December 12, 2008

When David Brooks and I agree...

...the issue probably has some merit :) Since that occurs rather rarely. But he's correct (not just "right") when he says in "This Old House":

"If you asked people in that age of go-go suburbia what they wanted in their new housing developments, they often said they wanted a golf course. But the culture has changed. If you ask people today what they want, they’re more likely to say coffee shops, hiking trails and community centers.

People overshot the mark. They moved to the exurbs because they wanted space and order. But once there, they found that they were missing community and social bonds."

Of course, Brooks being Brooks, he couches this in a criticism of Democrat Barack Obama, who has yet to even take office. I disagree on that part (geez, Obama's inheriting multiple crises from the Bush administration, let the guy take office for a few days before you start complaining); but I do back Brooks' call that Obama's stimulus plan should
"... create new transportation patterns. The old metro design was based on a hub-and-spoke system — a series of highways that converged on an urban core. But in an age of multiple downtown nodes and complicated travel routes, it’s better to have a complex web of roads and rail systems."

One of the great things about New York City's mass transit system is that it's not just set up to get you to the core of Manhattan, but also move within multiple destinations throughout the five boroughs. And it's not accident that New York is the sole city in America where a majority of people use public transportation to get to work.
"Second, the Obama stimulus plan could help localities create suburban town squares."

Faux town squares without attractive corridors in and out of them won't do as much as backers hope. Still, I agree with the premise that suburbs need  anchor districts where you can walk to multiple destinations instead of having to drive from strip mall to strip mall.

It's way too early for Brooks to declare that "Before the recession hit, we were enjoying a period of urban and suburban innovation. We could have been on the verge of a transportation revolution. It looks as if the Obama infrastructure plan may freeze that change, not fuel it." But the issue is worth pointing out, in hopes that Congress and the Obama administration will help fuel a change toward more community-centered planning -- which would be totally consistent with Obama's campaign themes.

Several letters published in response to Brooks' column  agree with his aim funding community-centered planning, although not necessarily with crticizing Obama.

"Mr. Obama has called for a refocus on urban issues like public transit, rebuilding inner-city schools, and revitalizing public parks and common ground in his public works package. He recognizes that cities are the nerve centers of our modern economy and must be restored to create a durable economic base," notes Jack Luft, former Miami planning director.

"Mr. Obama would get the long-term 'bang for the buck' he seeks by heeding Mr. Brooks’s advice and supporting the shovel-ready plans that metropolitan area mayors are offering," he advises.

Adds architect and urban designerJohn A. Dutton notes that the federal government encouraged a lot of suburban and exurban sprawl via "highway construction, building codes and mortgage tax credits. ...  We should retrofit our suburbs to make them livable communities with true civic centers, walkable neighborhoods, alternative transportation options and preserved open space, while using innovative sustainable development practices that could be a model for the world."

1 comment:

  1. My hope is that the Obama administration doesn't fund non-stop freeway projects just because they are ready to go and we need the jobs but that mass transit proposal get in on the action as well. Then you can tie new trains to development and actually create those public squares around transit hubs.