The 8 Principles for Better Streets and Better Cities
- WALK | Develop neighborhoods that promote walking
- CYCLE | Prioritize non-motorized transport networks
- CONNECT | Create dense networks of streets and paths
- TRANSIT | Locate development near high-quality public transport
- MIX | Plan for mixed use
- DENSIFY | Optimize density and transit capacity
- COMPACT | Create regions with short commutes
- SHIFT | Increase mobility by regulating parking and road use
ITDP aims to deliver a higher standard of living and quality of life for citizens of cities around the world. Through our transportation projects, we work to reduce human impact on natural resources and ecosystems, and to ensure that we develop in a way that benefits us all, both today and in the future.
Our vision of sustainable cities is one in which there is a high concentration of people living in an environment that is pleasant and provides good social infrastructure through good physical infrastructure. Cities where people are put before cars, and residents, workers and visitors young and old, can safely walk or cycle to their daily activities. Cities where jobs and services are a bus ride away, and the time and money spent driving can be used productively elsewhere. These are the kinds of cities that are attractive to us today – cities with less congestion, less pollution, fewer accidents, and healthier, safer, more productive communities. To achieve this, there are 8 principles which guide our approach to sustainable transport and development. These principles inform the TOD Standard, a guide and tool to help shape and assess urban developments.
If you’re an automaker, now might be the time to drastically rethink not only your target audience, but also the fundamentals of how vehicles are designed, manufactured and marketed.
Forces like global urbanization, the growth of electric vehicle infrastructure and shared mobility services — ridesharing, carsharing, bikesharing, etc. — are dramatically changing the sustainable transportation landscape.
To help make sense of it all, GreenBiz spoke last week with mobility designer Dan Sturges about the outlook for personal cars and the market forces reshaping the suto industry.
This week, in and interview edited for length and clarity, Sturges shared his thoughts on what our future cars might look like, and how all of these factors might combine to reshape our sense of place.
GreenBiz: What might the new constellation of vehicle options for businesses and consumers mean for the future?
Dan Sturges: To me, both Silicon Valley and Big Auto are not very focused on the massive opportunity that comes with a broader selection of optimized vehicle designs in the future of shared mobility. Today, we generally use two classes of mobility.
One, mainly, is our cars and light trucks to drive us each day around our cities and metropolitan regions. The second is the airplane that we fly to far-away cities and countries. What has been missing is a third tier — one focused on local transportation. That would be a travel environment for walking, bicycles and a wide range of upcoming micro-mobility (powered) vehicles.
GreenBiz: So you’re saying our current local transportation patterns are unsustainable?
Sturges: Let me be very clear. We currently have an automobile monoculture on this planet, and it’s not good for us.Today, the billion cars and light trucks we have on the planet look virtually the same when looking down on them. They are rectangles with four wheels in the corners and roughly the same size. They are constructed out of 25,000 parts and cost $32,000, on average, in the US. Why would anyone need all that to travel a mile or two for a meeting at a coffee shop?
GreenBiz: And you see an opportunity to simplify?
Sturges: Nearly 50 percent of our trips in urban areas are less than three miles, and 28 percent are one mile or less. Our cars are over-engineered for nearly every trip we take in them. It’s overkill. It’s like killing a roach with a shotgun. We could not do anything about this before the auto tech revolution, but now we can.
The centerpiece of the local mobility future is the bicycle. While auto mobility develops in the future with the cars we drive, autonomous vehicles or other inventions, we will be redesigning our cities to offer amazing pedestrian, bicycle and active mode facilities first and foremost.
GreenBiz: What if you’re not into biking or walking all the time?
Sturges: For those of us that want more than a bicycle for a nearby trip, we will choose from a growing array of local vehicles. This will include electric bikes, e-scooters, senior mobility scooters, golf cars, Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEVs), and a likely wide array of new types of near cars.
All of these vehicles require far less land and energy than a car, and cost far less to own, share, or operate than our cars of today. They are optimal vehicles for a short trip.
GreenBiz: What about longer trips?
Sturges: Think about a metropolitan area divided into two vehicle categories: the local vehicles I am talking about, and the far cars – the conventional vehicles we know and use already today by the billion.
