Here is a good article on the illogic of sprawl from a fiscal standpoint. Nice to see Chuck Marohn and Strongtowns mentioned. Matthew Robare, “Why Sprawl Is Not the Only Choice“, The American Conservative.
Sprawl isn’t really as cheap as it seems. A network of tax breaks, financial guarantees, subsidies, and other chicanery keep parts of suburbia relatively inexpensive. Most notably, transportation costs are often excluded from the discussion of housing affordability, even though it’s hard to live anywhere without a way to get to work. For example, Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns has shown that the low density, car-dependent development that has typified American cities since World War II does not produce enough tax revenue to service the debt that cities took out to build the infrastructure needed for sprawl.
The numbers stuff can be really dull and become a barrier for some to the advantages of urbanism. Sightline recommends the housing and urbanism message can be better communicated by focusing on people, and a shared community challenge. City Observatory says not so fast, here’s a ‘teachable moment’ about supply and demand. Joe Cortright , “Lessons in Supply and Demand: Housing Market Edition“, City Observatory.
The demand for cities and for great urban neighborhoods is exploding. Americans of all ages, but especially well-educated young adults are increasingly choosing to live in cities. And in the face of that demand, our ability to build more such neighborhoods and to expand housing in the ones that we already have is profoundly limited, both by the relative slowness of housing construction (relative to demand changes), and also because of misguided public policies that constrain our ability to build housing in the places where people most want to live, to the point in many communities, we’ve simply made it illegal to build the dense, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods that widely regarded as the most desirable.
We don’t expect the demand for urban living to abate any time soon–in fact, there’s good reason to believe that it will continue to increase. And it’s still the case that we have a raft of public policies – from restrictions on apartment construction and density, to limits on mixed use development, to onerous parking requirements, and discretionary, hyper-local approval processes – that make it hugely difficult to build new housing in the places where it’s most needed.
Many of the problems we encounter in the housing market are a product of self-inflicted wounds that are based on naive and contradictory ideas about how the world works. We believe that housing should both be affordable and a great investment (which is an impossible contradiction), and we tend to think the laws of supply and demand somehow don’t apply to one of the biggest sectors of the economy (housing). At their root, our housing problems–and their solutions–are about understanding the economics at work here. So in our view, it’s definitely time to talk about supply and demand.
Here’s George Monbiot stating the obvious – “it was a mistake – a monumental, world-class mistake”– “Our roads are choked. We’re on the verge of carmageddon“, The Guardian.
Over half the car journeys people make in this country are less than five miles: this is what policy failure looks like. Why don’t people cycle instead? Perhaps because, though the number of motorists killed or seriously injured has fallen sharply, the number of cyclists killed or hurt on the roads has climbed since 2003. This now accounts for 14% of all casualties, though cycling amounts to only 1% of the distance we travel.
The simplest, cheapest and healthiest solution to congestion is blocked by the failure to provide safe transit. Last year the transport department crowed that it could cut £23m from its budget as a result of an “underspend on the Cycle Cities Ambition budget”. Instead of handing this money back to the Treasury, it should have discovered why it wasn’t spent, and ensured that it doesn’t happen again.
So here’s a novel idea: how about a 21st-century transport system for the 21st century? Helsinki is making public transport as convenient and flexible as private transport. For example, by aggregating people’s requests via a smartphone app, minibus services can collect people from their homes and deliver them close to their destinations while minimising their routes. Hamburg is building a network of cycling and walking paths so safe, pleasant and convenient that no one with the ability to do otherwise would want to take a car.
Here is Lyft founder John Zimmer describing how technology will solve the problem of the car in the city – “The Third Transportation Revolution“, Medium.
Next time you walk outside, pay really close attention to the space around you. Look at how much land is devoted to cars — and nothing else. How much space parked cars take up lining both sides of the street, and how much of our cities go unused covered by parking lots.
It becomes obvious, we’ve built our communities entirely around cars. And for the most part, we’ve built them for cars that aren’t even moving.
…I believe we’re on the cusp of nothing short of a transportation revolution — one that will shape the future of our communities. And it is within our collective responsibility to ensure this is done in a way that improves quality of life for everyone.
By 2025, private car ownership will all-but end in major U.S. cities.
Baffingly, our human habitat remains under examined. What make great places, streets and cities? Here is a comprehensive study that tracks people’s movements to determine the properties that make more healthy and active places. It appears consistent with other studies by Reid Ewing and others. Kaid Benfield, “Four Characteristics of Active, Healthy Neighborhoods“, Placemakers.
- Residential density. It takes a critical mass of homes in a neighborhood to support economically viable shops and amenities within walking distance.
- Intersection density. Well-connected streets tend to shorten travel distances and put more likely destinations within walking distance.
- Public transport density. More transit stops within walking distance make it more likely that residents have transit options and will elect to use them.
- Access to parks. Parks serve not only as places where people exercise but also as destinations people walk to and from, getting exercise as they do.
Here’s a fascinating study on the health value of architectural features that encourage social contact- porches, stoops, etc. This seems so basic, but rarely applied in New Zealand. Brown, SC et al, “Built environment and physical functioning in Hispanic elders: the role of ‘eyes on the street‘”, Pub Med.gov.
After controlling for age, sex, and income, architectural features of the built environment theorized to facilitate visual and social contact had a significant direct relationship with elders’ physical functioning as measured 3 years later, and an indirect relationship through social support and psychological distress. Further binomial regression analyses suggested that elders living on blocks marked by low levels of positive front entrance features were 2.7 times as likely to have subsequent poor levels of physical functioning, compared with elders living on blocks with a greater number of positive front entrance features [b = 0.99; chi(2) (1 df) = 3.71; p = 0.05; 95% confidence interval, 1.0-7.3].
While many of our streets are designed for social interaction and access to transport services, people seem largely content to live behind stone walls and high hedges. Here’s a neat story from the suburbs of Minnesota that has encouraged people to come back to their front yards. James Walsh, “Project connects St. Paul neighbors by moving them to their front yards“, Star Tribune.
Ross Callahan has lived in his Rondo-area home for 14 years. Yet, he admits, he’d communicated with only a few of his neighbors over that time, usually with a nod or a wave.
Then a funny thing happened. He started spending time in the front yard.
Thanks to a project designed to get people out of their backyards and meeting their neighbors, Callahan started cleaning up the green space at the center of his cul-de-sac, laid a new patio and, yes, started getting to know the people who live in the dozen homes around him.