April 28, 2005

The Myth of Convenience

Nobody sets out on purpose to design a pedestrian-hostile community. Too often, though, that's what we end up with.

Has anyone stopped to ask why?

Sometimes, it's because local officials don't consider the impact of designs on walkers and cyclists. Other times, they simply don't think it's important.

But in many cases, the concern is commercial. A lot of developers and local officials still believe that anywhere outside a city, people most value "easy-in, easy-out" design. And that's why so many of our malls and housing developments have all the appeal of a drive-through window: We design whatever gets the most cars flowing at maximum efficiency.

It's the myth of convenience.

Why else would anyone design something like Shoppers World in Framingham, where the heart of the development isn't the stores or a pedestrian promenade for window shopping, but a parking lot? It's to make people feel like it's easy to drive in, park quickly, and get to a store.

However, are people truly unwilling to drive round to the back of a building and park? Certainly they'll balk if, say, there's a narrow, dangerous, poorly maintained or unappealing driveway to rear parking. Or if there's an unpleasant feeling once you get out of your car -- Dumpsters in the back, unwelcoming back entrances, a feeling of insecurity, and so on.

But it's possible to create 'round-the-back parking that works.

April 26, 2005

Georgetown Visionary Saw Potential In Rundown, Walkable Neighborhood

The New York Times profiles developer Anthony Lanier, who "transformed a group of industrial buildings along a rat-infested alley on the western edge of Georgetown into an elegant cluster of small shops that specialize in high-end furniture and design."

One local real estate broker theorized that perhaps it is Lanier's European background -- he's originally from Vienna -- that allowed him to foresee the "growing popularity of pedestrian-friendly shopping" and the potential of the then run-down area with its historic buildings and narrow, walkable streets.

Lanier's first important anchor tennant for the neighborhood was

Rachel D. Kohler, the president of Kohler Interiors, who was seeking to open the first retail store for Baker, an upscale furniture line.

"We had come upon one sanitized cement box in a mall after another," Ms. Kohler recalled. She found herself drawn to Mr. Lanier's idea of a European-style shopping street, even though the space he showed her was next to a tattoo parlor.

Suburbs in MetroWest that continue to stress auto-centric development while ignoring the importance of pedestrian-appealing streetscapes that offer a sense of place, may be doing so at their economic peril. Natick, for example, is betting on expanding an externally unattractive, tired conventional mall, surrounded by an ocean of asphalt with an actively pedestrian-hostile outdoor environment, to woo upscale retailers and shoppers. However, upscale shopping trends are moving in quite another direction.

Update: Here's another example of ambiance as a crucial component to revitalization success: In two Iowa cities, new Centro restaurants offering "a mix of moderately priced food, urban atmosphere and connections to nearby coffee shops, music venues and performances are pulling people downtown," the Des Moines Register reports. "A patio bumps up against the street, giving Centro the feel of a European cafe. ...

"In Centro, many see a business model that has transformed downtown from a place that can sustain a restaurant to the place to go."

Successful ingredients: Appealing outdoor streetscape, critical mass of destinations where you can park once and walk to many, and a place that's attractive to people strolling and sitting outside, not simply driving and parking.

(Thanks to Planetizen for that Des Moines Register link.)

April 25, 2005

Citizen Group Wins Wider Sidewalks, Narrower Residential Streets

A Columbia, Mo. grass-roots organization called the PedNet Coalition has 4,600 members -- and success in creating walking/biking trails as well as more pedestrian-friendly planning regulations, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune. PedNet received a $200,000 grant and technical assistance from Active Living By Design. The program shows results.

Last year, residential street standards, in large part because of PedNet’s lobbying, were changed to require narrower roads and wider sidewalks. The idea is to slow traffic and make areas more pedestrian- and wheelchair-friendly.

It's not just about having sidewalks -- although that's important. It's about having sidewalks in an environment that makes it likely people will want to walk. And it's about having roads that are feasible to cross on foot without the frightening feeling that you are literally putting your life in jeopardy, such as when crossing Rte. 30 or Rte. 9 in Framingham. Once again, that doesn't mean getting rid of cars. It means designing for pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars.

