May 202016
 

If we’re going to curb climate change, urbanism — developing sustainable cities and metro regions — will have to lead the way.

So says Peter Calthorpe, an architect, urban planner, and one of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

In his latest book, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change, he argues that green technology and alternative energy alone won’t mitigate climate change, but that they will need to integrate with smart urban planning and development to really make a difference. I talked with Calthorpe about what that looks like in practical terms, how urbanism is the cutting edge of environmentalism, why sustainable cities are more than just a fad, and more.

SmartPlanet: You say in your book that Americans must reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions to 12 percent of their current output. Briefly paint the picture of a city that is designed to reach that goal?

Peter Calthorpe: It’s not a simple – either you live in the suburbs or you live in the city. We used to have things called streetcar suburbs that were very walkable, in California they were built around bungalows, and people walked more and they biked more and they used transit more in those areas.

You basically have to get to a situation where you reduced your dependence on the automobile, and your car is very efficient – 55 mpg. But perhaps more important, you’re only driving it 5,000 miles a year instead of 30,000.

You’re getting around otherwise by walking to local destinations, using you bike, and using local transit networks. You’re probably also living in a townhouse or an apartment where the building is very efficiently built, and demands very small amounts of energy. There’s not a lot of water being used because you don’t have a big yard, but there’s a really cool park nearby. And you tend to eat a little more organic, a little more local, and a little less meat. And the power grid for your region is based at least 60 percent on renewables.

It’s a combination of all those things. But at its foundation is the more compact, walkable, urban environment, because it is what reduces demand. It reduces demand so much that you then begin to satisfy the demand with renewables.

SP: You’re saying that the question shouldn’t be, “do you live in a city or not?” but if you live in a community with these qualities?

PC: Right. And we almost had a perfect system before World War II in the U.S. We had great cities, people loved to live in them, and they were very walkable and transit oriented.

But we had suburbs that were also walkable and transit oriented, they were called streetcar suburbs. There were massive streetcar systems all around the United States. They were torn up after WWII by a consortium of GM, Standard Oil, and Firestone, and they were all replaced with buses, which became less and less desirable as they got stuck in the same traffic as cars. We transitioned away from a pattern that was pretty healthy.

The two compliment each other: the city center, in its higher urban forms, and the streetcar suburbs – what we now call transit-oriented development – really help each other.

Part of the mistake that the right-wing makes here is that they think in order to be ecological, everybody has to be forced into the same lifestyle, and that’s just not true.

More and more we live a regional life. Not just a life in a city or a town. Our economic opportunities, our social and cultural lives are regional and almost all of our environmental issues are regional: air quality, water quality, transportation. All these things are regional issues that can’t be dealt with by a single city or town.

SP: Is the urbanism that you described — sustainable cities — is the most plausible solution to climate change?

PC: I call it the foundation. If you don’t get the lifestyles to a healthier place, the amount of technology that you’re going to have to deploy is going to be really problematic. It’s conservation first. Reducing demands before you start talking about supplies. Too much of the discussion around climate change and carbon seems to focus on technology before it even begins to think about how people’s lifestyles can change.

Of course a more urban lifestyle, whether it’s a streetcar suburb or city, is just healthier and more affordable. It’s a win in many dimensions.

For example, we have an obesity crisis in the United States. Part of that is driven by the fact that we’re too sedentary, we don’t walk. Our communities have less of that natural policing that happens when people live more in the public domain. And more time in the streets and cafes, and less time in their cars. Safety gets in there, air quality is impacted, the household economics.

You can forget about saving the environment, what about just living affordable lifestyles? In America today it costs $5,600 a year to own a car. If you want to own a new one it’s like $8,000. So in American where the median household makes $50,000, and half of that is spent on transportation and housing, you can see how two cars immediately eats into a pretty big chunk of the household budget.

We’ve been able to demonstrate, here in California, as part of our implementation of AB 32, that you not only save the environment, but you save your pocketbook, and you create healthier people and stronger communities.

SP: You make a convincing argument that urbanism has a positive impact on health, economics, safety, and has other co-benefits. Are you saying you can be an urbanist without necessarily being an environmentalist?

PC: People like to live in cities not just because they’re environmentalists, but by living in cities and walkable towns they’re at the cutting edge of environmentalism. That’s the good news.

It should never be a single issue movement. Trying to design healthy sustainable communities impacts so many dimensions of our society that you should never just look at carbon or oil or even land consumption. But it succeeds on all those levels.

In California we looked at a more compact future that only had 30 percent of the new housing in apartments and 55 percent in townhouses and bungalows, with the end result still being over 50 percent of the housing in California being single family. Yet, the difference in land consumption was monumental. It went from something like 5,000 square miles down to 1,800 square miles.

That huge urban footprint, that savings there of 3,500 square miles of building over farmland, and habitats, that’s a very important component to many people, not just environmentalists.

SP: You talk about the history of urbanism with the rise of the suburbs in the 1950s and now a return to the city in the 2000s. Is urbanism and talk of sustainable cities just a fad or do you think there is a paradigm shift taking place?

PC: It’s a fundamental fact of demographics. When we gave birth to the suburbs we were pushing towards 50 percent of households were a married couple with kids. Now only 23 percent of households are married with kids. The other 75 percent have other needs, other priorities other than a big yard on a cul-de-sac. Whether it’s young single people or older empty-nesters or single moms struggling to make ends meet, there’s a whole different set of needs that revolve more around costs and a lot of issues.

When you get to a point where you either don’t want to drive a lot because you’re older and/or you can’t afford to drive a lot, you need places that work for those parts of the population. So this change isn’t just about a fad or a sentiment, it’s fundamental demographics and economics.

And the good news is that it helps us with our environmental challenge.

SP: In the book you say that we need more interconnected whole system fixes, where engineers are working with urban planners, and vice versa, to design a successful communities. What are some examples of this that you have seen successfully play out?

PC: Well, urbanism came along in the early 90s and has now demonstrated a huge number of successes in trying to think holistically about the design of neighborhoods and communities. They range from really large projects — like we did the reuse of the old airport in Denver, Stapleton. There are 10,000 units of housing there; it’s walkable, it’s mixed-use, and it’s very mixed-income.

One of the most radical things that happened there is that we ended up being able to put in one neighborhood the very high-end housing and the most affordable housing a block and a half apart. Whereas the development community had been operating for decades on the notion that you have to segregate income groups.

I think that there’s a lot [of benefits] for the society, for the strength and coherence and the basic sensibility and investment we have in each other to not live in isolated enclaves.

At the other end of the spectrum, the New Urbanists helped Henry Cisneros, when he was head of HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] to execute the Hope VI program, which was to tear down the worst of the public housing projects and build in their place mixed-use, mixed-income communities that really fit with their surroundings. They were no longer a stigma dragging huge sections of the city down.

There are a lot of success stories out there and a lot of good examples. So much so that the development community, and its leadership – for example the Urban Land Institute – has completely signed on to all of these precepts.

The models, the paradigms are there and once we come out of this great recession I think we’re going to be able to move in a much healthier direction.

SP: Do you think when we come out of the recession that there will be less single family home development and sprawl?

PC: The interesting thing is that the development community understands that the marketplace that’s going to come next is much more compact, walkable communities. The question is: are they going to be allowed to build it? Therein lies the big problem.

All of our zoning codes are still focused back into the hindsight, into single-use homes and low density. So all zoning needs to change, which of course is a huge political hurdle.

Then you have the problem of NIMBYs [not in my backyard], and a bunch of them actually use environmental alibis. They’re people who just don’t want infill, they don’t want density, they don’t want townhouses near their large lot, they don’t want commercial in the neighborhood, even if they could walk to it. Because fundamentally they don’t want change.

That creates a very perverse situation where even when the developers want to build the right thing, they don’t get the chance.

SP: Is that the biggest hurdle for building more walkable, dense communities?

PC: Absolutely. NIMBYs – it’s interesting to watch how many of them use environmental issues as alibis – are the biggest problem. Of course there’s infill parcel-by-parcel along an arterial, and there are also big infill sites which really scare people: old army bases, large industrial areas, and things like that that can be converted. People are frightened by the scale of change. But what they have to realize is that the end result is that development gets pushed farther and farther to the regional periphery where there’s less transit and fewer jobs.

[Along with zoning codes] there’s a third leg here, and that’s that our departments of transportation have a real strong addiction to building roads rather than transit. There are really three shifts [that need to take place]. We have to reframe the infrastructure and put more money into transit than roads, we need to redo the zoning codes, and we need to find a way to overcome local opposition to infill.

The problem is always that infill does cause local impacts, there’s no question. But when you’re looking at it holistically, it’s a much more environmentally benign way to grow. But on someone’s block it doesn’t look that way.

I live here in Berkeley, California. And I think downtown Berkeley is a prime example of this. We have BART, we have the university, we have jobs, we should be building high-rise residential right there, right at a transit node, right at the doorstep of a great university. But there are a lot of environmentalists here who just say, “no that’s not the right thing to do.” In the end what it means is people get pushed farther and farther out to the suburbs and commute greater and greater distances because there just isn’t enough housing close to the jobs.

SP: Most of your book is from a US perspective. But climate change is a global problem. Are there places around the world that are getting urban design right? Is the rest of the world going in the right direction?

PC: There are many northern European countries that are really getting it right. The Scandinavian countries are doing a fabulous job of putting the brakes on autos and really orienting towards biking and walking. Copenhagen is a great example of that. And in Sweden over 50 percent of all trips are on foot or bike, and it is a cold, wet climate. And they have, on a per-capita basis, higher incomes than we do. They could afford to drive everywhere, but they don’t. It’s the cityscape and it’s the culture. Those are good models.

I’m doing a lot of work now in China where they’ve got three of the four things you need to make good urbanism. They have density, traditionally they have very mixed-use environments – they have small shops everywhere. And they invest heavily in transit.

But they’re getting their street network all wrong, and they’re building super blocks that really defy the pedestrian and the biker. So you find these huge drop offs in pedestrian and bike mobility in China. What they need to do is reconfigure the way they design their street networks back to small blocks and human-scale streets. And if they do that they’ll really be a model.

Original article.

Apr 252016
 

A recently published report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials includes insights from dozens of officials and practitioners across North America.

Image Nate Roseberry, courtesy of NACTO
The Loop Link design project in Chicago. (Nate Roseberry, courtesy of NACTO)

Not all urban planners or city governments agree on what kind of street designs are best. But one thing remains clear: Cities who want to plan for the future must prioritize transit accessibility.

To aid this process, the National Association of City Transportation Officials has devised a Transit Street Design Guide, which contains insights from 18 different transit agencies, as well as officials and practitioners in 45 North American cities.

The guide functions as a one-stop shop for designers, city planners, and all those interested in improving the safety and efficiency of their streets. While it serves as more of a toolbox than a prescriptive rule book, here are some of the main takeaways:

Separate transit from standard traffic. Both downtown streets and major corridors have the challenge of accommodating many different modes of transportation. One way to improve safety and efficiency in these high-density areas is to ensure that public transit remains separate from standard traffic. “Transit is often faced with automobile congestion at exactly the time when it needs to be running at the highest frequency and in the most reliable way,” says Matthew Roe, the director of NACTO’s Designing Cities Initiative. “By giving buses and trains their own space on the street, we can make transit work extremely well at exactly the times when people need it the most.”

To help accomplish this, the guide recommends designating certain lanes as “transit only.” According to Roe, the Bronx’s Webster Avenue, along with many streets in San Francisco, are fitting examples of transit-only lanes that have improved both safety and travel times.

In those areas where buses and trams already share the street with cars, Roe says there are “a number of other treatments” that can reduce interactions between cars and transit, including boarding islands and in-lane stops. In Seattle, one-lane streets in each direction even allow bicycles to travel behind bus stops, thereby improving bus travel times.

“Bus only” lanes. (NACTO)

Don’t forget about pedestrians. “All across the United States and the world, there are bus systems that run on streets that were not designed to be walkable,” Roe tells CityLab. “It’s critical that, as we strive to increase transit ridership, we examine how these major streets work for pedestrians.” One way to accomplish this, according to the guide, is to increase the number of pedestrian crossings at intersections and shorten the distance between crossings. Along edgefront streets (those that run along waterfronts, parks, or campuses), for instance, there is little to no space for vehicles to cross on one side. This presents an opportunity to install extended transit lanes that separate pedestrians from car traffic, as shown in the image below.

