Thursday, October 17, 2013

In Disaster, There is Opportunity

It has now been a full month since I've last posted.  And it feels kind of great actually.  To take a break and be back, now that I actually have a time for yet another stitch.  This one is about, like every other post, the inherent failings of our transportation policy, funding, and design and the havoc the inertia has wreaked upon our development forms and (hand in hand) our ability to maintain that infrastructure.

However, I don't need to rehash all of that same ol' same ol'.  The news does it for me.  Exhibit A, B, and C:
This is the best news ever.  TxDOT is tossing what it thinks is a bone to the cities, saying they can now control "driveway access, speed limits and maintenance schedules."  No thanks.  Not enough.  If I'm the cities and want to seize this opportunity, I want full control over these roads.  I want the right-of-way.  

The problem and solution is the vague idea of 'value capture.'  Not just in the land itself, but in the ability to design networks to leverage investment, development, and a tax base that is actually in proportion with the infrastructural burden.  That means more complex, more walkable streets that are not only context sensitive in terms of the existing surrounding but conducive to the kind of context that we want to achieve, which, again is more walkable, empowering, desirable, and livable neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, value capture is a hideously and corporately vague term that is a useful rhetorical device because it has not meaning besides $$.  People can fill in the void with their own interpretation and all too often that can be the conventional wisdom that conventional highway/road building is healthy, productive economic development.  Which, sure.  It's spending at first and money flows around the system, until it has so dispersed the tax base into density too low and design and form so repulsive, it becomes unsustainable due to a lack of care (and that pesky infrastructure/tax base imbalance).   

Since there is effectively two qualitative interpretations of how to design and build roads (the filter vs the funnel - a future post.  See also: dendritic vs reticulated), one good/one bad, there are two directions cities can take with this new "infrastructure burden."  Maintain it as a burden, as it currently exists.  Or, they can see the opportunity in controlling the design of these streets so they're integrated with development, are safe, attractive, empowering for a variety of forms of travel, particularly walkability, and thus encourage social and economic exchange.  The very point of cities.

In effect, this is the concept of subsidiarity.  Or decentralization of control to the lowest or smallest authority that can handle it effectively.  The smart cities will leverage these in a way that benefits them the most, not arbitrarily standardized from Austin.  Those that take advantage of this opportunity will be those that recognize this opportunity and seize it, and by doing so, improve livability, quality of life, will be more attractive to talent and businesses alike, and will thus win the future.  So to speak.