April 24, 2005

‘Just A Walk From Home To Shopping’: Cincinnati Suburbs Embrace New Urbanism

"New Urbanism" isn't just for urban areas. In fact, it's not really "new" at all; and in many cases, it's not really "urban" in the classic sense.

Instead, it's all about going back to traditional town and village living, before the disastrous ideas of the past few decades that designed ONLY for the car. New Urbanism isn't about getting rid of cars; it's about having a balance, so it's attractive to either walk OR drive (or take public transit when available).

In one Cincinnati suburb, "scores of people [are] lining up to live in a planned new community called The Village at the Streets, across a creek from [a] shopping-entertainment complex," the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

The community, with groundbreaking targeted for this summer, will combine townhomes and condominiums with a coffee shop and other retail and commercial properties in a plan that includes walking bridges, sidewalks and paths. Its Italianate style of architecture, and village square, awnings and gaslight lamps, suggests a European town.

And it will offer a respite from jumping into the car for traffic-weary suburbanites.

"Everything is there. I literally can throw a stone from where I work to there. I can walk to a restaurant, or a movie, or to shop," Francesca Trego, who plans to purchase a townhouse there, told the Enquirer.

"The Village at the Streets is one of the latest trends in Greater Cincinnati suburban development, 'mixed use' that combines residential areas with places to shop, eat, and even work within walking distance in a neighborhood setting," the article notes. A number of other such projects are planned in the region.

April 23, 2005

Nine Mass. ‘Smart Growth’ Communities Honored

It must be nice to do planning in a community where a few vocal downtown-area Town Meeting members aren't perpetually battling with the rest of the town.

The Massachusetts Office of Commonwealth Development named nine communities winners of its "Smart Growth Innovation" award: Salem, Easthampton, Lawrence, Marlboro, Newburyport, Newbury and Brockton. Cambridge and Montague received honorable mention.

Those communities are "revitalizing downtowns, preserving open space and bringing back village-style zoning," according to OCD Secretary Douglas Foy.

Interesting list. Marlboro, Newburyport and Salem all have fewer people than Framingham, but have adopted a city form of government. This certainly seems to give more ammunition to those who argue that a Town Meeting form of government makes it more difficult to do community-wide planning initiatives in a place the size of Framingham.

Marlboro was recognized for efforts such as a major study on downtown and neighborhood redevelopment (note to Framingham: they're paying attention to investments in both their downtown AND other areas of the community, quite unlike Town Meeting here, where a minority of members successfully blocked what would have been a fabulous investment in Saxonville, in part because they felt it threatened downtown), zoning to allow denser development downtown, affordable housing efforts and work with neighboring towns "to develop a greenbelt of protected open space around the city to provide a buffer to sprawl and preserve natural resources," according to the MetroWest Daily News.

"The neighborhood plan and the open space plans have advanced Smart Growth Principles by encouraging the redevelopment of the core of Marlborough and preserving outlying open space that will result in the halting of sprawl on the city's edges," city officials wrote in their award entry.

If someone dared to say that in Framingham, I suspect they'd simply be accused of dumping more development on the South Side while giving all the open space and parks to the North Side. And unfortunately, some of the people who only care about their own neighborhood, not the town as a whole -- or think "the town as a whole" actually means only downtown -- have voting power over how all of our tax dollars are spent.

600-acre New Urbanist Development Planned For Tennessee

Developers are planning a network of four villages "as a self-contained, walkable community whose commercial activity will be limited mostly to locally owned shops and restaurants," the Nashville City Paper reports.

Work will start first with a restaurant, grocery store, some houses and townhouses as well as mixed-use buildings with first-floor commercial/retail and apartments above.

"If all goes according to plan, Carothers Crossing will expand over 20 years and across more than 600 acres, mostly in Davidson County with about 92 acres in Rutherford County. The total project would cost more than $100 million," the article says. "Walking to the shops would be encouraged. Each village would have a quarter-mile walking radius and would likely be centered by a park or green. Biking and walking trails would be established.