Edgefront steet with pedestrian intersections. (NACTO)

Maximize speed and efficiency. By allowing transit vehicles to pull up within two inches of the platform or side of the street, transit curbs have a huge impact on speed and efficiency. These curbs should be clearly marked, over six inches high, and can be either concave or rectangular (the design standard), according to the guide. If possible, they should also be tapered at the point of entry and exit to minimize boarding time. As an alternative, the guide suggests installing a rubber rail or plastic bumper to allow buses to hug the curb.

Another important measure for improving efficiency is to include contraflow transit lanes in a city’s design plans. These lanes are designed for streets with one-way traffic, and are typically reserved for bicycles or buses. According to the guide, they allow for shorter travel times by reducing encounters with nearby traffic. A 1999 study from San Francisco’s Department of Parking and Traffic confirms these findings by looking at the success of the first contraflow bus lane in downtown San Francisco. After examining four intersections at various times of day for an entire month, the authors found that buses along this lane saved up to 8 minutes in travel time after the lane was installed.

Contraflow transit lanes. (NACTO)

Prioritize design over the mode of transit. Despite controversies surrounding recently built streetcar systems, the guide focuses on creating the right designs rather than installing the right form of transit. “Whether it’s a bus or a streetcar or full-scale light rail, what really matters is that transit gets the time and space it needs,” says Roe, noting that the St. Charles Streetcar—the world’s oldest continuously operating streetcar—is an essential part of the New Orleans transit network, and still boasts a hefty ridership.

Don’t just design for downtown. “For a long time, a lot of cities have had transit networks that were designed primarily to give downtown office workers an alternative way to get to work besides taking a car,” Roe says. “[But] when you look at cities like Houston that have redone their bus network to serve all the neighborhoods in the city, sometimes that means doing a grid rather than a hub-and-spoke model focused on downtown. When you do that kind of work and really examine where people are going, you find really large increases in ridership.”

In addition to downtown areas, neighborhood streets face their own set of obstacles. While these streets only suffer from moderate pedestrian or bicycle traffic, their limited width and capacity make it difficult to accommodate a community’s public transit needs. To address this, the guide recommends improving transit stops to include designated spaces for pick-up and drop-off, and installing “boarding bulbs”—or sidewalk extensions—so that buses can stay in their traffic lane without having to pull up to the curb. The guide also highlights the need for reasonably-priced curbside parking.

Neighborhood transit stops. (NACTO)

Make streets accessible for all. Already, the U.S. Access Board outlines various requirements for making streets accessible for wheelchair users. And yet Roe still finds that “there has been a significant gap in detailed guidance on how to make bus boarding wheelchair accessible in new configurations of streets.” In addition to the basic standards developed by the Access Board, the guide outlines its own recommendations for designers and city planners.

“One of the critical things about accessibility is that there a lots of ways to make a bus stop or a rail stop accessible,” Roe says. “When you strive for universal design and make a stop inherently accessible through its design, you can speed up the boarding process for everybody.” A number of cities currently rely on ramps or low-floor or kneeling buses instead of outmoded lifts to provide wheelchair access. These small changes can make all the difference when it comes to speeding up the boarding process.

Center boarding island. (NACTO)

Emphasize sustainability. Green transitways, or large green areas along or between bus or rail tracks, are a cost-effective way to make an environmental impact, according to the guide. In addition to improving the aesthetics of a neighborhood, these planted areas also help to manage stormwater. One promising example is the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project, which created an “eco-track” to collect stormwater runoff and prevent it from entering the sewer system. Small initiatives like this can make a huge difference for cities today and well into the future.

Original article.

Apr 252016
 

Models matter. Let’s design more streets like the streets we already love.

Image Sergei Klambotski / Shutterstock.com
The Parisian Boulevard offers a time-tested model for the high-volume urban street. (Sergei Klambotski / Shutterstock.com)

When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you’re a traffic engineer, it seems, everything looks like a highway.

If traffic engineers did not control the design of so many of our public spaces, this might not be a problem. But they do—and that’s especially true here in the U.S. Even when traffic engineers have the best intentions, too many simply lack the tools to make successful places. In the typical American city, asking a traffic engineer to design a walkable street is like asking a hammer to insert a screw.

In my last article for CityLab, 18 months ago, I wrote about over-wide driving lanes, and how they encourage speeding and make our streets more deadly. That piece, others like it, and the labors of many have helped to bring about a change in the way that U.S. engineers think about lane widths. While the war is by no means won, many transportation departments are beginning to accept narrower standards. The profession had shown itself capable of reform.

This gives me hope, and prompts me to take the conversation to a higher level. What is the next urgent battle to be fought in the name of more walkable, livable streets and communities? So many things come to mind: the value of trees, the need for parallel parking to protect the sidewalk, the epidemic of unnecessary traffic signals, the mandate for truly buffered bike lanes. . . the list goes on. But what if there were one category that managed to include all the others?

I believe there is, and it goes like this: models matter.

In other words, pay attention to precedent. So, you’re designing a street? Great! What street do you want it to be like? Does it look like that street? Not really? Why not? Where is there a street like the one you just drew? Is it any good?

Sounds obvious enough, right? Then why does it seem to happen so rarely? Are plans that hard to read? Why is it that engineers, planners, citizens, and the media all regularly don’t ask these questions?

Case in point: consider this recent example from Lowell, Massachusetts, a city with a great history of urban wisdom. Thanks to several decades of pro-planning public servants and a great non-profit called The Lowell Plan, the city has reinvented itself as a smaller, less expensive Boston, a place that now attracts residents and businesses to its great urbanism, focus on higher education, and commitment to historic preservation and the arts. Its once-abandoned downtown mills are now full of middle-class lofts, and a third wave of redevelopment is well underway.

Lowell is a city I know intimately, having lived there for some time in 2010 as I completed an “evolution plan” for the downtown. That plan is now being implemented and has, among other things, reverted a confusing and speedy network of one-way streets back to calmer two-way traffic. Lowell is a city that gets things done.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across an article earlier this month about the city’s plans for its southern gateway, the Lord Overpass. This site is particularly important to Lowell, being an area of major redevelopment as well as the key link from the train station (at right in the image below) to downtown (beyond the canal to the left). This collection of streets—a squared traffic circle floating above a highway—is due for reconstruction, and the city came up with the smart idea of putting the depressed highway back up at grade to create more of an urban boulevard condition.

The current state of Lowell’s Lord Overpass. (Via Bing Maps)

At the level of intention, this seemed a wise plan. It is hard to find a pleasant urban place with two levels of streets, unless the lower level is completely hidden, and it was beyond the budget here to fully cap the highway. There are many good examples of surface boulevards that handle as much traffic as this section of road does, and replacing highways with boulevards is something that U.S. cities know how to do at this point. It turned out that, for the $15 million price tag of rebuilding the bridges, the city could just as easily truck in enough dirt to fill the hole. So far, so good.

But then came the plan, and my reason for writing this article. Picture in your mind a classic large urban street, one that will attract pedestrians while also moving a lot of traffic.  Perhaps you are imagining Paris’s Avenue Marceau, Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia, or Washington’s K Street? Now look at the image below.

Rendering of option 3 for the Lord Overpass reconstruction. (Courtesy City of Lowell)

Not quite what you had in mind? Yeah, me neither. I have to reach the conclusion that the distinctions between the two models of boulevard and highway are actually more subtle than I am suggesting, because this drawing was created by a skilled engineering team, embraced by the City Council, local non-profits, and newspaper, and presented this month to resounding applause from neighborhood residents.

The devil is in the details. (Courtesy City of Lowell)

So, let’s zoom in and describe what we see:

  • Four lanes dedicated to motion straight through, just like the now-submerged highway;
  • Three lanes dedicated to turning motions, two of which swoop around the edges in great curves;
  • Two dedicated bus lanes, each about 17 feet wide, curb-to-curb. (A bus is 8 1/2 feet wide, so perhaps the goal is to squeeze two past each other?);
  • Bike lanes that are partly protected, partly unprotected, and partly merged into the bus lanes;
  • A collection of treeless concrete wedges, medians, and “pork chops” directing the flow of vehicles;
  • No parallel parking on either the main road or any of the roads intersecting it; and
  • Green swales lining the streets, resulting in set-back properties to the one side and open space to the other. (Note that the open space at the bottom of the drawing is too shallow to put a building on.)

Not listed above, but perhaps of the greatest concern, is the issue of precedent. While there exist a growing number of locations in America with street configurations like this one, it is impossible to name one with street life. Swoopy configurations like this design are found mostly in suburban drive-only locations out by the mall, not in cities. If no attractive place can be found with a similar configuration, then a design should not pass the street-planning smell test.

A typically swoopy suburban intersection near the Mall of America in Minnesota. (Via Bing Maps)

The comparison of drive-only suburbia with walkable cities then allows us to make this critique of the approved plan:

  • Walkable streets do not have swoops, slip lanes, pork chops, and other features that encourage drivers to make fast turns;
  • Walkable streets have narrow lanes, typically 10 feet wide—even for buses;
  • Walkable streets place continuous shade trees in any medians;
  • Walkable streets have parallel parking along every curb, to protect pedestrians (and potentially bikes) from moving traffic; and
  • Walkable streets are lined by buildings that give them life, and in urban locations these buildings are tall and sit directly against the sidewalk.

All of the above criteria, in addition to making pedestrians feel welcome, contribute to an environment in which cars drive more safely. Students of urban form will recognize that they all come from studying the proper model, the classic boulevard.

If the goal is to move lots of traffic in a walkable urban environment, there is only one time-tested model. As so well described in The Boulevard Book by Alan Jacobs, all successful boulevards follow certain rules, including those above. Since we know that proper boulevards make successful places, a respect for precedent gives us clear direction here.

A quick and dirty proposal based on the traditional urban boulevard. (Courtesy Jeff Speck)

So, what would this stretch of road look like as a boulevard? I took a stab at it above. To satisfy the car counters—because they always win—I even added a lane, to match the current condition. This proposal, one of many possible solutions, includes a 4-lane, high-volume center flanked by two 2-lane side roads. One of the lanes on each side can be dedicated to buses, if so desired. Each side road is flanked by parallel parking, and protected bike lanes are placed in the outer edge of the sidewalk, European style. All intersecting streets maintain parallel parking on both sides, and corners are tight, with no swoops. Street trees fill both medians, aligned with the trees in the sidewalks.

Nothing is wider than it needs to be, and the whole facility hugs the properties to one side, with no swales or setbacks. This leads to something surprising: free land. Three large and valuable building sites are now available in what is planned to remain wasted space alongside the railroad. This is great news, for two reasons. First, because the sale of this land—more than an acre of prime real estate—can be used to defray the costs of the project. Second, because a street is only as good as its edges. Without the spatial definition, activity, and supervision provided by buildings against the sidewalk, a boulevard is not complete.

This design was done quickly and could no doubt be improved. It is presented with the confidence that it follows a well-established model, and its outcomes can be predicted.  Sadly, the current proposal that it hopes to replace also follows a well-established model, with predictable outcomes. These outcomes are a far cry from those currently anticipated by the good people of Lowell.

City planning is not just an art, but also a profession, and like in the professions of law or medicine, its practitioners have a responsibility to learn from past successes and failures.  Study of precedent makes it clear that boulevards create street life and enhance real estate value, while highways obliterate street life and sunder real estate value. It is not too late for Lowell to embrace a model that will transform this site from a place that is easy to get through to a place worth arriving at. Similarly, all of our cities, as they contemplate expensive reconstruction of obsolete roadways, have two models to choose from, one led by engineering, and another led by precedent: the study of places we love.

Original article.

Oxnard Planning Documents

 
Apr 022016
 
 April 2, 2016  Auto Use, New Urbanism

Larkin Square's Food Truck Tuesdays are one example of Buffalo's recent successes in revitalizing its urban core. Photo: ##http://www.larkinsquare.com/##Larkin Square##

As a charter member of the Congress for New Urbanism, I’ve now attended twenty of the organization’s annual conferences. This month’s event may have been my favorite yet, mostly thanks to its location in downtown Buffalo, a place that reminds us so poignantly of both the successes and failures of city planning, as first lovingly practiced and later ruthlessly perpetrated across America.