It’s helps to think of the neighborhood you live in as a small island, maybe two square miles. Let’s say you live in Palo Alto, California and you are a telecommuter, so your needs for an automobile are already really reduced. You might use a new-type of local shuttle service, ridesharing, carsharing, bike or walk to get around Palo Alto.If you’re a commuter, there will be another option: a narrow car. The Nissan Land Glider concept vehicle paints a picture of a new type of car to drive around your region. Cities encouraging the right-sizing of personal vehicles will benefit by reducing traffic congestion, along with reducing the amount of land needing for parking.
GreenBiz: Are there existing templates for how all of this might come together in real cities?
Sturges: In European cities moving toward a car-free model, like Madrid, new urban shuttles — a mix of autnomous and driver-controlled — will offer frictionless use for consumers.
GreenBiz: But retrofitting entire cities at scale would be a massive challenge.
Sturges: It’s difficult to get a city saturated with big cars and trucks to clear an appropriate amount of space for a healthy local mobility zone. The car is still considered king, and cities like LA are having big fights with citizens about removing even a few car parking spaces for bike lanes.
This drives me crazy — LA plans to fund its much-needed biking infrastructure over a 20-plus year period. I think that’s absurd, given the climate crisis, economic challenges, terrible traffic and so on. Many people like little e-scooters and NEVs, but they don’t feel safe operating them around a sea of giant SUVs.
I don’t blame them. In addition, hardly any citizens have been introduced to this type of new vision for a shared-use and right-sized metropolitan mobility future. If you don’t know something is available, how are you going to even want it, and seek government to support it?
GreenBiz: Long term, how do you see this potential convergence influencing the way we build our cities?
Sturges: Did you ever see Otis Elevator’s dual-dimensional elevator concept from the early 1970’s? It was super cool. The elevator not only went up and down, it could travel horizontally as well.
Small electric vehicles are about the same size of some elevator cars. They have zero emissions and will actually be able to drive into a building and right into one’s condo in the future. The design opportunity of this convergence of architecture, local mobility, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is very exciting to me.
GreenBiz: What sorts of applications do you think about for urban settings?
Sturges: Upcoming automated, local mobility technologies will enable all new types of futuristic smart communities and cities to be created, as well as informing the retrofit process of our existing cities.Have a look at Kiva Systems. Their remarkable warehouse movement robots can now be applied to a number of important new urban living applications.
This technology enables new types of cities and futuristic smart communities to be built, that park cars on the edge and offer large non-motorized zones for people, as well as a secondary micro-sized, high-tech automated movement systems for both people and goods.
A new report from Obama’s science and tech advisors outlines the case for an urban-focused technology policy.
I’ve long complained that U.S. cities are not getting the attention they deserve from the federal government, even though they are the nation’s fundamental engines of innovation and economic progress. But that may be starting to change, thanks to a new report from President Obama’s high-level Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).
In the report, titled Cities and the Future of Technology, PCAST makes the case for putting cities at the very center of America’s innovation strategy and technology policy. The report is the product of a blue-ribbon panel of the nation’s leading scientists, technologists, and urbanists such as John P. Holdren (the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology), Alphabet’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Doctoroff, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs.
Ultimately, PCAST argues in favor of a “place-based” policy that uses investments to embed the most advanced technology in urban infrastructure. It maintains that the U.S. needs a bold new approach that goes beyond the current emphasis on smart cities. In other words, the nation and its cities should use technology not only to upgrade and transform aging infrastructure, but to reshape the way cities operate from top to bottom. Doing so will save energy, reduce traffic and congestion, create more sustainable and competitive cities, and bolster the innovation and competitiveness of the U.S. more broadly, according to the report.
In advancing its findings, the report focuses on several dimensions of cities and technology.
Transportation: The report highlights efforts to develop driverless vehicles, or CAVs. These kinds of developments, the report argues, not only pose significant money-saving opportunities, but are also responsible for placing the nation “on the verge of large-scale transformation.” Considering the cost of traffic collisions ($300 billion per year), vehicular congestion ($124 billion per year), and related health-care incidents ($50-80 billion per year) in the U.S., the report finds that the nation could save around $1.2 trillion per year if people refrained from driving.