"Moving away from the center, single-family homes with yards would predominate, with estate homes on the fringes."

Sprawl antidote: More than half the land would be left rural. The project requires "urban design overlay" zoning approval, which the area has used since 1999.

April 21, 2005

Improving A Downtown: More Space For Pedestrians, Cyclists

Well-known urban planner Allan B. Jacobs turned his eye on Kansas City recently, and found a lot of room for improvement.

"Jacobs believed far too much space was dedicated to cars and not enough for bicyclists, sidewalks, streetscaping and pedestrians," columnist Kevin Collison explains in the Kansas City Star. "He calculated about 70 percent of the right of way was set aside for cars, far too large a share. Why not wider sidewalks and some room for bicyclists?" Also noteworthy: Not enough trees (an appealing an important amenity for encouraging pedestrian activity).

Jacobs, professor emeritus of city planning at the University of California-Berkeley who "helped shape the streets of San Francisco a generation ago strolled around downtown Kansas City last week and found room for improvement."

Said Jacobs: “In good downtowns, all have a shortage of parking, and there's congestion during busy periods. It's density, people living, people walking and people on streets … the more money you spend on solving traffic problems, the less livable your city is going to be.

April 20, 2005

Arts in Framingham: Critical Mass Approaching?

I've certainly done enough complaining about what's wrong with Framingham -- pedestrian-hostile streetscapes, uninspired architecture, car-centric planning, poor zoning, missed opportunities (ah, if only the Target/Panera/Home Goods shopping center had been built up at the sidewalk, how cool it would have been to have Panera's outdoor cafe seating as part of a pedestrian streetscape), and of course the just-plain-stupid Town Meeting vote to turn down a $1.6 million state grant to build what would have been a fabulous new library to anchor and rejuvenate Saxonville (no, I'm still not over that, and doubt I ever will be).


There's some surprisingly exciting news on the local arts scene. Along with the Amazing Things Arts Center poised to open in Saxonville -- and already scheduling live events around town -- there's also the month-long Spring Into Arts celebration that kicked off on Patriots Day with the multicultural festival.

This Friday, there's a jazz concert downtown that features Laszlo Gardony, who has toured in 23 countries and won numerous awards. On Saturday, a well-known Cambridge folk artist plays at Cameron Middle School in Saxonville. Upcoming, there's everything from opera at Framingham State to Tom Rush playing the Civic League.

There's just nothing like live entertainment to draw people to a community. Add planned new housing downtown, and there's some real potential. What's still missing is 1) a pedestrian-appealing streetscape downtown, and 2) a couple of Zagat-worthy restaurants and cafes that would encourage regional suburbanites to make a full evening downtown -- drinks/snacks, dinner and a concert.

But the potential is there.

Loft Small-Town Living

Loft living over 1st-floor retail/commercial -- a trendy urban lifestyle for many years -- is gaining traction in smaller communities, according to this article in the Register Guard in Oregon.

" "There's a certain energy level inside a little town, and this gives you more access to people," Gary Compton, who renovated a historic two-story building with a pharmacy on the first floor and moved in to live upstair, told the paper. "When people come in to go to the pharmacy or the post office, they're more likely to drop by and see you."

"In Cottage Grove, demand is brisk for nine urban apartments restored as part of the historic renovation of a family furniture store," the article notes. "Just down the street, St. Vincent de Paul renovated an old hotel to create 10 apartments above a street level art center. In Oakridge, a conceptual plan for a new community/senior center calls for elder apartments above the public facility below."

Plans for the old Arcade building in downtown Framingham mirror this trend, with plans for first-floor retail and apartments upstairs -- if Town Meeting approves plans for the project to take advantage of tax breaks under a state program aimed at enticing development in certain business districts needing revitalization.

April 18, 2005

‘Development Money Pumps New Life Into Old Downtown Suburb’

That's the headline on a Jacksonville (Fla.) Business Journal article about how the renewed interest in urban living -- where there aren't only attractions within walking distance, but an attractive streetscape that makes people want to walk -- is also helping revitalize an older suburb's downtown area. Framingham, please take note!