Most of the local residents in attendance — and there were many — seemed to enthusiastically embrace New Urbanism’s ethos of redesigning our cities around people rather than cars, recognizing how the auto age had perhaps done as much damage to downtown Buffalo as its devastating loss of industry.

But there are always exceptions. In the Buffalo News’ only prominent review of the event, art critic Colin Dabkowski wrote an “open letter to the New Urbanist movement,” that centered upon a damning critique of my community lecture there and also of my book, Walkable City, which he seems to have read in part.

The thoughts that follow are my response to Dabkowski’s review. The Buffalo News worked with me to craft this article as an Op-Ed for Sunday’s paper. Then, three hours from press time, they demanded that I remove most of my references to  Mr. Dabkowski’s error-loaded text. Not excited by that prospect, I am sharing my comments here instead.

I suppose that my biggest surprise in reading the Buffalo News article came from the fact that I had been expecting to hear such a critique sooner. In the eighteen months since Walkable City came out — and over more than 100 reviews — all but the most sympathetic critics seem to have been largely silent. I was waiting for comments like these, but eventually gave up.

The reason I was waiting is because two of the book’s central arguments — “Downtowns First” and “Urban Triage” — imply winners and losers, and I have seen at least the first argument anger people in the past. Folks who don’t live in downtown are often resentful seeing money spent there, whether they find their homes in cash-strapped slums or wealthy suburbs.

I have come to this Downtowns First strategy not as a social critic or even as a social scientist, but as a professional planner who learned from Jane Jacobs to think of cities as ecosystems that thrive or decline holistically. With some difficulty, and along with many of my colleagues, I have reached the conclusion that a healthy metropolis requires a vibrant center city to hold it together. Our experience suggests that, without a strong downtown core, investments in non-downtown areas are likely to provide only fleeting benefits. Both are important, but the downtown more so.

Urban Triage, on the other hand, is a complex concept, and one that is easily misunderstood. But I can’t begin to fathom how Mr. Dabkowski came to think that Urban Triage suggests “infrastructure investment should go largely to a city’s densest and most-prosperous neighborhoods at the expense of outlying areas.” That could not be further from anything that we New Urbanists have ever said or written.

Urban Triage is not a technique for choosing among neighborhoods for investment. It is a technique for, within any given neighborhood, discerning among more walkable and more automotive environments, so that walkability investments may be made in those corridors where walking has a chance of taking root. Urban Triage says that the road between the mall and the office park, lined by auto dealers, is a worse place for new streetscapes than the street between the bus station and the stadium, lined by struggling storefronts. It aims investment not at prosperity, but at possibility.

Ultimately, what I think has happened is that Mr. Dabkowski has confused the two different arguments in his mind. Downtowns First is a macro argument.  Urban Triage is a micro one. Downtowns First favors walkable, urban areas, whatever their demographics, because we believe that cities depend on them for long-term success. Urban Triage forces us to be realistic about where such walkability is possible, again, within neighborhoods, not among them. If he had finished my book, I think this confusion would not have occurred.

How do I know that Mr. Dabkowski didn’t finish my book? Well, he says that I am an “outspoken critic of… any structures that lack traditional details of the kind you see in buildings by H.H. Richardson or Louis Sullivan.” Where in the world did he get that idea?  Has he seen my modernist house? In any case, I would direct him to the second-to-last chapter of Walkable City, where I celebrate the high tech Pompidou Center in Paris, and note: “What matters is not whether the details were crafted by a stone carver or a cold extruder, but whether they exist at all.” I believe that architecture needs small-scale details to engage the pedestrian. Beyond that, style is irrelevant.

There are too many other errors in the piece to address them all, and I fear annoying readers with inside baseball, but let me just mention one. Mr. Dabkowski’s statement, almost libelous, that I blithely suggest “a city’s most intractable problems” should be put off for “another decade,” bears no relation to what he would have read in Walkable City. What I suggested putting off was, again, streetscape improvements in “the auto zone,” roadways “lined by muffler shops and fast-food drive-throughs.” The automotive commercial strip is rarely the location of a city’s toughest problems — indeed, they are usually zoned out of it.

When I am brought to a city, it is often by the Office of Human Rights or some other group that understands that our nation’s poor and disabled are disproportionately represented among the ranks of pedestrians and cyclists. They walk, bike, roll, and take transit, often because they have no choice in the matter. They rely on walkable downtowns and neighborhood centers because they are largely incapable of entering the auto zone.

I find it troubling that my experience advancing the interests of these disenfranchised communities could somehow be considered “trickle-down,” “dismissive,” or “exclusive” by a critic, but the work of revitalizing our cities is a complex business, and prone to misunderstanding. I guess I can take some solace in the fact that it took so long for this particular misunderstanding to occur.

Jeff Speck, AICP, CNU-A, LEED-AP, Honorary ASLA, is the Principal of Speck & Associates, a city-planning firm based in Washington, DC, and the author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.

Original article.

Mar 282016
 
 March 28, 2016  Auto Use, New Urbanism, Parking

Every time a new building includes space for cars, it passes those costs on to tenants.

Image Phil Roeder / Flickr
Phil Roeder / Flickr

Seattle’s smart new plan to give tenants transit passes instead of parking spaces should help housing stay more affordable down the line. To get a sense just how much money renters might save, the city relied on a 2012 study of how parking impacts affordability from its neighbor in the Pacific Northwest, Portland. That work is striking for both its clarity and its conclusions, so let’s took a closer look.

Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability modeled what happens to unit prices when a building developer decides to include parking. A few specs if you’re into that sort of thing: the sites were 10,000 square feet (so, about 4 stories tall), zoned for mixed-use (so, shops on the ground floor), with units averaging 550 square feet (so, depending on your persona, cozy or cramped).

The report looked at several types of parking, including a surface lot, podium (a partial cut of ground floor) style, mechanical lifts that maximize space, or underground parking. All are compared to a 50-unit development option with no parking at all. The low-end rents assume developers make a 7 percent profit on the project; the high-end assumes 10 percent.

Charting the data on cost, we can see rents climb as the parking options become more complex, and thus expensive for the developer. A low-end rent in a building with no parking comes to $800 a month. Rent in the same unit in a building with the cheapest parking option, surface spots, comes to $1,200—a 50 percent jump. In a building with underground parking, the low-end rent hits $1300, a spike of 62.5 percent.

CityLab

Of course, more parking in a building doesn’t just mean higher unit rents—it means fewer units, period. Below we chart the rental units that are sacrificed to various parking types. Again, in the no-parking scenario, a building can have all 50 possible units. This time the underground lot actually fares best among the parking options, since it preserves all but 3 units. The surface lot removes 20 potential homes—that on top of whatever commercial development space it might lose on the ground floor.

CityLab

So we see how parking (especially surface parking) becomes a scourge on a city. Residential lots and spaces make individual units less and less affordable for tenants. They also result in fewer units as a whole, meaning the supply of housing across the city takes a hit. That too jacks up rents over time, as neighborhoods run out of sites to develop, and families run out of places to live.

For decades, cities have required developers to include parking as part of their building plans, a “minimum” standard that’s only now starting to relax in places. That shift in focus does create new challenges: cities must find other places for parking (ideally, shared facilities), or better yet, craft programs that discourage residents from driving in the first place (like Seattle’s). But for metros struggling to make housing more affordable, rethinking parking policy is a clear place to start.

Original article.

Mar 012016
 


Many streets in the oldest part of Quebec City are car-free much of the time. It is one of the most extensive car-free areas in North America. (CarfreeCities)

Each week, In Theory takes on a big idea in the news and explores it from a range of perspectives. This week, we’re talking about car-free cities. Need a primer? Catch up here.

J.H. Crawford is the author of “Carfree Cities” and “Carfree Design Manual,” and publisher of Carfree.com.

We must first remember that all cities were car-free little more than a century ago. Not all cities responded to the advent of automobiles with the same enthusiasm as the cities of the United States. In fact, some cities never did adopt the car. Venice was unwilling to destroy itself in order to build streets wide enough for cars, and therefore has never had them except in a sliver near the mainland. The same situation exists in the Medina of Fez, Morocco, and several other North African cities. These districts are usually the most vibrant parts of their cities.

Cars were never necessary in cities, and in many respects they worked against the fundamental purpose of cities: to bring many people together in a space where social, cultural and economic synergies could develop. Because cars require so much space for movement and parking, they work against this objective — they cause cities to expand in order to provide the land cars need. Removing cars from cities would help to improve the quality of urban life.

[How jaywalking became a crime]

Transport modes have always exerted a strong influence on the basic arrangement of cities. The current form began to emerge in the 15th century, when the advent of horse-drawn carriages led to a demand for wide, straight streets. This requirement was adopted by Renaissance planners in most of Europe, and most urban plans of the past 500 years have straight streets that are relatively wide and corners that accommodate turning carriages. In many ways, this change was a harbinger of the automobile.

Transport, however, is not the only important use of streets. Streets are also our most important public social spaces. Most cities in Europe now acknowledge the terrible damage cars have done to this use, which is why cities all across Europe are discouraging automobile use in favor of walking, cycling and public transport. This is most clearly illustrated in Oslo, the first European capital to announce that its downtown core will soon be made car-free in order to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality, as well as to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

[Other perspectives: Transit is dead. Let’s prepare for the next mobility revolution.]

Battery-powered and driverless cars do not affect this situation to any great degree. They still demand too much street space for their movement and use too much energy. The movement of significant numbers of cars through the streets will always damage streets’ social use, regardless of how quiet and safe the cars may be. Only when people can stop in the middle of the street to talk without fearing what may be bearing down on them will we have fully restored the social function of streets.

Good public transport coupled with fast, safe, pleasant walking and bicycling can easily meet the need for movement within our cities. It is true that buses and streetcars do intrude on the main streets to an appreciable degree, but many streets will be entirely free of this annoyance. In the ideal case, public transport systems are constructed underground. (Ideally, transport systems should never be elevated, because of the ugliness, intrusion and noise that that causes.) This will not be practical in many existing cities because of the cost, and some burden of street traffic will have to be endured.

[Are Americans leaving cars behind?]

A more serious objection to the car-free city is the movement of freight. When building a city, it is a simple matter to arrange delivery of shipping containers to the places they are needed without impinging on streets. In existing cities, freight delivery systems will have to be arranged on a case-by-case basis. Amsterdam could, with little difficulty, deliver freight using its canal network. Cities that adopt streetcars for passenger service can use the same infrastructure to deliver freight at night.

Removing vehicles from our streets would make urban life cheaper, safer, quieter and more pleasant. Repurposed parking spaces and, in some cases, travel lanes would provide ample land for walking and cycling, plus any essential street-running public services, such as light rail, trash collection and emergency services. The surplus land can be devoted to public purposes — imagine Manhattan with sidewalks 15 feet wider and room for sidewalk cafes.

Governments should welcome the change. The cost of supporting car traffic far exceeds the revenues generated by user fees. In Europe, it is the densest places that are first made car-free, and the pedestrian traffic generated by these places is the heaviest in the city. Stores and restaurants thrive in these areas.

I believe that the social benefits alone entirely justify the change. Imagine a busy city that is calm, quiet and beautiful. Venice, which comes closest to meeting this test, is visited by 20 million people a year, the most of any Italian city. Other car-free areas are immensely popular with residents and tourists alike. Shopkeepers have often opposed these changes, only to discover that their business improved once cars were gone.

It is true that a certain degree of convenience must be sacrificed for this change. However, the benefits are large, and we can expect significant improvements in public health as people return to more active modes of transport. The noise reduction alone is a significant public health benefit.

The car century was a seductive mistake. It’s time to move on.

Original article.

Feb 282016
 

A new study zeroes in on the relationship between arts organizations and the economic and cultural diversity of New York City neighborhoods.