Energy: From electric energy systems to electric vehicles, the increasing “electrification” of our cities is helping to protect our environment and benefit our economy in the long run, the report argues. The report also focuses on the concept of “District Energy,” which uses technology to coordinate the local production of energy with its local uses. In 2015, three cities—Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; and Aspen, Colorado—already declared themselves 100 percent renewable, the report finds.
Buildings and Housing: While nearly 67 percent of cities worldwide have committed to green-building codes, only 12 U.S. cities rank among the leading cities for environmental design. To fix this, the report recommends a number of changes, including the integration of sensory technology that understands and responds to changes in the environment.
Water: With regard to our world’s most precious resource, the report focuses on storm water systems as a means of improving water infrastructure at the local level. Over in Los Angeles, for instance, the report finds that the city could triple or even quadruple its storm-water capture by 2099 by adding these systems in households and neighborhood districts.
Factories and Farms: Technology is not only transforming high-end knowledge fields, but labor-intensive fields like manufacturing and farming as well. When it comes to manufacturing, the report focuses on the need to take advantage of the growth of high-tech industries by creating jobs for low-income residents. When it comes to urban farming, the report emphasizes the need for soil-less agriculture systems and praises the work of rooftop greenhouses in places like Brooklyn, Queens, and Chicago.
Most of all, the report makes the case for stronger involvement of the federal government in the crucial nexus of cities and technology. Many have argued that cities can solve their own problems, or even that mayors should rule the world, but the report smartly recognizes that such massive investments in infrastructure need the support of the federal government.
To that end, the report makes four specific recommendations.
Invest in and experiment with technology: First, the report recommends the creation of a new Cities Innovation Technology Investment Initiative, or CITII, to coordinate city-by-city efforts and enhance urban innovation across the nation. At the outset, this initiative would select five districts—at least two of which are low-income communities—to receive $30-40 million for technology advancements. The initiative would also designate certain federal agencies as “districts of experimentation” to test out new technologies. Finally, the report recommends that the CITII develop training and certification programs to turn new innovation into a means of job production.
Set up innovation laboratories: Next, the report recommends creating new “innovation laboratories” within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assemble the same technological resources that many governmental agencies have already.
Focus on infrastructure and low-income communities: The report recommends that cities develop “Urban Development Districts,” which would receive funding from the Treasury to generate innovation in low-income districts. Along these same lines, the authors support the approval of public infrastructure bonds that would incentivize private investment in tech-based urban innovation.
Coordinate research: Finally, a new Urban Science Technology Initiative should be created within the National Science and Technology Council to coordinate federally funded research (both short- and long-term) across these agencies.
The report recognizes that cities are the key to both developing and deploying new technology. Just as technology led to massive advances in manufacturing—from automation and robotics to more efficient supply chains and deliveries—so too does it promise to improve the productivity of cities and urban infrastructure.
The big problem, of course, lies in our increasingly polarized and dysfunctional political system that will make it hard, if not impossible, to do the kinds of things the report outlines. Still, the report does much to show why we need to put cities at the center of our strategy for innovation and economic competitiveness.
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.
The 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.
New data from Zillow shows that average urban home prices in the U.S. now surpass those of the suburbs.
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, urban and suburban homes in the U.S. used to be worth about the same on a per-square foot basis. But since the mid-2000s, urban homes have been worth more per square foot. Today, as a fascinating new report from Zillow on the shifting geography of American home values explores, urban homes nationwide are now valued at roughly 25 percent more than suburban ones on a per-square foot basis ($198 versus $156 per square foot).
What’s more, by the end of 2015, the average value of an urban home exceeded that of its suburban counterparts by 2 percent ($269,036 compared to $263,987). As the chart below shows, this overturns a long-held pattern of suburban homes having higher values than homes in urban areas—and this despite the fact that suburban homes tend to be considerably larger than urban ones.
This trend is clearly being driven by the extremely high price of urban homes in talent and knowledge hubs such as San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C. In Boston, for example, urban and suburban homes were each valued at around $100 per square foot in 1997. By 2015, Boston’s urban homes were worth nearly $400 per square foot compared to nearly $250 per square foot for suburban ones.
In Washington, D.C., urban and suburban home values also started off at around $100 per square foot in 1997. By 2015, urban values exceeded $300 per square foot compared to around $225 per square foot for suburban homes. And in San Francisco, urban and suburban homes were each worth about $150 per square foot in 1997. But by 2015, urban homes commanded nearly $700 per square foot compared to nearly $500 per square foot in the suburbs.