"Both SPAR [Springfield Preservation And Revitalization] and the business association like the idea of a pedestrian-friendly Main Street where residents and visitors can stroll along, visiting shops by day and businesses like Boomtown Theater, Henrietta's restaurant and Ninth and Main in the evening," the article explains.

It's key to have both daytime businesses and evening attractions, if you want to attract a critical mass of residents to revitalize an old, inner-ring suburban center. The idea: Live here, work here, shop here, get your entertainment here. "Density" by itself is unappealing. You've got to get some improved quality of life in return for increased density - places to walk to, both day and night. That's what makes Boston's North End such an appealing neighborhood for so many: People can walk to work downtown, then stroll around the neighborhood, relaxing in a local cafe, eating at one of the many fabulous restaurants, enjoying street festivals in the summer and indoor entertainment at other times, and so on. The sidewalks don't roll up at 6 pm. There's also a sense of place that encourages people to know their neighbors.

In Springfield, Fla., a historic apartment building was revamped to include offices, providing more jobs in the neighborhood. An old auto repair shop has been renovated to feature a restaurant, café, theater and art gallery, offering some entertainment.

"Creating a sense of community is a big part of the revitalization efforts, in [developer and restauranteur Craig] Van Horn's eyes. It is one of the reasons he is a sponsor of the Springfield Film Festival, which shows different short films every Thursday night. He said it gives Springfield locals a social hour to meet with neighbors, while providing a showcase for the redevelopment efforts in the area," the article says.

April 17, 2005

Providence Brings In New Urbanist Heavy Hitter

Providence tapped New Urbanist icon Andres Duany, author of one of my all-time favorite books on planning (Suburban Nation), to lead an eight-day planning workshop to look at its Downcity neighborhood.

The result: "Workshop participants recommended that the city and state drastically remake LaSalle and Emmett squares as true formal squares that would help to fulfill Providence's promise as a pedestrian-friendly city," according to the Providence Journal. "Downcity is beginning to blossom as an entertainment district where people also live, work and shop."

Planners are looking to create two squares with more of a European feel, that would entice pedestrians into the area from nearby attractions like the Providence Place mall.

An increasing number of communities understand that that a sense of place, pedestrian-attractive streetscape and well designed square/intersections/crossings are critical to economic well-being in the 21st century. Suburban planning officials who think that the car-centric, ambiance-killing formulas of the 1950s will still work half a century later are going to be in for some unpleasant surprises.

California Suburb Transforming Its Downtown

Livermore, the Silicon Valley town that recently decided to narrow some of its roads to make a more pedestrian-friendly business district (see earlier post), "is among Bay Area cities, from Walnut Creek to Mountain View, pursuing downtown 'smart growth' housing as a lifestyle alternative," according to the Contra Costa Times. "In the new revitalized downtown envisioned by Livermore, there will eventually be 3,250 new high-density urban housing units along with new commercial, office and cultural arts projects -- all contributing towards a vital new urban area."

One resident who raised a family in a more rural residence on 2 acres decided to move to a new townhouse downtown because she "wanted to be able to put my car in the garage and not take it out every time I wanted to go somewhere."

New restaurants are starting to bring more foot traffic to Livermore's downtown. Residents moving in are excited about the potential for a lively, walkable business center with numerous attractions to enhance quality of life.

It seems they don't miss strip malls and acres of asphalt abutting their sidewalks at all.

Minnesota Suburb Seeks ‘Denser, More Pedestrian-Friendly’ Downtown

"Suburban Rosemount, surrounded by highways, strip malls and vast parking lots, hopes to transform its downtown by combining the best features of historic business districts" with a mixed-use, "new urbanism" feel, the Star Tribute reports.

"The idea is to create a denser, more pedestrian-friendly downtown with plenty of independent shops and restaurants, as well as apartments and condos."

Local officials have hired a development team to come up with plans for such a center, which the city wants to transform into a gathering place, instead of simply a place where people drive, park, run an errand and then leave.

April 16, 2005

Sound Familiar?