Image REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
People walk past the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

The role of the arts in city life is a hot-button issue among urbanists. I have long argued that street-level arts and cultural scenes signal the diversity and economic vibrancy of cities. My own Bohemian Index has linked artists, musicians, writers, designers, and entertainers to innovation and high tech industries, and I have often highlighted the connection between vibrant music scenes and startup cultures in cities and urban neighborhoods. But others disagree, arguing that arts and culture simply flourish in already wealthy places. Still others contend that arts have an even more perverse effect, ultimately leading to higher real estate prices, gentrification, and the displacement of working class and lower income residents from their neighborhoods.

new study from Nicole Foster and James Murdoch III at the University of Texas at Arlington and Carl Grodach at Queensland University of Technology adds to our understanding of the role of arts in cities. The study conducts a detailed empirical examination of the connection between arts organizations and key measures of neighborhood diversity and economic advantage or disadvantage. To get at this, the authors use extensive data on nonprofit arts organizations collected by DataArts*, which they compare to data on neighborhood diversity (by race, income, and industry) and indicators of neighborhood disadvantage (based on unemployment and the share of people below the poverty line and on public assistance) from the U.S. Census.

Where the arts concentrate in New York

Have a look at the map below, which charts the location of over 250 new nonprofit arts organizations established in New York City between 2000 and 2010. The concentration of these organizations in Manhattan is overwhelming: The borough is covered in black, indicating a higher presence of neighborhoods with 6-10 or even 11-20 organizations.

The map is in line with existing research that says that the arts tend to cluster in wealthy neighborhoods—in this case, those predominately located in Manhattan. The borough is, after all, the economic and financial center of one of the world’s most powerful cities and houses a preponderance of the city’s creative industries. It’s also home to New York’s most affluent residents and highest housing prices, stretching in some places into the tens of millions of dollars.

Some argue that Manhattan has become so expensive that artists, galleries, and arts organizations are being priced out. Meanwhile, Queens and Brooklyn have a mixture of 1-2 or 3-5 organizations per neighborhood. That’s less than Manhattan, but far more than the Bronx or Staten Island, which have only a small group of neighborhoods with a select few organizations.

Characterizing the New York arts scene

The figure below depicts the location of new nonprofit arts organizations based on economic advantage or disadvantage, as well as neighborhood diversity along race, income, and industry lines. As the chart shows, the majority of these organizations are located in neighborhoods with relatively low levels of disadvantage, moderate racial diversity, high diversity of income, and a high diversity of industries.

Two thirds of new nonprofit arts organizations are located in neighborhoods with moderate to high levels of racial and income diversity, according to the study. Interestingly enough, although more of these organizations prefer neighborhoods with lower levels of disadvantage, the preference for disadvantage was fairly evenly distributed from “least” to “high.” Furthermore, roughly three quarters of new nonprofit arts organizations are located in neighborhoods with a diverse industry mix alongside urban amenities.

Overall, the study finds a positive correlation between new nonprofit arts organizations and the diversity of industry (.43). There is a much more modest correlation between new nonprofit arts organizations and income, while the association between these organizations and neighborhood disadvantage is not statistically significant. Ultimately, the study finds that new nonprofit arts organizations in New York City are attracted to and located in neighborhoods with a mix of finance, creative, tech, and media industries. While these arts organizations can be found in neighborhoods with various levels of diversity, they are less likely to be located in disadvantaged or struggling neighborhoods.

This again helps to explain the large concentration of non-profit arts organizations in Manhattan. In addition to being the most affluent borough and the metro’s economic hub, Manhattan offers the easiest access to cultural amenities like museums, theaters, and performances. It makes sense that nonprofit arts organizations would want to locate there.

The importance of local-serving organizations

Next, the study considers the effects of these non-profit arts organizations on their immediate neighborhoods. How do arts organizations ultimately affect the diversity or economic conditions of the neighborhoods they are located in, if at all?

To get at this, the study conducts a regression analysis of the connections between arts organizations, neighborhood diversity, and the change in the economic conditions of neighborhoods. This analysis also includes measures of talent, concentrated poverty, levels of immigration, and types and conditions of housing. Finally, the study looks at how two types of nonprofit arts organizations—those that are locally-focused and those that engage a broad national or international audience—are connected to neighborhood diversity and economic conditions.

The study finds that these two types of arts organizations have different effects on their neighborhoods. On the one hand, arts organizations that serve broad audiences are associated with lower levels of economic disadvantage over time, but only in neighborhoods that are already racially diverse. On the other hand, when the authors factor in income, they find that local-serving organizations help to reduce economic disadvantage in neighborhoods with the least diverse incomes (which also number among the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods).

Here the authors note that the presence of local-serving organizations may help to create neighborhood identity, attract the creative or high-tech industries and amenities that spur development, and ultimately counter neighborhood disadvantage. They also suggest that such organizations can play an important role in improving economic conditions without displacing current residents. Although the arts are often said to spur gentrification, local-serving organizations are more likely to enhance an existing community rather than price out longtime businesses and residents.

More importantly, the study finds that local-serving organizations can be particularly beneficial in areas of concentrated poverty. From 2000 to 2010, over 75 percent of diverse, low-income, highly disadvantaged neighborhoods with new local-serving organizations saw reductions in their levels of disadvantage.

A focus on diverse, disadvantaged neighborhoods

Ultimately, the study finds that nonprofit arts organizations are attracted to relatively advantaged neighborhoods with a mix of creative, finance, tech, and media industries and moderate levels of racial diversity. And yet these organizations do the most good in disadvantaged, even more diverse neighborhoods that lack this kind of industry mix.

Here the study suggests that New York may benefit from creating incentives for nonprofit arts organizations to locate outside the core of Manhattan into these kinds of neighborhoods. In fact, it’s precisely these diverse, disadvantaged communities where art and artists contribute the most to the city’s economic and social fabric by building community, bolstering neighborhood identity, and spurring innovation and economic development.

Original article.

Feb 252016
 

uchf-banner

Street-level stores with apartments above them, like these along Main Street in Ossining, NY, are one example of the type of development current federal regulations restrict.

A growing number of Americans wanting to live in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods—but arcane federal rules make it unnecessarily difficult to build this type of development. A recent study by the Regional Plan Association, released in partnership with LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, highlights how—and what lawmakers can do to change it.

rpa-reportThe Unintended Consequences of Housing Finance examines several federal regulations around housing finance that were created in the mid-20th century, and the impact of those regulations on the type of development that gets built in the United States.

These regulations restrict commercial development in federally backed housing loans, the report reveals, greatly limiting the availability of financing for three- and four-story buildings that include both residential and commercial uses. This is despite the fact that more and more Americans want to live in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods.

“For many decades, we’ve been living with a real estate financing system that favors single-family home ownership in the suburbs,” said Christopher Jones, senior vice president of Regional Plan Association and the lead author of the report. “But today, many Americans are interested in living in places with easy access to stores and services, where cars aren’t needed for every errand or trip to work. The persistence of out-of-date policies is bad for everyone, but it takes a particular toll on lower-income Americans by restricting the supply of apartments and driving up prices for those that are available.”

The rules were developed at a time when loans to commercial properties (such as stores or supermarkets) were seen as too risky to be tied to smaller-scale residential buildings. But development trends have changed, and the restriction on mixed-use housing projects is now constraining the real estate market’s ability to provide what Americans’ increasingly want. Since private lenders typically adopt federal standards, these restrictions have extended beyond federally backed projects.

A range of actions could eliminate or reduce these impediments, the report explains, including raising non-residential caps on loans, allowing alternatives like shorter loan periods or larger down payments to address risk, or creating a secondary market for mixed-use loans, among others.

“By taking steps such as raising or eliminating caps on non-residential development within federal financing, we would be able to better meet demands for walkable communities,” said Christopher Coes, Director of LOCUS, which partnered with RPA on the release of the report. “We hope the Obama Administration will move forward and remove these unnecessary barriers to investing in urban areas, especially in low-income neighborhoods.”

Read more about the findings and the authors’ recommendations in the full report.

Original article.

Jan 182016
 

For three generations, the American Dream was largely defined by continual suburban expansion. The dream was based on exclusivity and “keeping up with the Joneses.” Driving was so essential that all other means of getting around became practically impossible. Privacy was everything.

A new America Dream has emerged in recent years. It is based on social and cultural diversity and the idea of community. This dream is more about great streets than highways. You can drive if you want, but you can also walk, ride a bike, take transit, or join carshare. In this dream, the things you are connected to are more important than who you are separated from.

The old American Dream has not gone away, but it has been eclipsed. Here are 10 reasons why the new dream is here to stay, in a countdown list:

10) Driving has been declining for 10 years. “Our national flower is the concrete cloverleaf,” wrote Lewis Mumford in 1961. Driving per person continued to rise steadily for 43 years after that, and then it stopped. Automobile miles per capita have declined every year since 2004. Also, those concrete cloverleafs have become expensive maintenance problems. One could say the national flower has begun to wilt.

9) Millennials want urban place. Today’s young adults – the Millennials — were the first generation to be born and raised mostly in communities where the indoor mall was the main street and the parking lot was the town square. As adults, this generation rejected the isolation and generic character of drive-only suburbs. Millennials aren’t the only people today embracing compact, mixed-use neighborhoods — but a dramatic shift in youth preference points to a long-term trend.

8) Walkable places help you climb the ladder of success. The story of ambitious young people going to the city to make something of their lives appears again and again in our literature, movies, and theater. This story is not just a literary device, according to a 2013 study. Social mobility is higher in compact urban places, Arizona State University researchers found. The more walkable the census block — as measured by Walk Score — the more likely someone from the bottom fifth of income will reach the top fifth in their lives. It is no wonder then that New York City — America’s most walkable city — is a magnet for immigrants and other folks pursuing the American Dream.

7) Productivity and innovation thrive as density rises. Studies in recent years have shown that in compact places with good transit, economic activity rises due to more face-to-face contact with knowledgeable people (linklink).

6) You are more likely to be famous if you are born in an urban place.Tiger moms take note! If you want your children to be successful enough to be profiled in Wikipedia, the odds rise substantially if you raise them in a big city — or small city anchored by a university. The New York Times came to that conclusion in a geographical analysis of Wikipedia biographies. Ironically, for several generations, parents have moved to distant suburbs to give children a better chance of success. Notes the Times, “growing up near ideas is better than growing up near backyards.”

5) You are less likely to die in a pool of blood if you are raised in an urban place. Parents have long moved to quiet suburbs for safety. Some are questioning whether this quest for safety has gone too far. The entire culture of childhood has changed, according to a recent article in The Atlantic. Children no longer have their own places to roam and explore. Moreover, a 2013 University of Pennsylvania/Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) study challenges the entire notion that suburbs are safer. The study examines, for the first time comprehensively, all kinds of accidental and violent deaths in America. Contrary to conventional wisdom, urban streets are significantly safer than leafy suburbs and rural areas. While counterintuitive at first glance, the finding is not hard to fathom if you think about it. The number one US cause of death from ages 5 to 34 is automobile crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Deadly automobile crashes are far less likely on lower-speed urban streets.

4) Bicycles: The new status symbol. A generation ago, bicycles were considered to be a child’s toy. Now they are a status symbol for communities. As Jeff Speck writes in Walkable City, “A bold green stripe down the side of a street — or many streets — tells residents and potential residents that a city supports alternative transportation, healthy lifestyles and cycling culture, and that it welcomes the sort of people who get around on bikes. For the most part, those people are the millennials and creatives who will help a city thrive.”

3) McMansions are losing their luster. In the 1990s, a McMansion was the ultimate symbol that the homeowner had “made it.” Inside, the house was luxurious. But the chief selling point was the message it sent from the curb: The owners, and all of their neighbors, have enough money that they can afford to be wasteful on lawn and landscaping, excessive architectural details, pointless variety in rooflines and materials, and general bloat. Today, we have endured a Great Recession and climate change is an ongoing concern. The McMansion’s underlying message of wasteful spending, poor taste, and big carbon footprint projects a less flattering image on homeowners. As Billy Joel once said, “Is that all you get for your money?”


Photo by Lee Sobel

2) Downtown and in-town neighborhoods are home to the “creative class.” Coming up with this term has made the career of author, academic, and researcher Richard Florida. Whether urban or suburban, big city or small, communities want the educated people that provide the economic spark — known as the “creative class.” Seeking the creative class, businesses have begun moving back into town from suburban campuses.

