Threads from NewUrbanism News

For the background on the articles, click the links in the text!!!

New Urbanism is the “most important architectural movement in the United States in the last 50 years.”  — New York Times

Video on New Urbanism – Great project to aid in promoting urbanism (follow these guys work!!) — American Makeover: An Online Film Series About New Urbanism

What makes an urban street? A simple reversal – taking the ugly parking lots and cars and putting them behind the buildings, and pulling the buildings to the street – creates a sense of density, and makes the place seem less auto-centric (parking lots next to streets orients the entire neighborhood around the car).  Or try reducing the number of car lanes and creating a bike lane and sidewalk café, as shown in a rogue demonstration project in a Dallas neighborhood.  Bicycles and babies welcome.

Density & Transit: New urbanists need to temper desire for density in smaller cities.  “Metropolitan areas with populations of less than about two million inhabitants don’t necessitate the kind of high densities urbanists often promote” says Aaron Renn in Urbanophile.  Oftentimes in these places transit can’t provide adequate service, since densities are too low to make frequent buses (or other forms of transit) possible and the car is the best alternative.  But in places that are dense, the savings from transit investment can be immense.  “New York City’s Green Dividend” indicates that transit and walking may save New Yorkers $19 billion/year.

Global Warming/Sustainability: In a massive report released on EarthDay, the US Department of Transportation said that the US must cut emissions, and that our historic approach to transportation and land use has created an energy-intensive system dependent on carbon-based fuels and automobiles..

Federal, State & Local Policies: The Obama administration’s efforts to stop sprawl and make cities livable might include new rail lines, water commuting and—possibly—using tolls to fight traffic and pollution. At a recent NYC Regional Plan Association meeting, Adolfo Carrión, the director of the White House Office of Urban Policy said “[Mr. Obama] charged us with developing a set of broad national goals” around land use, infrastructure and “creating neighborhoods that are rich with opportunity.”  Even those cities with massive road projects are finding that added road lanes do little to reduce congestion (and may actually continue to induce sprawl) and the federal and governments’ financial support for highway expansion may slow, requiring cities to instead install tollroads. Although this should not come as a surprise given levels of debt of governments at all levels, funding for mass transit is being constrained reducing light rail expansion plans and creating countervailing forces – higher transportation costs (gas prices and tollroads) driving people to areas with mass transit, at the same time as transit authorities face budget cuts impacting their expansion plans.  Will the combination of these forces cause reconcentration in the urban core?

New Transit & De-Sprawing the Suburbs: The extension of light rail to Tyson’s Corner has allowed this DC suburb to examine the place of density and TOD developments, which many suburbs may face as they balance (in the words of former Seattle mayor Greg Nichels) “their hate for sprawl and their hate for density”.  In the suburbs that do buy into TOD developments, there is often a misapplication of suburban parking requirements to urban-form development, which can frustrate the very purpose of TOD and continue car dependency.  And in any TOD project the issue of transit equity (providing a variety of housing price points) should be considered so that service workers can also afford to live near transit and not “cross-commute” as gap has widened between wagers and affordable rent making it even harder for lower income workers to afford the added transportation burden.  Effective smart growth patterns provide adequate workforce housing, but this requires political boldness.  The Urban Land Institute recently profiled the city of Boston and determined that it’s actually cheaper to have a larger mortgage in an inner-ring suburb than to live further out and have a cheaper mortgage but a costly commute.

Alternative Vehicles vs. Urbanism/Density: In the end, the real alternative to automobiles is not better automobiles. It is better neighborhoods.

Office Locations: Has the suburban office park lost its luster?  More corporations are relocating to downtowns as cities are more exciting and diverse.

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About Bob Voelker

Head of the Munsch Hardt (Dallas law firm) Hospitality & Mixed Use Development Group, and former developer of affordable housing. I'm i
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