"Currently, our residents believe we are overdeveloped, over-trafficked, under-planned, and over-taxed – and, they are right; and for too long, developers have driven development and residents are fearful that each new development takes from us another piece of our suburban serenity."

That could be anywhere in MetroWest. But in fact, that's Nassau County (Long Island, N.Y.) Executive Tom Suozzi, talking about his plans for "New Suburbia" which will feature planned development in a 3-square-mile area of the county, as well as plans for mass transit and pedestrian/bike paths to link other neighborhoods to the area.

You can read more about it at buildings.com.

Major Miami Zoning Overhaul Focuses On Pedestrian-Friendly Zoning

The city of Miami, long criticized for helter-skelter development, plans to replace its antiquated zoning code with a neighborhood- and pedestrian-friendly set of building rules in an effort to map the future," reports the Miami Herald. "The goal is a simple ''form-based'' zoning code that clearly and concisely delineates where intensive development is appropriate and where it isn't, and outlines how buildings should be shaped to ensure attractive, people-friendly streets.

"Miami would be the first major U.S. city to adopt such a code.

"It will be written by the Miami firm of Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, co-founders of the New Urbanist movement, which seeks to revive the principles of traditional town planning -- denser, compact development and walkable streets -- as an alternative to auto-dependent urban sprawl."


Even if this goes through, it will likely take years - perhaps decades - for a new zoning code to have major impact on a city the size of Miami. But in 2020, 15 years of development will have taken place with or without the zoning change. Miami 2020 will have a seriously different look and feel depending on the outcome of this zoning plan. Big kudos to them for making the effort.

The mistake so many local officials make is to look at hideous development patterns, whether in Miami or Rte. 9 in Framingham, and throw up their hands in despair. Had our local officials done something like this 20 years ago, we'd all be enjoying a nicer quality of life now in 2005.

As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Updated: Denver’s Changing Face

The Rocky Mountain city of Denver is undergoing a massive change, thanks to huge public support for mass transit, public funding for the arts, and new city-suburban cooperation, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Voters turned down a major public transit project seven years ago; but this time around, the $4.7 billion investment to create 120 miles of new rail line passed easily with almost 60% support. (Lucky for them they weren't laboring under the same rules as Framingham Town Meeting, which also gave our planned new library 60% support but alas we needed two-thirds). "One big factor: the Southwest light-rail line, which has proved far more popular than even the most optimistic predictions," the article notes.

The city has a "bustling pedestrian mall;" and voters also OK'd a 0.1% sales tax to fund spending on the arts.

And there's been political cooperation between city and suburbs "on everything from transportation to water rights." Sure sounds nice....

Update: The city's soaring commitment to public transportation was sparked by Denver's Southwest Line, a new light rail line connecting city and suburbs.

"Since July 2000, when service began on the 14-mile trip, riders have flocked to the line in numbers that vastly exceed original expectations. The popularity of riding a train to work put to shame the screechy warnings of anti-tax opponents who said light rail was a liberal, big-government boondoggle that was too expensive, needlessly drained money from highway construction, and wouldn't lure suburbanites out of their SUVs," writes Keith Schneider in the Seattle Times. "Wrong. Denver residents love light rail. ...

"Instead of building highways that spread development ever farther from the central city, the Denver region decided to strengthen its urban core and focus growth along miles of new light rail, commuter rail and rapid-bus lines. Rail transit is less costly to maintain, less polluting, far more durable than concrete and saves energy. Public transit also offers developers dozens of stations around which to build the sought-after new neighborhoods that are proving to be the choicest, most affordable and accessible places to live in Denver."

April 15, 2005

Updated: Why ‘Free Parking’ Isn’t Free

"Free parking isn't really free. In fact, the average parking space costs more than the average car," says an American Planning Association of its new book, The High Cost of Free Parking. "Initially, developers pay for the required parking, but soon tenants do, and then their customers, and so on, until the cost of parking has diffused throughout the economy. ...

"The total subsidy for parking is staggering, about the size of the Medicare or national defense budgets. But free parking has other costs: It distorts transportation choices, warps urban form, and degrades the environment."