And the number one reason why we have a new American Dream:

Would you rather have this?


Van Buren Street, Phoenix, today. Image courtesy of Duany Plater-Zyberk.

Or this?


Van Buren transformed, by Steve Price of Urban Advantage, for Reinvent Phoenix. Concepts for the street retrofit were via Duany Plater-Zyberk and Crabtree Group.

The first image, a commercial strip arterial, has one big advantage: It is legal.

The second image is not technically difficult to achieve. Most zoning codes and the automobile-oriented practices of departments of transportation stand in the way. This new American Dream has the market on its side, but will require coalitions in local communities to muster the political will for reform.

I could come up with 10 or 20 more reasons for the new American Dream. Could you?

Robert Steuteville is executive director and editor of Better! Cities & Towns, dedicated to communications, competence, and coalitions for better cities and towns.

Original article.

Recommended Reading

 
Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

Amazon
Powells

A Best Book of the Year according to Planetizen and the American Society of Landscape Architects

Jeff Speck has dedicated his career to determining what makes cities thrive. And he has boiled it down to one key factor: walkability.

Making downtown into a walkable, viable community is the essential fix for the typical American city; it is eminently achievable and its benefits are manifold. Walk-able City―bursting with sharp observations and key insights into how urban change happens―lays out a practical, necessary, and inspiring vision for how to make American cities great again.

The Smart Growth Manual

Amazon
Powells

Everyone is calling for smart growth…but what exactly is it? In The Smart Growth Manual, two leading city planners provide a thorough answer. From the expanse of the metropolis to the detail of the window box, they address the pressing challenges of urban development with easy-to-follow advice and broad array of best practices.

With their landmark book Suburban Nation, Andres Duany and Jeff Speck “set forth more clearly than anyone has done in our time the elements of good town planning” (The New Yorker). With this long-awaited companion volume, the authors have organized the latest contributions of new urbanism, green design, and healthy communities into a comprehensive handbook, fully illustrated with the built work of the nation’s leading practitioners.

“The Smart Growth Manual is an indispensable guide to city planning. This kind of progressive development is the only way to fully restore our economic strength and create new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete in the first rank of world economies.” — Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco

“Authors Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, and Mike Lydon have created The Smart Growth Manual, a resource which not only explains the overarching ideals of smart growth, but a manual that takes the time to show smart growth principles at each geographic scale (region, neighborhood, street, building). I highly recommend [it] as a part of any community participant’s or urban planner’s desktop references.” — LocalPlan.org

Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change

Amazon
Powells

In the twenty-first century, cities worldwide must respond to a growing and diverse population, ever-shifting economic conditions, new technologies, and a changing climate. Short-term, community-based projectsandmdash;from pop-up parks to open streets initiativesandmdash;have become a powerful and adaptable new tool of urban activists, planners, and policy-makers seeking to drive lasting improvements in their cities and beyond. These quick, often low-cost, and creative projects are the essence of the Tactical Urbanism movement. Whether creating vibrant plazas seemingly overnight or re-imagining parking spaces as neighborhood gathering places, they offer a way to gain public and government support for investing in permanent projects, inspiring residents and civic leaders to experience and shape urban spaces in a new way.

Tactical Urbanism, written by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, two founders of the movement, promises to be the foundational guide for urban transformation. The authors begin with an in-depth history of the Tactical Urbanism movement and its place among other social, political, and urban planning trends. A detailed set of case studies, from guerilla wayfinding signs in Raleigh, to pavement transformed into parks in San Francisco, to a street art campaign leading to a new streetcar line in El Paso, demonstrate the breadth and scalability of tactical urbanism interventions. Finally, the book provides a detailed toolkit for conceiving, planning, and carrying out projects, including how to adapt them based on local needs and challenges.

Tactical Urbanism will inspire and empower a new generation of engaged citizens, urban designers, land use planners, architects, and policymakers to become key actors in the transformation of their communities.

Jan 052016
 

A conversation with Gabriel Metcalf on his new book, Democratic by Design.

Image REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
A construction worker builds framing at a housing construction project in San Francisco.(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

“Things aren’t right in America today”: In his important new book on social innovation, Gabriel Metcalf—executive director of the urban policy think tank SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association) and a CityLab contributor—opens with this all-too-familiar sentiment. Rising inequality, deepening segregation, and increasingly unaffordable housing are just a few of the many problems currently plaguing the U.S. These issues are no more evident than in America’s dense, large urban communities, which boast some of the greatest technology and innovation in the world, but also some of the harshest economic and class divides.

St. Martin’s Press

To make things right, Metcalf argues in Democratic by Design, we need to make more and better use of alternative institutions like cooperatives and community land trusts to help build more sustainable, socially responsible, and prosperous communities. Drawing from his experience as an urbanist and one of the founders of the car-sharing movement in North America, Metcalf documents how a range of alternative institutions—which operate outside of traditional government agencies and differ from traditional companies—can help U.S. cities tackle some of the major issues they face today.

To delve deeper into this, I put a series of questions to Metcalf about exactly how he sees these alternative institutions helping to build better and more sustainable cities in the future.

When do alternative institutions actually succeed at becoming the new normal? What is the secret sauce to making that happen?

The idea is to create living examples of a better society, which can be studied, improved on, and hopefully scaled up. The book profiles some very successful examples, but it also tries to look honestly at failures. Based on the case studies, I identify a few key ingredients that are essential for success:

First, organizers have to pick the right institution—something that can work within the world as it is today, while also opening up possibilities for a different world.

Second, I think it’s really important to be oriented toward engagement with the broadest possible set of people—to recruit, in other words—rather than treating alternative institutions as a means of escape from the dominant society. The hope is that the alternative institutions can actually grow and outcompete the mainstream institutions, and this can only happen if the organizers have a real commitment to connecting with new people.

Third, the most successful examples of an alternative institution strategy involved the creation of networks. Alternative institutions work best when they are embedded in a broader progressive movement, and when they are linked up with other alternative institutions.

Your experience with co-founding San Francisco’s City CarShare informs many of your insights on sustainable living. What was the impetus for starting the program, and what do you think it achieved in the city of San Francisco?

We got the idea for City CarShare from the Berlin car-sharing co-ops in the early 1990s. As a group of young sustainable city activists, it had a lot of intuitive appeal. If nothing else, reducing the number of cars that have to be stored inside urban areas would free up real estate for better uses—parks, housing, whatever. We also understood the so-called “love affair with the automobile” as a cultural pattern that was deeply ingrained with oil wars and suburban sprawl and a very destructive form of settlement pattern, so we thought anything we could do to re-position the meaning of the car in American society would be helpful.

We had a lot of big dreams for this project. And some of them came true. I think it’s amazing to see how much young people today are doing everything they can to avoid the hassles of car ownership. But we have a long way to go.

How has the concept of alternative institutions evolved since credit unions and co-ops first came on the scene?

Howard Sandler / Shutterstock.com

There have been several big waves of alternative institution-building in the United States. Some of the most long-lived institutions date from the New Deal era—credit unions, rural electricity co-ops, and the like. The New Left of the 1960s launched a wave of free clinics, organic food co-ops, and alternative newspapers. I’ve personally gotten very interested in attempts to develop new ways to manage and allocate the “big resources”—land and capital—so I spend a lot of time on those.

You describe city-building as a “layering of history” in which “each generation builds to solve the problems it faces.” What does the role of alternative institutions look like in our future cities? 

Cities are almost never built from scratch. Part of what I’m trying to do is unpack the political intention behind city building—to make the goals and ideals visible. And I think that one of the ways we achieve abstract goals like promoting sustainability or resilience or equity or community is through devising different physical arrangements and different institutional forms for our cities.

There is a major role for alternative institutions in our future cities. This includes a lot more experimentation with physical form and infrastructure—more ecologically benign buildings, a reinvention of public space, a rethinking of mobility systems, and an embrace of new models for providing renewable energy. It also includes a new wave of experiments with place-based economic development. And most fundamentally, it involves the creation of new institutions of land ownership and stewardship.

Your book cites some examples of current efforts that have a lot of potential. Which of them stands out to you as particularly exemplary?

Some of the alternative institutions I am most excited about today include community land trusts (I profile the Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington), attempts to link anchor institutions to local economic development strategies (the Evergreen workers cooperatives in Cleveland), and efforts to redeploy capital to socially responsible firms—both non-profit and for profit—to enlarge the space for high-road enterprises.

One of the interesting parts of the book is the “Appendix,” where you develop a sort of intellectual history of the idea of alternative institutions. What were the most important influences on your thinking as you put that together? 

The Appendix is actually one of my favorite parts of the whole book, because that’s where I get to give credit to some of the thinkers who mattered most to me. I draw on everything from deToqueville and Putnam on voluntary associations, to the social anarchists of the 19th century, who wanted to “prefigure” the way a society would work in their ideal world. Gar Alperovitz of the Democracy Collaborative has done a lot of the most practical work developing and supporting alternative institutions and thinking through a theory of how they can lead to widespread social change. One of my own teachers, the late Murray Bookchin, was a major influence on me in his writings about democracy, cities, and alternative institutions. I hope that my book helps give this strategy a higher profile, and that other people—both theorists and activists—will pick up the ideas and develop them in new ways.

Original article.

Jan 052016
 

The One Chart That Explains All Your Traffic Woes

Image Steven Vance / Flickr
Steven Vance / Flickr

If you’ve ever found yourself stuck in traffic in your metro area, you might want to print out the chart below, tape it to your wall, and use it for dart practice. It comes via a guest post at the Transportationist by Wes Marshall, and it explains so very much of your earthly woe.

The red line represents vehicle flow along a given road. Traffic steadily rises until someone decides the road needs to be widened. Then the original trend line (dotted red) gets replaced with an even greater travel forecast (dotted orange), as we’d expect by creating more road capacity. But the actual new level of travel developed by this widening (solid red) is even greater than the forecast predicted.

In other words, widening a road invites more cars onto it. That principle, known as “induced demand,” is captured by the grey arrows showing the gap between a travel forecast and an actual travel outcome. Here’s Marshall on the “triple convergence” of induced demand:

First, existing road users might change the time of day when they travel; instead of leaving at 5 AM to beat traffic, the newly widened road entices them to leave for work with everyone else. Second, those traveling a different route might switch and drive along the newly widened option. Third, those previously using other modes such as transit, walking, bicycling, or even carpooling may now decide to drive or drive alone instead.

The roots of this principle trace back to the fine work of Anthony Downs, who decades ago discovered a fundamental law of rush-hour expressway congestion. (Recent scholarship has expanded that law to include a “broad class of major urban roads” rather than just highways or expressways.) In 2004, Downs wrote there are four ways to address the problem, but that three of them—peak-hour tolls, greatly expand road capacity, and greatly expand transit capacity—are “politically infeasible or physically or financially impossible in the US.”

That leaves the fourth: live with it. He writes:

Congestion is an essential mechanism for coping with excess demand for road space. We need it! Peak-hour congestion is the balancing mechanism that makes it possible for Americans to pursue goals they value, such as working while others do, living in low-density settlements, and having many choices of places to live and work.

That’s not to say cities should just throw up their hands. By creating strong transit corridors, building dense housing near these areas, and charging a cost of driving that takes congestion into account, the situation can and will improve. New roads can help, too, but only for a while. Before you know it, traffic will be bad again, and local government will need new tax revenues to maintain the extra highway capacity that’s started to crumble. Hey—watch where you’re aiming that dart.

Original article.

Jan 052016
 

The severely scaled-down units are neither a utopia nor a dystopia. In fact, they expand housing options across many demographics.

Image Monadnock Development
Monadnock Development

It’s like Yoda once said: “Size matters not.”

Put aside for the moment the size of the units in Carmel Place, a new multifamily housing development that just went up in New York City. Here are a few numbers that matter more than the square footage: Carmel Place is a nine-story development that includes 55 units. Of those, 33 units are designated market-rate; eight of the 22 units slotted for affordable housing are reserved for very-low-income renters.

Sounds good, right? Moreover, as Co.Design notes, the building’s designer, nArchitects, didn’t skimp on the details. These prefabricated units come with hardwood floors, storage lofts, Juliet balconies, the works—everything you’d expect from an upscale housing development in Manhattan.

