Tag Archives: unsustainable

The Problem of Gigantism

By Dom Nozzi

January 13, 2017

Gigantism, in my opinion, is a HUUUUUGE problem in America.

Enormous roads, enormous setbacks, enormous (and improperly located) parking lots, enormous (and improperly located) stormwater basins, enormous distances between destinations, enormous road intersections, enormous subdivisions, enormously tall street lights, enormous signs, enormous retail areas.Monster road intersection

The enormity of the American land use pattern is obvious when one walks the historic center of so many European cities and towns. My recent visit to Tuscany with my significant other was, once again, so saddening and maddening because the streets we walked were so stunningly lovable, charming, and romantic. Americans have thrown all of that charm away in our car-happy world.

Not only is it impossible to love most all of urban America. It is also, as Charles Marohn points out so well, impossible to afford to maintain. A double whammy of unsustainability. And extreme frustration in my career as a town planner who toiling for decades to try to nudge our society toward slowing down our ruinous love affair with making the world wonderful for car travel. And finding that even most smart people in America strongly oppose going back to the timeless way of building for people instead of cars.

It is said that dinosaurs went extinct due in large part to gigantism. I believe the same fate is likely for America, unless our society wakes up and realizes we are way better off in so many ways if we get back to building our world at the (walkable) human scale.

A friend asked me recently what I would do if I were in charge, had a blank slate, and could design a community any way I desired.

If I had such an opportunity, my community would be much more compact and human-scaled. One can walk historic town centers in Europe for models of what I speak of here.

WAY less “open space” for cars is essential.

I would ratchet down our extreme (and artificial) auto-centric value system by making roads and parking and gasoline purchases and car buying directly paid for much more based on USER FEES rather than having all of society pay for happy cars via such things as sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes.

In other words, making our world much more fair and equitable.

We have over-used and over-provided for car travel and car housing in large part because the cost to do so is mostly externalized to society rather than directly paid for via user fees. Eventually — maybe not in our lifetimes? — car travel will be mostly paid for via user fees and externalized costs will be more internalized. Car travel will therefore become much more expensive, signaling us to cut down on our over-reliance on it.

When that happens, we will inevitably see the re-emergence of the lovable, human-scaled world we once had. Fortunately, we are starting to see car travel becoming much more expensive and unaffordable — even though it continues to fail to be user-fee based.

And we are seeing the Millennial generation showing much more interest in compact town center living and much less interest in being car happy.

It is way past time for our society to a people-happy rather than car-happy world.

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

A Dinosaur Piloting the Titanic

By Dom Nozzi

September 2, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Filed under Transportation, Urban Design