April 21, 2004

Is Sprawl the American Dream?

That seems to be the view of an organization called the American Dream Coalition, which favors "freedom, mobility, and affordable homeownership." However, they use "mobility" as a synonym for "automobile" -- walking, biking or hopping on the T don't count as being mobile. This group is actively hostile to "smart growth," believing it means dense urban development, "rail transit boondoggles and barriers to auto driving."

Excuse me? $14.6 billion for the Big Dig in Boston and anyone has the nerve to talk about mass-transit "boondoggles?"

That aside, you CAN have smart growth that includes single-family homes and adequate roads. It's how you site and design them that matters.

Concord Center, where homeowners can walk to shopping and restaurants, is one type of traditional neighborhood that smart-growth advocates would like to emulate in newer developments. Is Concord so undesirable?

Homes that create an attractive front to the street are one important issue -- putting things like windows, porches and front entryways closest to the sidewalks instead of off-putting behemoth garage doors. Making an appealing walking environment -- with roads that aren't too wide, some landscaping and buffers between walkers and moving traffic -- are also important. There's a reason people enjoy walking along Commonwealth Avenue in Boston's Back Bay, despite the two lanes of traffic in each direction, while no one would want to stroll along Rte. 30 in Framingham's retail "Golden Triangle."

In fact, besides being ugly and pedestrian-hostile, auto-centric ever-wider road planning doesn't even accomplish its main goal of trying to keep traffic moving (see my post below).

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