So what’s all the fuss? That last detail—the average unit size—was hard fought. Under former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city waived a zoning rule that required apartments to be no less than 400 square feet in size. The building is the winning design for adAPT NYC, a program to build a pilot for prefabricated micro-housing in New York. Units in Carmel Place range from roughly 250 to 350 square feet, and the market-rate ones will rent for up to $3,000 per month.

Well-lit, handsomely appointed dystopian nightmare dwelling. (Monadnock Development)

Micro-apartments are finally starting to arrive. There are (at least) 11 different micro-apartment developments in the works, according to a report from Curbed, from the Ivy Lofts in Houston to the Patterson Mansion in Washington, D.C. Or put another way, there are a dozen new apartment buildings headed for markets where some buyers or renters appear to want to live in them.

The problem is that some other buyers or renters in those markets do not want people buying or renting units in these buildings. That’s why a story that otherwise overwhelmingly showers the Carmel Place project with praise takes such a grim headline (“Micro Apartments: Utopia or Dystopia?”). Taken broadly, residents who dread micro-housing fear that micro-units will displace family housing, that young renters will overwhelm available infrastructure, or even—as The Atlantic suggested in 2013—that micro-housing poses a health risk to inhabitants.

But the NIMBYs are wrong about micro-apartments. The people who fear micro-housing mistake the symptoms of the disease for the cure.

A multifamily development in Houston that includes micro-units lords over space. (Novel Creative Development)

When renters can’t find individual units, they take up family units

Families often complain that there isn’t enough housing to suit their needs, especially for large families. They’re right. In Seattle, for example, just two percent of market-rate apartment units have three or more bedrooms, according to a 2014 report by the Seattle Planning Commission. The last thing that these families need—especially low-income families and larger families of color—is to compete with single, young professionals for that limited housing stock.

Yet zoning for approximately 65 percent of Seattle’s land area is designated single-family, meaning that the options across much of the city are restricted to what’s already been built. That’s good news for incumbent homeowners, but bad news for people who want to move to Seattle. The city’s not an outlier in this regard, of course: Low-density zoning spurs young renters to rent group houses (or “stealth dorms” as the case may be) all over the nation. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but when single renters can’t find good options in a growing job market, chances are that renting families won’t find them, either.

What used to be the Washington, D.C., home of the editor of the Chicago Tribune will soon be a home for more than 90 renters. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

“As supply-and-demand skeptics are fond of pointing out, real estate is not an undifferentiated commodity, but in fact is a variety of products tailored to a wide range of tastes and requirements,” writes Martin H. Duke of the Seattle Transit Blog. “The housing shortage cuts across all parts of the market, but it’s hardest to see a simple solution for large households,” he adds.

And that’s right—except that single renters do not differentiate between housing that is “for” them and other housing that is “for” families. One way to ensure that the housing market meets the demands of both is to permit zoning that allows cities to meet more kinds of demands—and in the context of the ongoing affordable housing crisis, that means upzoning.

Banning micro-units doesn’t make them go away

Take a tour of San Francisco’s bunk-bed listings for a vivid illustration of the point. In a very extreme shortage of affordable housing, renters may (apparently) make the transition from group houses to group bedrooms.

Incidentally, making sure that housing is legal, affordable, regulated, and, well, available is one way to guarantee against any truly adverse health effects from shared living. The alleged increased health costs specifically associated with micro-housing … well, I don’t want to say that they’re not bad. But they can’t be any worse than the health costs of unaffordable housing. It’s arguable that the stress of unsafe, uncertain, or unsustainable living situations—housing insecurity, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it—outweighs the potential crowding-related stress of micro-apartment living.

And if it’s true that 30- and 40-year-olds respond poorly, psychologically, to sharing common spaces (I do), then one way to guarantee against such dire ends is to permit the kind of zoning that meets demand so that they aren’t competing with 20-year-olds for housing in the first place.

Micro-housing isn’t a trend in search of a problem

Mark Hogan, a San Francisco–based architect, made an invaluable contribution to the culture earlier this year when he posted the dispositive case against shipping-container housing. A brief gloss: Acquiring or proofing existing shipping containers isn’t as cheap as folks might guess, and it’s not cheaper than manufacturing prefabricated housing units. The work it takes to turn shipping containers into housing fit for humans makes this option cost prohibitive. And while they may look cool in renderings, they’re not sized for living spaces for people.

Hogan’s critical point is this one: “Housing is usually not a technology problem.” It’s not as if shipping-container homes improve upon normal homes or that normal homes have some fault that shipping containers don’t. The issue is that shipping containers are a trend that appears (quite mistakenly) to be a type of free housing that we are ignoring or a type of improved housing that we never had before. Neither of those things is true.

It’s certainly the case that micro-housing looks trendy, in part because it is presented in savvy renderings by smart architectural firms such as nArchitects. But micro-apartments are also not a type of new housing we’ve never seen before. They’re apartments. Advances in technology and interior design make micro-housing possible without requiring that micro-apartments be tenements, boarding houses, or single-room-occupancy hotels. But the concept of multifamily living is preserved (even if the division of amenities changes).

Further, shifts in demographics—and in justice, labor, technology—make multifamily housing more desirable than the detached homes once sought by nuclear families. Or, if not more desirable, then fairer and more sustainable. Micro-housing is neither a utopia nor a dystopia. It’s just creating smaller-scaled places for living that suit the times.

Original article.

What is a Charrette?

 

Origins of the term “charrette” (Wikipedia):
The word charrette is French for “cart” or “chariot”. In the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century, it was not unusual for student architects to continue working furiously in teams at the end of the allotted term, up until a deadline, when a charrette would be wheeled among the students to pick up their scale models and other work for review while they, each working furiously to apply the finishing touches, were said to be working en charrette, in the cart. Émile Zoladepicted such a scene of feverish activity, a nuit de charrette or charrette night, in L’Œuvre (serialized 1885, published 1886), his fictionalized account of his friendship with Paul Cézanne. The term evolved into the current design-related usage in conjunction with working right up until a deadline.

The following description of the word ‘charrette’ pertaining to the urban planning processes is from Wikipedia:

The word charrette may refer to any collaborative session in which a group of designers (plus stakeholders and the public) drafts a solution to a design problem.

While the structure of a charrette varies, depending on the design problem and the individuals in the group, charrettes often take place in multiple sessions in which the group divides into sub-groups. Each sub-group then presents its work to the full group as material for further dialogue. Such charrettes serve as a way of quickly generating a design solution while integrating the aptitudes and interests of a diverse group of people.

Charrettes take place in many disciplines, including land use planning, or urban planning. In planning, the charrette has become a technique for consulting with all stakeholders. This type of charrette typically involves intense and possibly multi-day meetings, involving municipal officials, developers, and residents.

A successful charrette promotes joint ownership of solutions and attempts to defuse typical confrontational attitudes between residents and developers. Charrettes tend to involve small groups, however the residents participating may not represent all the residents nor have the moral authority to represent them. Residents who do participate get early input into the planning process. For developers and municipal officials charrettes achieve community involvement, may satisfy consultation criteria, with the objective of avoiding costly legal battles. Other uses of the term “charrette” occur within an academic or professional setting, whereas urban planners invite the general public to their planning charrettes. Thus most people encounter the term “charrette” in an urban-planning context.


The following description of a charrette event and process is from the National Charrette Institute, with edits and additions by the Oxnard Community Planning Group, and describes in general the process and goals of the CNU-CA charrette for Downtown Oxnard:

(More on the CNU-CA CNU-By-Design Annual Charrette can be found below.)

“A charrette is a multiple-day, collaborative design workshop. It harnesses the talents and energies of stakeholders and all interested parties to create and support a feasible plan that represents transformative community change.

  • A five consecutive days, with three design feedback loops
  • An open process that includes stakeholders and all interested parties
  • Focused on producing a feasible plan with minimal rework

A charrette is a holistic, collaborative planning process during which a multiple-day charrette is held as the central transformative event.

Compared to conventional planning processes that take years of endless meetings, a charrette can:

Save time and money through

  • Reduced rework via short design feedback loops
  • Time-compressed work sessions
  • Creation of broad support from community members, professionals, and staff

Increases probability for implementation through

  • An integrated team design process
  • Early focus on engineering and finance
  • Bringing all decision makers together for a compressed period of time

Promotes trust between citizens and government through

  • Meaningful public involvement and education in which input may effect the outcome
  • The building of long-term community goodwill
  • Broad stakeholder involvement – no one takes over

Results in the best sustainable design through

  • Integrating all viewpoints throughout design
  • Uninterrupted, focused team design sessions
  • Design based on shared guiding principles

The CNU charrette is a collaborative design event spanning 5-days. The goal of the charrette is to produce a feasible plan with minimal rework that benefits from the support of all stakeholders through its implementation. This support is facilitated by the ability of the charrette to transform the mindsets of the stakeholders.

A multidisciplinary charrette team, consisting of CNU consultants and sponsor (City of Oxnard) staff, produces the plan. Stakeholders – those being anyone who can approve, promote or block the project as well as anyone directly affected by the outcomes – are involved through a series of short feedback loops or meetings. Most stakeholders attend two or three feedback meetings at critical decision-making points during the charrette. Note that stakeholders are not at the charrette all the time. These feedback loops provide the charrette team with the information necessary to create a feasible plan. Just as importantly, they allow the stakeholders to become co-authors of the plan so that they are more likely to support and implement it.

A major reason the charrette needs to last at least 5-days is to accommodate 3 feedback loops, the optimal number for gaining stakeholder understanding and support.

Charrettes take place in a charrette studio situated on or near the project site. While the event may vary the CNU charrette generally follows the following format. The charrette team first conducts an open public meeting to solicit the values, vision, and needs of the stakeholders. The team then breaks off to create alternative plans or scenarios, which are presented in a second public meeting usually a day or two later. The team then synthesizes the best aspects of the alternatives into a preferred plan that is developed in detail and tested for economic, design and political feasibility. The charrette concludes with a comprehensive presentation at a final public meeting.

After the charrette, the project enters into the document creation phase. During this phase the charrette team tests and refines the charrette plan. Communication with stakeholders also continues through e-mail, websites, blogs, and possibly social media. During a follow-up public meeting, held about 6-weeks after the charrette, the refined plan is presented for another feedback session. The results and process of all 3 charrette system phases are summarized in a final project report ready for agency approvals.

Work collaboratively

All interested parties must be involved from the beginning. Having contributed to the planning, participants are in a position both to understand and support a project’s rationale.

Design cross-functionally

A multi-disciplinary team method results in decisions that are realistic every step of the way. The cross-functional process eliminates the need for rework because the design work continually reflects the wisdom of each specialty.

Compress work sessions

The charrette itself, lasting five days, is a series of meetings and design sessions that would traditionally take months to complete. This time compression facilitates creative problem solving by accelerating decision making and reducing unconstructive negotiation tactics. It also encourages people to abandon their usual working patterns and “think outside of the box.”

Communicate in short feedback loops

During the charrette, design ideas are created based upon a public vision, and presented within hours for further review, critique, and refinement. Regular stakeholder input and reviews quickly build trust in the process and foster true understanding and support of the product. A feedback loop occurs when a design is proposed, reviewed, changed, and re-presented for further review.

Study the details and the whole

Lasting agreement is based on a fully informed dialogue, which can only be accomplished by looking at the details and the big picture concurrently. Studies at these two scales also inform each other and reduce the likelihood that a fatal flaw will be overlooked in the plan.

Produce a feasible plan

To create a feasible plan, every decision point must be fully informed, especially by the legal, financial, and engineering disciplines. The focus on feasibility brings a level of seriousness and rigor to the process for everyone involved.

Use design to achieve a shared vision and create holistic solutions

Design is a powerful tool for establishing a shared vision. Drawings illustrate the complexity of the problem and can be used to resolve conflict by proposing previously unexplored solutions that represent win/win outcomes.

Hold the charrette on or near the site

Working on site fosters the design team’s understanding of local values and traditions, and provides the necessary easy access to stakeholders and information. Therefore, the studio should be located in a place where it is easily accessible to all stakeholders and where the designers have quick access to the project site.”


