One reason planners need patience is that it takes years for what they do to come to fruition.
Monday, November 24, 2008
One reason planners need patience is that it takes years for what they do to come to fruition.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Here's the headline: If there were a sidewalk in front of his house, he said, then people would have a legal place to hold protests over things he does. With no sidewalk, they don't.
Well, OK, seriously, there's a bit more to his objection, and he's talking about residential streets in the 'burbs, not a blanket dismissal of all sidewalks. His e-mail is copied below.
You forgot the best reason for not building sidewalks in some neighborhoods. It prevents political protests and theatrics.
When liberals get mad at something I have done (or they think I will do) they always threaten to 'protest’ in front of my house. Their threats are always designed to force my family, friends or neighbors to endure some angry mob as the price to pay for some vote or statement thinking that will change my mind.
Problem is, protesting in the ‘street’ requires a permit and isn’t likely to be granted in a residential neighborhood. Protesting on a sidewalk is a constitutional right.
Build a sidewalk and you guarantee that folks can (and will) show up to protest every decision (left or right) because sidewalks are ‘public.’
No sidewalks means the closest protesters can get to my house [and not be on the street] is about a mile away at the entrance to my sub-division. Of course, there I can’t see them or hear them so there is little point in them showing up.
Sidewalks in the 'burbs where there are cul-de-sacs are a waste of money and a reduction in privacy.
I live in a sub-division without sidewalks with one road in and out and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Crime is low, protests are non-existent and the quality of life is improved because sidewalks and connectivity don’t exist.
If I need to take a walk, I can walk along the street.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Continuing the discussion of sidewalks and walkable streets, in response to my Saturday op-ed column, "Where the sidewalk shouldn't end," I received the following e-mail:
Why both sides? A person can only walk on one side at a time. I know some may argue safety from crossing streets, but that is on certain streets that may carry heavy traffic or number of lanes which make streets wider.
City and County standards for designing subdivision streets take some of those issues into account with “block lengths”, widths of streets, and connectivity. I believe that sidewalks on both sides of a typical subdivision street is wasteful and should only be required on busier and wider streets determined by traffic engineers.
Working for a real estate developer I know the costs of sidewalks do get passed along to homebuyers and on a typical 70’ wide lot with a 4’ wide sidewalk, the cost is +/-$850 per lot. As you said in your article “A slab of concrete. Impervious surface.” The impervious surface is also becoming an environmental issue concerning storm water runoff and municipalities looking into “post construction ordinances” which (try) to reduce the amount of impervious areas and treat the rest through a series of water quality ponds and rain gardens which drives the cost of a home way up, and limiting sidewalks to one side of a street can help the impervious area calculations and costs.
Of course, I think that in a city you need sidewalks on both sides, and for many reasons. Here's one: Today's quiet residential street in a quiet neighborhood with little traffic may, in 2030, be a high-traffic street. consider Kuykendall Road, or Barclay Downs Drive, or Sharon Road near the Queens/Selwyn intersection. All were, when built, at the edge of the city in quiet suburban areas. Now they're in-town streets with plenty of cars.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
My weekly Observer column in today's paper spins off some of the past week's discussion about kids walking to school, and sidewalks. The Charlotte developers' lobby is questioning whether the city should require developers to build sidewalks on both sides of residential streets.
If you want to follow my weekly column on a regular basis, go to this site: www.charlotteobserver.com/marynewsom and set up an RSS feed.
Now I gotta get back to my Saturday bloggers' camp and learn about tag clouds and other fun stuff.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Are the younger generation really different in their attitudes toward cities and urban life?
Here's a comment from my post "End of sprawl? Um, not yet."
"I think there's another factor too that's not entirely being examined. I'm a 26 year old young professional, and unlike young 'yuppie' professionals from past generations, my generation couldn't seem less interested in having a big house in the 'burbs. The majority of them seem to prefer more contained urban living. Will this new generation further the trend of new urbanism and fuel more inner city growth as they come more into their own? Only time will tell I suppose!"
Will this generation "further the trend of new urbanism and fuel more inner city growth"? Or will they be like previous generations and conclude that when they have children they require a house with a lawn, and suburban schools? I think one of the great untold stories -- and I hope to tell it one of these days -- is to debunk the myth that there are no families with children in uptown Charlotte.
But in Charlotte, at least, most of the uptown development seems designed with the assumption that folks with kids live elsewhere. Maybe that will change. Maybe the new 9-11 and Millennial generations will provoke the change. What do you think?
Christopher Leinberger of Brookings and the University of Michigan has declared an end to sprawl. "We are witnessing the beginning of the end of sprawl," he writes, in a piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He says the market is demanding it.
I've read a variety of writings along the same vein: Higher gas prices, or aging baby-boomers or Millennials or boredom with the suburbs are among the factors that planners and urban writers and Smart Growth advocates are saying will end the dominion of sprawl. I'm declaring those pieces to be the new trend in urban writing. Whether there's a real trend in U.S. development is, to my eye, still an open question.
But in addition to those Smart Growth trends, there has been mile after mile after mile of dumb growth going on still. While Birkdale and Baxter were being so well designed, elsewhere in Charlotte mile after mile of single-use, single-family starter home subdivisions were going up, all on auto-pilot and many of them now tattered by foreclosures, even before they're 10 years old. "Sprawl slums," as Charlotte architect Tom Low calls them. (The photo above is of Peachtree Hills, a starter-home subdivision on the fringes of Charlotte.)