It's the same distortion you have when politicians whine about "subsidies" for Amtrak or other rail service, yet they don't think twice about how taxpayers are ponying up for everything from fixing potholes to paying billions for the Big Dig so people can keep driving in their private automobiles.

Another problem pointed out in the book, according to USA Today: "Cities and suburbs require too many parking spaces around malls, apartments and office buildings. That wastes land that could be put to better use, and for much of the year, hundreds of spaces sit vacant."

Update: New Urban News has a great article about Donald Shoup's book on parking, highlighting a very important point -- too much parking can be as damaging to a business district as too little. Sound crazy? Excessive parking "reduce[s] compactness and proximity — chief advantages of an urban location," the article notes.

Improving The Streetscape On Car Dealership Row

A Portland, Ore. neighborhood is wrestling with the same kind of dilemma that faces Rte. 135 in Framingham around the T station: how to make an appealing pedestrian streetscape/shopping area on a street currently filled with unattractive auto dealers (or in Framingham's case, dealerships and other businesses & buildings that are not conducive for pedestrian activity).

"Right now, there's not a whole lot for pedestrians to go to," said Linda Robinson, a board member of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association, told the Oregonian. "Nobody would walk that street for pleasure."

That's the same reason the presence of the commuter rail station in downtown Framingham hasn't done anything to rejuvenate the nearby business district -- the streetscape is so unattractive, commuters simply drive in and out, and are never enticed to stay downtown and do anything else.

In Portland, although 122nd Avenue was rezoned to encourage mixed use and pedestrian-friendly development back in 1986, little has changed. One problem: zoning setback regulations, which required a new car dealership to be set back from the sidewalk instead of built up at the sidewalk -- as the company wanted, and as would have been better for pedestrian activity.

The commuter rail station is a potential magnets to bring shoppers to downtown Framingham. Try to imagine how different things might be if there were a streetscape around there that had attractive storefronts, an appealing sidewalk and some cafes with outdoor seating. But as long as the station is surrounded with an unattractive streetscape, that potential will never be realized.

April 14, 2005

Berlin Voters Nix Mall

Berlin Town Meeting voters turned down a rezoning request that would have allowed the proposed $105 million, 800,000-square-foot Highland Commons mall to be built on the Berlin/Hudson line, the MetroWest Daily News reports.

Voters decided that trying to preserve the rural character of their little community was worth more than the promised property taxes and mitigation payments.

Developers will likely go ahead with a smaller mall just within Hudson, the article notes.

Little Brazil In Framingham

The Globe's West Weekly edition has a big story today on the influx of Brazilians to Framingham (not particularly news to anyone, except perhaps the scale of the community here.)

But with all the talk again of restaurants and stores that cater to Brazilians (and, visitors to downtown know, quite a nice Brazilian bakery/cafe), I can't help thinking how nuts it is that Framingham doesn't try to take advantage of this more, and turn the Brazilian center into a Chinatown/North End type of draw that brings all kinds of people, not just Brazilians, to downtown.

I've never been to Brazil, but suspect it's more of an outdoor/cafe type of society than a typical American suburb. I can envision mixing the special Brazilian feel of downtown with architecture that invites strolling, sitting/eating outdoors and people watching. There ought to be a Chamber of Commerce type of bilingual map that marks off for people all the different interesting Brazilian shops and eateries. Each of the restaurants and stores ought to have menus and/or flyers in English explaining the special foods and goods they sell; every one of the stores that caters to non-Brazilians ought to have a special sign in the window inviting non-Portuguese-speakers in, too.

It would be a great way to attract suburbanites both near and far who are tired of the strip-mall experience.

If we apply some vision to what we already have going downtown, we could create something really special here.

April 13, 2005

So What Does A Pedestrian-Friendly Downtown Street Look Like?

The Western News publishes one architect's sketch of what a pedestrian-encouraging streetscape might look like in Libby, Montana.

Take a look. You'll see not simply the presence of a sidewalk, but a sidewalk with a pedestrian-friendly building fronting it -- up at the streetscape, not set back behind a parking lot, with on-street seating, as well as greenery.

