be modest in size. At intersections, a sense of place is achieved by requiring buildings to abut the back of sidewalks. Lot sizes should be relatively small in size, which often requires the community to reduce the minimum lot size required in its land development code. Each of these design features is an important way to create charming human scale that pedestrians tend to insist on and enjoy.

The community sign ordinance should require relatively small signs for retail and office development. Small signs help signal a low-speed, pedestrian scaled setting.

Summary

People that desire to live in walkable, compact living arrangements seek a setting that is conducive to such a lifestyle. That setting features low-speed, narrow and human-scaled streets and intersections, very short walking distances to most destinations, buildings pulled up to the sidewalk to create enclosure, and a vibrant experience (in contrast to deadening expanses of parking and large building setbacks). The market for higher density housing will be very weak and unsustainable if such a walkable setting is not provided.

Existing housing, employment, or land use patterns should not necessarily dictate visions for a new urban village if such patterns conflict with community objectives for such a compact village. Similarly, the needs or villageconvenience of regional commuters should not trump the low-speed, vibrancy, pedestrian scaled needs of these new village centers.

Overall, the objective for centers is a drive to rather than drive through experience, a park-once setting, and a design that makes the pedestrian the design imperative.

In the Urban Village, we should be firmly committed to walkable urbanity, where car use is optional, not required.

 

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On Being “Forced” to Live in a Walkable Place

By Dom Nozzi

I find it peculiar that often, in response to a recommendation I or others make to make a proposed residential development more walkable (or to design streets so that motorists “behave” themselves), we hear people make the red herring argument that we should not force people to live in a compact, walkable area of the city, or that we cannot “get rid of all cars.”

In fact, the proposals to make residential development (or travel by car) behave itself is simply a way to create more equity and provide more choices for both residential development and travel.

For about 50 years, we have built little other than low-density, single-use, large lot residential (“conventional”) subdivisions in outlying suburban areas. In addition, we have focused almost all of our efforts on making cars happy. The result, of course, is that throughout America, we have little choice in strip6terms of what kind of place to live in, or how to travel. Nearly all of us are pretty much forced to live in conventional, “drivable” residences in outlying areas. Places that are utterly unwalkable and require nearly every trip to be by car.

What about the large and growing number of us who would enjoy the pleasures of a more urbane setting, where we would have easy access to a nearby grocery store, various forms of culture, a pleasant public realm, civic events, retail, jobs, schools, parks, sidewalks that lead somewhere, sociable neighbors, and calmed traffic? What about those of us who want the choice to be able to walk, bicycle, or bus to those destinations? Do many of us have a choice to enjoy such things?

Do we really “force” people to live in more traditional core area settings, or get rid of their car, if we simply make other residential and travel choices more of an option?

As for “behaving,” it is my opinion that residential areas are “misbehaving” when they, for example, generate a large number of car trips. Such areas tend to be “single-use” (only single-family residential land use), and nearly every trip is too far to travel except by car (let’s not forget that the reasonable travel distance by car extends out to about 10 miles, roughly 3 miles for bus and bicycle, and about one-quarter mile by foot). The result is that instead of a reasonably self-contained subdivision with a reasonable amount of internalized trips (due largely to a mix of land uses in the area or development), those trips and costs are externalized on all the rest of us.

What are the “externalized” costs that we must bear when a new subdivision does not “internalize” a large number of car trips?

Well, within a 10-mile radius (see above), that new, conventional, car-only residential subdivision will deliver to our neighborhoods more traffic, more air pollution, more water pollution, more noise pollution, more strip commercial development, more decline in neighborhood value, more loss of small business in the core area, more sign pollution, more danger on our streets, and higher taxes to pay for public services like parks, schools, police, fire protection, sewer, water, environmental protection, etc.

It becomes a matter of equity.

Is it fair for a new, outlying residential area to impose those costs on us? Isn’t it reasonable to ask that new residential development “pay its own way,” by locating in appropriate areas, designing for livability, and paying for some of the costs for new or expanded public facilities and services they demand from us?

I recommend that we try to steer clear of red herrings. It tends to polarize us. I also believe we can all agree that providing residential and travel choices, and insisting on equity, are good things. To me, the debate should center around what constitutes equity, and how much our local, state, and federal government should put into creating travel choices.

As it stands today, nearly all of America provides no housing or travel choices. If you seek a walkable place to live, you will have vanishingly few options to choose from. And because such an option is so rare and the demand is high (and growing), you will be paying a large sum of money to live in a walkable place.

The current state of affairs in our car-happy world is not fair, as there is very little choice but to live in a drivable, suburban way. Rather than “forcing” people to live in walkable places (or not drive a car), America is more accurately forcing us to be suburban motorists.

An utterly unsustainable condition.

____________________________________________

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.

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