More about the CNU Charrette (with edits and additions by the Oxnard Community Planning Group):

“Beginning in 2013, the CNU-CA started a program to host a CNU-By-Design Annual Charrette (“the Charrette”) as a Board led program that provides educational and membership outreach opportunities statewide.”

“The CNU-CA Charrette is designed to advise a city, with the benefit of the CNU-By-Design Annual Charrette, to envision mixed-use, walkable places for a city with CNU’s principles and processes, such as public Charrettes. Our board’s selection of an Annual Charrette project is based upon the request (Oxnard) relevance to CNU initiatives and expertise, such as Transit-Oriented Developments, Form-Based Codes, Sprawl Retrofits, and Tactical Urbanism.”

“A typical charrette week is organized as follows:

Day 1: Arrival, Orientation, Sponsor Briefing, Opening Public Event (Educational)
Day 2: Stakeholder Interviews, Design Interventions/Alternatives Produced
Day 3: Alternatives Vetting, Stakeholder Interviews, Public Workshop (Dialog)
Day 4: Preferred Design Interventions; Report Design/Illustration Production
Day 5: Draft Report Production, Final Public Presentation (Dialog/Education)”

Jan 032016
 

A new book offers case studies and tips on creating quick and effective urban interventions.

Image Flickr/bradleypjohnson
Flickr/bradleypjohnson

Guerrilla gardeningPavement-to-parks. Open streets. These are all urban interventions of a sort – quick, often temporary, cheap projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable. These types of projects have grown in popularity in recent years, and they even have a new name: tactical urbanism, as in tactics used to improve the urban environment. These tactics tend to be replicable across cities, and in certain instances have become worldwide phenomena.

A newly updated guidebook seeks to spread these good ideas and to give more people the know-how to bring them about in their own communities.

Tactical Urbanism 2: Short-Term Action, Long Term Change [PDF] was created and offered for free download by the Street Plans Collaborative, an urban planning, design and advocacy firm. Mike Lydon is one of the firm’s principals and lead author of the guidebook. He says that despite its fancy, academic-sounding name, tactical urbanism is not particularly exotic or extraordinary.

“Really, tactical urbanism is how most cities are built. Especially in developing nations,” Lydon says. “It’s step-by-step, piece-by-piece.”

These small-scale interventions are characterized by their community-focus and realistic goals. Maybe the most widespread of these tactics is the annual Park(ing) Day, in which parking spaces are turned into temporary park spaces.

The first iteration of the guidebook was released free online in the spring of 2011, and quickly hit the 10,000 download limit of the web service hosting it. Since then, Lydon and his colleagues found new ways of sharing the document, and also found new projects worth mentioning. “The point of the first one was ‘Hey, look: here’s all these cool things that are related to this longer-term change that’s happening.’ It was very appropriate with the way economy was,” says Lydon. “In this second volume, we’ve decided to go deeper into the history of the movement, creating a continuum of different types of interventions.”

The first edition includes 12 tactics like the aforementioned guerrilla gardening and open streets projects. The new edition includes an additional 12, including intersection repair, ad-busting and depaving – a Portland-born volunteer project to improve storm water treatment by removing unneeded driveways and concrete ground cover.

“We’re noticing more and more of these tactics that are popping up and leading to longer term change, so we wanted to keep that conversation going,” Lydon says.

Of course, not every tactic is a world changer.

“When you’re yarn-bombing something, it’s a really cool and interesting piece of public art and it can have some social and political commentary that goes along with it, but the intent generally is not to create a longer term physical change,” Lydon says. “Most of the things that we include in the guide generally are aiming at doing something larger. They’re not just for the sake of doing it. And of course in a lot of ways, to make that work, you need to have whatever you’re doing to become sanctioned or supported, either with funding or with being allowed by the municipality.”

And this is a key element of the guidebook: making things work. The goal is not to simply do a cool project that will get cleaned up by the city or thrown away, but to make something – even something temporary – that will change how a place works and is perceived. And once that change has been made, to figure out how it can be made again or made permanent.

The tactics in the guide are those that have gone through this process. They’ve had enough iterations in sometimes very different places to know what works and how to maneuver through the realities of municipal governance to make something stick.

“For every one of these tactics that’s in here, you probably have several failed versions,” says Lydon. “But when you hit a nerve at the right time with the right group of people and you have enough people watching, you can really help transition these things into larger initiatives.”

And though many of these projects can and have worked in cities across the country (and world), Lydon cautions that not every project is right for every place. What’s needed and wanted in one neighborhood can be wildly different from what would work or be accepted in another. Knowing and responding to locals needs is paramount.

“When it comes down to it, you’ve got to figure out what these projects can mean, and how you can do them yourself or with your government or with your neighbors,” Lydon says.

If the community is where you start, a good second step could be within the pages of this guidebook.

Original article.

Charter of the Congress for the New Urbanism

 

The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.

We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy.

We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.

We recognize that physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.

We represent a broad-based citizenry, composed of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals. We are committed to reestablishing the relationship between the art of building and the making of community, through citizen-based participatory planning and design.

We dedicate ourselves to reclaiming our homes, blocks, streets, parks, neighborhoods, districts, towns, cities, regions, and environment.


We assert the following principles to guide public policy, development practice, urban planning, and design:

The Region: Metropolis, City, and Town

  1. Metropolitan regions are finite places with geographic boundaries derived from topography, watersheds, coastlines, farmlands, regional parks, and river basins. The metropolis is made of multiple centers that are cities, towns, and villages, each with its own identifiable center and edges.
  2. The metropolitan region is a fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world. Governmental cooperation, public policy, physical planning, and economic strategies must reflect this new reality.
  3. The metropolis has a necessary and fragile relationship to its agrarian hinterland and natural landscapes. The relationship is environmental, economic, and cultural. Farmland and nature are as important to the metropolis as the garden is to the house.
  4. Development patterns should not blur or eradicate the edges of the metropolis. Infill development within existing urban areas conserves environmental resources, economic investment, and social fabric, while reclaiming marginal and abandoned areas. Metropolitan regions should develop strategies to encourage such infill development over peripheral expansion.
  5. Where appropriate, new development contiguous to urban boundaries should be organized as neighborhoods and districts, and be integrated with the existing urban pattern. Noncontiguous development should be organized as towns and villages with their own urban edges, and planned for a jobs/housing balance, not as bedroom suburbs.
  6. The development and redevelopment of towns and cities should respect historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.
  7. Cities and towns should bring into proximity a broad spectrum of public and private uses to support a regional economy that benefits people of all incomes. Affordable housing should be distributed throughout the region to match job opportunities and to avoid concentrations of poverty.
  8. The physical organization of the region should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile.
  9. Revenues and resources can be shared more cooperatively among the municipalities and centers within regions to avoid destructive competition for tax base and to promote rational coordination of transportation, recreation, public services, housing, and community institutions.

The Neighborhood, The District, and The Corridor

  1. The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor are the essential elements of development and redevelopment in the metropolis. They form identifiable areas that encourage citizens to take responsibility for their maintenance and evolution.
  2. Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways.
  3. Many activities of daily living should occur within walking distance, allowing independence to those who do not drive, especially the elderly and the young. Interconnected networks of streets should be designed to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips, and conserve energy.
  4. Within neighborhoods, a broad range of housing types and price levels can bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.
  5. Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, can help organize metropolitan structure and revitalize urban centers. In contrast, highway corridors should not displace investment from existing centers.
  6. Appropriate building densities and land uses should be within walking distance of transit stops, permitting public transit to become a viable alternative to the automobile.
  7. Concentrations of civic, institutional, and commercial activity should be embedded in neighborhoods and districts, not isolated in remote, single-use complexes. Schools should be sized and located to enable children to walk or bicycle to them.
  8. The economic health and harmonious evolution of neighborhoods, districts, and corridors can be improved through graphic urban design codes that serve as predictable guides for change.
  9. A range of parks, from tot-lots and village greens to ballfields and community gardens, should be distributed within neighborhoods. Conservation areas and open lands should be used to define and connect different neighborhoods and districts.

The Block, The Street, and The Building

  1. A primary task of all urban architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use.
  2. Individual architectural projects should be seamlessly linked to their surroundings. This issue transcends style.
  3. The revitalization of urban places depends on safety and security. The design of streets and buildings should reinforce safe environments, but not at the expense of accessibility and openness.
  4. In the contemporary metropolis, development must adequately accommodate automobiles. It should do so in ways that respect the pedestrian and the form of public space.
  5. Streets and squares should be safe, comfortable, and interesting to the pedestrian. Properly configured, they encourage walking and enable neighbors to know each other and protect their communities.
  6. Architecture and landscape design should grow from local climate, topography, history, and building practice.
  7. Civic buildings and public gathering places require important sites to reinforce community identity and the culture of democracy. They deserve distinctive form, because their role is different from that of other buildings and places that constitute the fabric of the city.
  8. All buildings should provide their inhabitants with a clear sense of location, weather and time. Natural methods of heating and cooling can be more resource-efficient than mechanical systems.
  9. Preservation and renewal of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes affirm the continuity and evolution of urban society.

Charter of the Congress for the New Urbanism

Ahwahnee Principles

 

The Ahwahnee Principles for Resource-Efficient Communities, written in 1991 by the Local Government Commission, paved the way for the Smart Growth movement and New Urbanism. These principles provide a blueprint for elected officials to create compact, mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented developments in their local communities. Cities and counties across the nation have adopted them to break the cycle of sprawl. If you like the newly emerging downtowns across the nation – full of people, activities and great public spaces – that’s the Ahwahnee Principles in action.


Ahwahnee Principles:

Existing patterns of urban and suburban development seriously impair our quality of life. The symptoms are: more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on automobiles, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to roads and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. By drawing upon the best from the past and the present, we can plan communities that will more successfully serve the needs of those who live and work within them. Such planning should adhere to certain fundamental principles.

Community Principles

  1. All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
  2. Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
  3. As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of transit stops.
  4. A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
  5. Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
  6. The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
  7. The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
  8. The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
  9. Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
  10. Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
  11. Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.
  12. Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
  13. The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
  14. Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought tolerant landscaping and recycling.
  15. The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.

Regional Principles

  1. The regional land-use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than freeways.
  2. Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
  3. Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
  4. Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting a continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.

Implementation Principles

  1. The general plan should be updated to incorporate the above principles.
  2. Rather than allowing developer-initiated, piecemeal development, local governments should take charge of the planning process. General plans should designate where new growth, infill or redevelopment will be allowed to occur.
  3. Prior to any development, a specific plan should be prepared based on these planning principles.
  4. Plans should be developed through an open process and participants in the process should be provided visual models of all planning proposals.

Authors: Peter Calthorpe, Michael Corbett, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Moule, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Stefanos Polyzoides
Editor: Peter Katz, Judy Corbett, and Steve Weissman

(Adopted in 1991)

Original article.

About the Ahwahnee Principals

 

Cities everywhere are facing similar problems – increasing traffic congestion and worsening air pollution, the continuing loss of open space, the need for costly improvements to road and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. The problems seem overwhelming and we suffer from their consequences every day. City character is blurred until every place becomes like every other place and all adding up to No Place.

Many of our social, economic and environmental problems can be traced to land use practices adopted since World War II. In the late 1940’s we began to adopt a notion that life would be better and we would all have more freedom if we planned and built our communities around the automobile. Gradually, rather than increasing our freedom, auto-oriented land use planning has reduced our options. Now, it takes much more time than it used to carry out our daily activities. We must go everywhere by car – there is no other option. We must take a car to the store for a gallon of milk, drive the children to Little League practice, even spend part of the lunch hour driving to a place to eat. And as roads become increasingly clogged and services further from our home, we spend our time as anonymous individuals waiting for the traffic light to change rather than chatting with friends at the corner store or playing ball on the lawn with the neighborhood kids.

Pedestrian oriented street, Santa MonicaRather than designing towns so that we could walk to work or to the store, we have separated uses into homogeneous, single-use enclaves, spreading out these uses on ever-increasing acres of land. Housing of similar types for similar income levels were grouped together. Retail stores were clustered into huge structures called malls, surrounded by endless acres of parking slots. Businesses imitated the mall – creating “business parks”, usually without a park in sight, and with people working in clusters of similar buildings and parking spaces. At the same time, public squares, the corner store, main street, and all the places where people could meet and a sense of community could happen were replaced by the abyss of asphalt.