Put a strip mall there, front the sidewalk with an asphalt parking lot instead of the building and outdoor seating, and it becomes a pedestrian-hostile environment. Like most of Framingham.

Folks, it's not just about attracting the "right" kinds of businesses to a downtown. If the buildings, sidewalks and streetscape are not designed to encourage the kind of street activity we want, then we'll either get kinds of street activities we DON'T want, or no downtown activity at all.

If Your Kid Is Fat, Blame Your Car

So says Mark Fenton, host of the PBS show America's Walking.

"We've built such an autocentric world, it's possible to expend no calories while going about the routines of daily life," Fenton told a Lawrence audience, according to the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World.

Parents drive their kids everywhere, because kids live in communities where it's impossible for them to transport themselves anywhere meaningful.

I could walk to school, and walk to some of my friends' houses. My mom regularly sent my sister and I to the store to pick up milk, bread and sandwich meat. And I wasn't living in a city, but an inner-ring suburb of New York, in a neighborhood of all single-family houses.

But there were sidewalks there, and buildings up at the street, and streets that were easily crossable on foot, and things like stores and schools not only close by, but that you could walk to. They weren't surrounded by so much asphalt, and so much pedestrian-hostile multi-lane entries/exits that it was uncomfortable to walk there. Yet people drove places too; there was adequate parking for all. The key was that places were designed for sharing the infrastructure; not designed solely for cars to the point of being pedestrian-implausible.

April 11, 2005

It’s the Sprawl, Y’all

That's the intriguing headline on a Sojourners magazine piece with the subheading: Why suburbs-on-steroids are wearing out their welcome.

While the article focuses first on the new Hunters Brooke subdivision in Charles County, where some disgruntled nearby residents expressed their disgust by burning down some houses being built, the piece also takes a look at the anger being sparked by "design that pays little or no attention to its surroundings. While it chews up meadows, deserts, and soybean fields, sprawl either drives out the animals (people included) already living there or drastically alters their lives."

And this is no longer an issue solely for liberal environmentalists. "Nearly two years ago columnist Mark Paul of the Sacramento Bee described how polls in some Republican-leaning California cities placed better management of growth and development as one of the top concerns of citizens, 'right up there with police protection and keeping taxes affordable,' " the article notes. "There’s scant evidence that what’s awful for a wetland is somehow good for anyone or anything else, unless you limit your measure of 'good' and 'bad' to the financial profit or loss for a few."

Sprawl causes more than traffic snarls and erasure of open space. "Other effects, less obvious, are detrimental to the economic health of local businesses and communities: increased taxes in outlying areas to pay for new services and infrastructure; tax hikes on city residents to compensate for a declining tax base; dying downtown businesses as suburban malls and big-box stores draw customers away; and the concentration of poverty in urban centers and close-in older suburbs." Studies also show that residents of non-walkable communities tend to have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure and other health problems.

April 2, 2005

Town/Gown Cooperation: Univ of Pennsylvania and West Philly

"A decade-long commitment to upgrade the distressed urban neighborhood surrounding the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia has yielded big bonuses in private investment, affordable housing, reduced crime, and enhanced public educational opportunities, its former president told attendees at the APA National Planning Conference in San Francisco," according to the American Planning Association.

Judith Rodin, Penn's president from 1994 to 2004 and now president of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City, was the opening keynote speaker at the conference last month.

The university invested in the neighborhood by providing money for better services, street lights and sanitation; by working with private developers to build new housing; by buying and renovating neighborhood eyesores; by bringing new retail to the area; and more. The university also decided it had to end the "fortress-like" separation of campus from surrounding community. "The university decided that it needed to 'reduce the physical isolation' of the campus with the neighborhood, so that the borders of the campus became a 'public seam' rather than a 'barrier.' "

As a public college, Framingham State doesn't have the kind of endowment money that a school like Penn does. Still, it sure would be nice if college planners would think about how to integrate with the surrounding community and improve the pedestrian streetscape around its campus.