Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ghost of Cities Past, Present, and Future

More on Obama's office of Urban Policy, Advocating for Urbanism:
There is a certain vogue gathering around urban issues. No -- not inner-city poverty, crime, or joblessness -- but, rather, those issues that might broadly be described as ones of "human geography." Where do people live, where do they work, and how should they travel between the two? How can resources, ranging from good schools to public transit to clean air, be more fairly allocated within regions?
Next Link: PedShed links to two studies on connectivity. Key points:

Twenty-four California cities were analyzed at the block level; half were classified as “safe cites” (severe/fatal crash rates one-third of the state average), and half as “less safe cities” (severe/fatal crash rates close to the state average). The safe cities had

  • an average intersection density of 106/sq mi
  • a walking/biking/transit mode share of 16 percent
  • a fatality rate per 100,000 people of 3.2 per year.

The less safe cities had

  • an average intersection density of 63/sq mi
  • a walking/biking/transit mode share of 4 percent
  • a fatality rate per 100,000 people of 10.5 per year.
Interestingly, the safe cities were well established prior to 1950.
The critical statistic cited above is intersection density. A tight-knit grid (pre-fifties) will have a higher intersection density, or number of intersections per square-mile than the dendritic highway, arterial, and cul-de-sac pattern of post-WWII car-first culture and design.

Shown in graphic form. Sprawl on the North side of the arterial. Interconnected grid network on the South side.



Above, notice the difference between the mall and "the mall." In this crude (when I'm at my best, btw) graph from way back in the beginning of this blog, I discuss how we got to these disparate points and where we are now on our way back to effective and WORTHwhile city building.

One is single use, singularly zoned, singularly accessed by car on freeways and choked arterials (because they're the only way). The mall on the south half forms the same function as a mall (shopping, gathering, strolling, meeting, working) but is appropriately and strongly integrated with its surroundings, accessed by an appropriate variety of transportation modes, and includes various uses such as office, residential, parks, civic, and cultural functions that ensure constant population (or customers for the cynic) and cross-shopping (oh, there I go getting all cynical and "retail-y").

It's called synergy: the art of placemaking; making places worth more than the sum of the parts.



The end product of an auto-centric world, people as consumers:







I'm not saying I'm in favor of banning development like the above. Hey, if there is a market for it, why not. My point is that, the value of these will fall to near zero when we end the subsidies for this type of development, i.e. highway construction and public financing of the infrastructure for less dense development.

These are private driveways essentially, that I/we are being taxed to build. While I'm not in favor of things like congestion taxing (which I plan on discussing in more detail), I am in favor of public service boundaries (which I also need to discuss soon) to make these types of developments pay their full share to live in a manner that takes more out of the public coffers than say I would, living in town with shared infrastructure.

As in the article Conservative Case for Urbanism states:

...common sense came from Congressman John Mica of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "I can't just continue to pave over every metro area," he said. "Our goal is to reduce the negative impact on the environment and also reduce our dependence on energy."

But the federal government is a hindrance as often as a help, Mica admitted, throwing years worth of bureaucratic red tape in front of states that want to construct light rail lines. "As the federal government, we're a very unreliable partner, and we haven't decided what our policy is," Mica said, adding that he has been working since 1989 on building one light rail line in his central Florida home district, and expects to see grandchildren before the project is completed.

It certainly appears that Obama's office of urban policy plans on, if not getting out of the way, streamlining the federal funding and regulatory red tape, as I have suspected, in favor of a more positive direction. Furthering my point:
Density is cost effective, it fosters small business development at the local level, and it strengthens ties within communities. None of that should be anathema to either national party -- unless they continue to put the interests of construction behemoths and automakers above the interests of ordinary Americans.
Now, here is People and Community first development, people as humans:





Which looks more pleasant? It's the same that generates a premium in the market place.