Even people are segregated by age and income level. And those who cannot drive or who cannot afford a car face an enormous disadvantage. In the words of Pasadena’s Mayor Rick Cole, “there’s a loss of place, a loss of hope, and it’s killing our souls.”

The effects of single- use, sprawling development patterns are becoming increasing clear. And, with that has evolved arealization that there is a better way. Towns of the type built earlier in this century – those compact, walkable communities where you could walk to the store and kids could walk to school, where there was a variety of housing types from housing over stores to single-family units with front porches facing tree-lined, narrow streets -these towns provided a life style that now seems far preferable to today’s neighborhoods. Thus we have seen an increasing interest in a number of concepts that would bring us back to a more traditional style of development and a style of planning that would be more in tune with nature including “neotraditional planning”, “sustainable development”, “transit-oriented design”, the “new urbanism”, and the concept of “livable” communities.

In 1991, at the instigation of Local Government Commission staff-member Peter Katz, author of the New Urbanism, the commission brought together a group of architects who have been leaders in developing new notions of land use planning: Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stefanos Polyzoides and Elizabeth Moule, Peter Calthorpe, and Michael Corbett. These innovators were asked to come to agreement about what it is that the new planning ideas – from neotraditional planning to sustainable design- have in common and from there, to develop a set of community principles. They were then asked how each community should relate to the region, and to develop a set of regional principles. Finally, they were charged with defining how these ideas might be implemented by cities and counties. The architects’ ideas were drafted by attorney Steve Weissman into a form which would be useful to local elected officials and provide a vision for an alternative to urban sprawl. A preamble, topics of specific ideas, community principles, regional principles and implementation of the principles was presented in the fall of 1991 to about 100 local elected officials at a conference at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. There they received both a highly enthusiastic response and their title- the Ahwahnee Principles.

Community Principles 

The community principles define a community where housing and all the things needed to meet the daily needs of residents are located within walking distance of one another. They call for returning to historic population densities around transit stops to provide the critical mass of people and activities in these areas needed to make transit economically viable. They call for housing which provides places to live for a variety of people within a single neighborhood instead of separating people by income level, age or family situation.

The Ahwahnee Principles state that development should be compact but with open space provided in the form of squares or parks. Urban designer Michael Freedman describes this as space-making rather than space-occupying development. Rather than surrounding buildings in the center of unusable landscaped areas (space-occupying development), Freedman says we should use buildings to frame public space (place-making design).

Freedman holds that to plan for more livable communities, local government officials must understand the human scale – that is, the basic relationship of people to the environment in which they live. In neighborhoods, for example, we must recognize the relationship of the house to the front door to the street. In doing so, we will create the sorts of places which bring people together and create a vitality, a sense of community. By framing open space with buildings which open onto it, there are more eyes to look upon the area and that creates places that feel more safe. And with that design solution comes more compact development – development which has less costly infrastructure requirements, and development which is more walkable and more easily served by transit.

Further, the principles call for an end to the monotony of contiguous, look-alike building by separating each community with a well defined edge, such as an agricultural greenbelt or wildlife corridor, so that we can actually see where one community ends and another begins. From a transportation standpoint, one of the most important principles is that all parts of the community should be connected by streets or paths – no more dead end cul de sacs, fences, or walls which prevent us from going directly from one point to another. Narrow streets, rather than wide streets, are recommended because they help slow traffic and make it safer for pedestrians and bicycles. Narrow streets also create more attractive, more people-friendly neighborhoods and shopping districts.

Finally, the community principles call for more resource-efficient land use planning – the preservation of the natural terrain, drainage and vegetation; and the use of natural drainage systems and drought tolerant landscaping and recycling. They ask that buildings be oriented properly, (as required by the California solar rights act) so that they can take advantage of the sun for heating and natural breezes for cooling.

Regional Principles 

The regional principles call for the land-use planning structure to be integrated within a larger network built around transit rather than freeways, with regional institutions and services located in the urban core. A perfect example of this can be found in the City of San Jose where city planners chose to locate a new sports stadium in the downtown area, close to several rail stops rather than off a freeway. The surrounding restaurants and shops are benefiting from the increased number of passers-by before and after games, and freeway travel is not as clogged as it otherwise would have been.

Santa BarbaraThe architects noted that regions should be distinct from one another rather than fading into one another as they largely do today. Each region should be surrounded by a wildlife corridor or greenbelt and the materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region. Santa Barbara and Santa Fe come forward as two excellent examples of communities who have followed these principles and who have realized that there are economic as well as aesthetic advantages of doing so. Both of these cities have implemented strict design guidelines for their downtowns which preserve the historical architectural styles of their regions. Because these cities have retained a very special and distinct sense of place, they have become highly popular both as places to live and as tourist destinations.

Implementation Principles 

The implementation strategy forwarded by the planners is fairly straightforward and simple. First, the general plan should be updated to incorporate the Ahwahnee Principles. Next, local governments should take charge of the planning process rather than simply continuing to react to piecemeal proposals.

Prior to any development, a specific plan or a precise plan should be prepared based on the planning principles. With the adoption of specific plans, complying projects can then proceed with minimal delay. The developer will know exactly what the community wants. There should be no more costly, time-consuming, guessing games.

Finally, the architects put forth the most critical principle of all, “Plans should be developed through an open process and participants in the process should be provided visual models of all planning proposals.” Without involving citizens from every sector of the community, including developers, the political viability of a new plan may be limited. Citizens must be getting what they want and care enough to be vigilant about it so that the plan cannot be changed by a single property owner with a self interest.

But the stability of planning policies is not the only advantage of citizen participation. Bringing together citizens to create a common vision for the community has more benefits than just the creation of a good plan that will be upheld through time. The process itself can create a sense of community and an understanding between previously warring factions.

However, it is difficult for citizens to visualize what a new planning scheme is going to look like after it is built if they see only a one-dimensional sketch or read about the plan in a six-inch thick planning document. There are a number of techniques which have been developed to address this problem. The visual preference survey, where participants are provided an opportunity to express their likes and dislikes through judging slides, allows citizens to actually see concrete examples of their options. Another useful technique is computer simulation where the visual results of a physical plan can be created on the computer. Another method involves taking participants on a walk through their own town to determine which portions of the community look good and function well and which do not.

Implementing the Ahwahnee Principles 

The concepts embodied in the Ahwahnee Principles are being implemented by cities and counties throughout the nation, with most of the activity occurring on the east and west coasts. In Pasadena, the participation of 3,000 residents from all sectors of the community resulted in a general plan with a guiding principle which states, “Pasadena will be a city where people can circulate without cars.” The plan lays out where growth should occur – primarily along light rail stations and in neighborhood commercial areas within walking distance of residences. The city is now preparing specific plans to guide what that growth should look like. One of the projects, a mixed-use housing development near a downtown rail stop, is already complete.

In San Jose, the City has produced, under the guidance of citizen advisory groups, a total of four specific plans for infill sites in various parts of the City covering a total of almost 1,000 acres. Their goal is to assure that new development will occur as compact, mixed use neighborhoods located near transit stops. The City of San Diego has adopted “Transit-Oriented Development Design Guidelines” for the purpose of redirecting existing patterns of building within the City and helping reduce the community’s dependence on the automobile. The planning staff has completed the first public review draft of a comprehensive zoning code update that will create zoning designations to implement the guidelines.

Horton Plaza, San DiegoIn Sacramento, Walnut Creek, Santa Barbara and San Diego, city officials have broken new ground by siting new shopping malls downtown, near transit, rather than off a freeway. The benefits include both a new surge of economic activity for downtown businesses and a reduction in auto use and the associated negative air quality impacts. The California Air Resources Board has noted that over 60% of the people arriving at San Diego’s downtown mall, Horton Plaza, arrive via transit or walking.

Developer-proposed, large-scale, new development is also reflecting the influence of the Ahwahnee Principles. The one-thousand acre, Playa Vista infill project in Los Angeles will include the preservation of 300 acres of wetlands. As it is designed now, the development will feature moderately-dense housing built small neighborhood parks. Large offices, small retail stores, restaurants, grocery stores and small telecommuting offices will be integrated, allowing residents to walk when they go to work, shop, or go out to dinner. A bicycle and pedestrian esplanade will link the town with the beach. Rialto’s Mayor John Longville is working with the developer of a 3,000 acre development near the Ontario airport to incorporate the concepts of the Ahwahnee Principles in that project.

With the assistance of urban designer Michael Freedman, the City of Cathedral City is no longer focusing solely on density and the control of uses as a means of guiding their future growth. At a joint meeting of the city council, planning commission, and architectural review committee, Freedman presented the Ahwahnee Principles and the key role of local government in future planning and general plan development. Cathedral City adopted the Ahwahnee Principles by resolution and has started to incorporate them into their general plan. With only 50% of the city built out and development plans on the table, the city council acknowledged the importance of having planning guidelines. An innovative city in the desert region, Cathedral City understands that the best way to deliver good planning principles is to work both with the community and the building industry to develop a comprehensive strategy of planning more livable neighborhoods

Even the US government has embraced the Ahwahnee Principles. Architect Peter Calthorpe reports that the planning concepts outlined by the Ahwahnee Principles have been written into a guidance document recently published the federal government. Calthorpe was a coauthor of the document, Vision/Reality produced by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for local government officials interested in applying for Community Development Block Grant program and other funds.

Seasside, FloridaA number of city planners believe that if they can just solve the problem of traffic, they can solve the major problems of their cities. Yet the simple needs of the automobile are far more easily understood and accommodated that the complex needs of people. The Ahwahnee Principles outline a set of ideas for planning more livable communities built for people, not just cars, and provide a vision for an alternative to urban sprawl. This new vision will lead to neighborhoods where people no longer live in a house with an isolated rear yard. They will live in a home with a comfortable relationship to the street which is part of a neighborhood. Tree-lined sidewalks with narrow streets will induce cars to drive more slowly. Children will be more safe when they play in the neighborhood and the sense of community will add a feeling of security. When they need to go to school, to the store, or to baseball practice, children will be able to walk or ride a bike rather than being dependent on someone driving them there.

The top down, traditional planning of yesterday is no longer an acceptable means of making cities. The people served must be involved. When people come together and openly discuss their visions for the future, a sense of community will result. Bringing citizens into the process of developing and revising the general plan will also result in new development which both serves the needs of the community and is used and respected by the residents it serves. To make better, more livable cities, local governments must take charge of the process of planning while involving and utilizing its bet asset, the people who work, live and play in our communities.

About the Architects 

The architects who gathered in 1991 to develop the Ahwahnee Principles are all internationally known for their inspirational work and innovative ideas. Peter Calthorpe, is one of the leaders of the “New Urbanism” movement and was cited by Newsweek Magazine as “one of 25 innovators on the cutting edge.” Michael Corbett, a former Mayor of the City of Davis, has received international recognition for his design of the resource-efficient Village Homes development in Davis, a project often cited as the best existing example of sustainable development in the world. The husband-wife team of Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, made headlines with their wildly successful Seaside development in Florida and have become highly acclaimed architects and planners of neotraditional communities. Stefanos Polyzoides is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Southern California. He and his partner, Elizabeth Moule, are the architects of Playa Vista in Los Angeles, a model application of the Ahwahnee Principles.

The Ahwahnee Principles

Authors/Editors: Peter Calthorpe, Peter Katz, Michael Corbett, Judy Corbett, Andres Duany, Steve Weissman, Elizabeth Moule, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stefanos Polyzoides.

Dec 062015
 

Mission 

The Oxnard Community Planning Group advocates for visionary practices in planning, design, and development that will lead to a more livable and prosperous city.

Vision 

The Oxnard Community Planning Group envisions a city that grows wisely, preserves farmland and open space, drives smart economic development, welcomes vertical density, cherishes our past, and boldly anticipates our future.

Core Values 

The Oxnard Community Planning Group believes in a city that works to meet the needs of all our residents: young, old, people with disabilities, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists; even people who don’t go anywhere. We strive to be open-minded, welcome thoughtful discussion, and are willing to invest our time and efforts towards bringing these beliefs into being.