New Urbanism News 7/19/10

The Fourth Place — For those who choose to downsize their homes (for economic, environmental or “new urbanism” reasons), places like Starbucks, now with free internet service, become an extension of home and work (and besides, the coffee is real good).  “For many in the growing legions of the self-employed, the neighborhood café is the closest thing they have to a formal place of business. People who have regular jobs work remotely at least some of the time as well. Tens of millions more could and almost certainly will forsake their offices at least some of the time in the not distant future. It’s ironic but true: It’s hard to get any real work done in an office. And working at home can get awfully lonely.”

Mixed-Use Wal-Mart — Washington DC is going to get the nation’s first mixed-use Wal-Mart.  Actually using that huge parking lot for night-time use, and using the “air space” above the store for residences?  New urbanism is really coming of age!

Houses/Condos Shrink — the new small in condos may be 500 square feet, and houses are right-sizing too.  Now if we could just right size our waistlines.  But then — if you take transit, you actually shed pounds.

NIMBYism is Killing Chance for Better Cities — but while we try to make these important and necessary changes, the persistent attitudes toward not rocking the status quo, building homogenous real estate and — let it not be so — density (even high end condos and townhomes, much less rental apartments — are threatening to $400,000 and up single family homes), make building more sustainable, walkable, transit-oriented, better-sense-of-place communities very difficult.  Layer on top of this the changes wrought by the current economy, which will (in many cases for the better) move more young singles and families of all characters to affordable housing alternatives and over time there will be brewing local battles on the zoning front.  All sustainability is local — as is NIMBYism.

Century of the City — as dubbed by the United Nations, will also be the century of  rail and other forms of mass transit. Over 1/2 of the world’s population now live in cities, and we simply can’t move that many people around in cars.

Innovation to Make the Housing-Transportation Connection Work — this is true in the US.  As we re-densify in the urban core, gas prices rise, pollution/global warming intensifies, we arise from the global recession, real estate and transportation intersect and create fertile grounds for innovation.

Driving & The Built Environment — A recent Transportation Research Board study indicates that one way to address all of these concerns is to drive less because we live in more compact development.

Creating More Walkable Cities — a great Washington Post piece indicates the changes needed to facilitate a better walking environment.

Changing the Built Environment Won’t Be Easy — With our vast investment over decades in roads, reversing the pattern of development will be difficult, as we will need “to re-engineer the physical form of the nation in an economy drained of public funds, private credit, and, soon, cheap fossil fuel.”

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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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