Maybe that's what the "beginning of the end" means, but so far, it's not necessarily visible.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
-- CMS has been harangued for years by the anti-tax crowd to be more economical in its school building, so like many large systems slammed with growth, it moved to larger (I would say too large) schools. Larger schools mean students must come from farther away, making it harder for them to walk, especially in Charlotte's pedestrian-hostile suburban areas.
Yes, it's theoretically possible a push for more walkable schools might have arisen earlier if all children were attending schools nearby. But I've lived in Charlotte 30 years and the whole "walkability" movement -- irrespective of school kids -- was nonexistent for most of that time.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
"Why was it necessary to create a job in the health dept. to encourage kids to walk to schools? Isn't that something a principal/teachers/student nurse could communicate to the parents?"
Good question, from a comment on the previous posting. The situation is complicated. A few administrators at schools here (and other cities as well) don't want kids walking to school. They think it's unsafe. They think kids already have bus rides so why would they want to walk? In addition, many principals spend their time trying to make sure kids are learning and teachers are teaching. How students arrive at school -- as long as it's not causing immediate problems -- is way, way down the list. I wish the case were otherwise, but it's not realistic to think that will change.
And school nurses? Most school nurses are assigned to multiple schools and barely have time to turn around, must less launch campaigns to encourage walking.
But there are other problems, too, that even the principals who DO want kids to walk or bike can't surmount: Lack of sidewalks. Lack of crosswalks. Lack of midblock stoplights on long, long blocks. Lack of bike lanes. Lack of crossing guards. Those policies and decisions are not within a principal's authority, but reside with the City of Charlotte.
And it's even more complicated. Plenty of schools were built and designed for car- and-bus-only transportation. They're not in pedestrian-friendly settings. Here's a good example: Unless things have changed in the last couple of years, Greenway Park Elementary sits right next to the McAlpine Greenway, yet there's no pedestrian connection to the greenway. The school, like many, sits so far back from the road and its sidewalk that the whole setting conveys a subliminal message of "Don't walk here." Technically, of course, you can walk to that school. But it wouldn't be very efficient or pleasant.
Older schools -- Eastover, Myers Park Traditional, Davidson Middle, Midwood School, the old Wilmore School (now used for offices) -- were built when it was expected that kids would walk to school. That fell out of favor, all over the country.
School designs for the past 40 years had almost nothing to do with whether the assignment zones were neighborhood-school or crosstown busing. You see the same styles all over the country, not just in Charlotte. They have to do with state school design guidelines (influenced by national standards), traffic engineering and the architectural mode and practices of the day when they were built.
Reversing all the policies that combine to create an anti-walking environment is a huge task. I don't wany my school principals having to tackle it. They have another mission.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
Random architectural musing, while driving through the Carolinas Medical Center complex over the weekend: Do they teach classes in architectural school on how to make medical office buildings ugly?
They must, because otherwise the law of randomness would mean now and again there would be a medical office building constructed that wasn't ugly and was even, you know, agreeable to look at. Ditto for hospitals. (Presbyterian Hospital, at least the older red brick part, on Hawthorne/Queens, is the pleasant exception to this pattern.)
You'd think doctors' groups and medical institutions would be particularly on the lookout for designs that encourage people to walk -- you know, get exercise? Ward off heart disease and diabetes and obesity? You'd be wrong. Most of their buildings are surrounded by moats of asphalt parking lots.
OK, end of random thought.
One of the most influential human beings in the world of architecture, planning, development, city growth and urban design is in town this week for a transportation conference. Andres Duany (ranked No. 5 on Builder magazine's list of the most powerful people in the planning industry) is giving a public talk this Wednesday 5:30-7 p.m. at the Levine Museum uptown.
Then he'll attend a three-day transportation summit conference by the Congress for the New Urbanism. Yep, Charlotte will be fairly crawling with New Urbanists. Here's a link for more about Duany, if you're not familiar with him and his work. Here's a link to information on the conference. (Correction: It's Congress, not conference, for the New Urbanism. Too much typing fast. My apologies.)
In a nutshell, Andres and his wife and business partner, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, helped found the whole New Urbanist movement.
You'll hear a lot of different definitions of New Urbanism, especially from developers and/or rival architects, many of whom paint it as a movement seeking only nostalgic houses with front porches. That's a simplistic look at a complex set of ideas.
In a nutshell, New Urbanism seeks to model new development on the successful, human-friendly designs of decades past.
I've heard Duany lecture over the years, and among the ideas that has stuck with me is this: When re grappling with the problem of traffic congestion, he said, remember: "Congestion is the condition of the city." Whether it's flocks of goats, ox-drawn carts, people on foot, people on horseback, carriages, cars, SUVs, buses, Jetson-style flying saucers, whatever. Cities are crowded places, and they are going to be congested.
What matters is whether people can get around in a multitude of ways: by car, on foot, bicycle, train, streetcar, bus -- the whole panoply of transportation options.
Love his ideas or hate them, Duany is always provocative, always an incisive observer of American (and world) societies.