In some metros, urban and suburban values have in fact grown more or less in tandem. In L.A., for example, urban and suburban home values started off at roughly the same level (around $120 per square foot in 1997) and by 2015, both were worth roughly $400 per square foot.
Detroit, unsurprisingly, bucks all these trends. Back in 1997, both suburban and exurban homes there were valued at around $85 per square foot, compared to nearly $70 per square foot for homes in urban neighborhoods. Today, exurban homes command the highest prices per square foot—roughly $115—compared to $105 per square foot for suburban homes and just $55 per square foot for homes in urban neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, home values per square foot for metros like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Cleveland are in fact highest in suburban areas today, followed closely by rural ones.
Still, while the pattern of rising home values in the U.S. certainly differs by location, the overall trend does appear to signal a growing preference for urban living over the past decade. Zillow’s report built upon the economist Jed Kolko’s methodology for identifying urban, suburban, rural areas based on ZIP code density, and one of its most striking findings is that between 2010 and 2015, growth in the value of urban homes nationwide far outpaced that of the suburbs. Over this period, average urban home values increased by more than 28 percent, compared to just 21 percent for suburban homes. Last year alone, urban home values nationwide grew by 7.5 percent, compared to 5.9 percent for those in suburban areas.
As the Zillow report puts it, “The suburban home—long a symbol of success, stability and the American Dream—appears to be losing some of its luster as the appeal of city living gains steam and urban homes grow in value more quickly.”
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 (link, link).
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.
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.
Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time
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
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
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.
A conversation with Gabriel Metcalf on his new book, Democratic by Design.
“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.
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?
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.
“We don’t know what the hell to do about it,” says one planner. “It’s like pondering the imponderable.”
Self-driving cars have the potential to be the most transformative force in American cities since the development of the interstate system. And yet when it comes to preparing for the future of autonomous travel, urban planners have been largely idle. Just how idle? As of mid-2013, just one of the 25 largest metropolitan planning organizations in the U.S. had so much as mentioneddriverless cars in its long-term regional plan.
This bleak preparatory record comes courtesy of University of Pennsylvania planning scholar Erick Guerra, who reports the findings in the Journal of Planning Education and Research. Federal law requires MPOs to produce regional plans every four years that look at least 20 years out—a horizon that could easily coincide with the mainstream arrival of self-driving cars. But when Guerra combed these plans for signs of autonomous vehicles, he came up virtually empty.
That lone mention, for the record, came from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which guides Philly’s greater metro area. It was tucked away in what Guerra describes as a “brief sidebar.”
In other words, none of the planning organizations looking after America’s 25 biggest metros had incorporated self-driving cars into their urban development outlook in a substantial way, even looking ahead two decades. The timeline is unsettling, as is the scope: together, these 25 areas make up 40 percent of the national population. And if these MPOs weren’t on top of things, writes Guerra, it stands to reason that smaller cities haven’t prepared much for driverless cars, either.
So what’s the holdup here? To get a better sense, Guerra interviewed some of the planners in the MPOs whose reports he’d explored.
“Pondering the imponderable”
It’s not for lack of awareness. Local planners obviously know about driverless cars, and many who discussed them with Guerra used technical jargon like “Level 4,” which describes a fully autonomous vehicle. Nor is there any lack of technological faith. Guerra found the planners to be “cautiously optimistic, rather than skeptical” that self-driving cars would not only emerge in the coming years but have a big impact on travel behavior, safety, and urban land use—the very mandates of MPO existence.
The biggest factor, then, is not uncertainty about whether or not self-driving cars will change urban transportation. Rather, it’s uncertainty over just what those changes will look like, and how these shifts will impact major planning investments already underway. One planner put it bluntly: “We don’t know what the hell to do about it. It’s like pondering the imponderable.”
Fair enough. No one knows for sure what types of social changes will come with driverless cars, and the possible outcomes can vary dramatically. On one hand, if people buy their own autonomous vehicles, they might also choose to live farther away from work, knowing their commute will be less stressful and likely more productive. On the other hand, if people partake in shared networks of robotaxis—buying mobility by the drink instead of the bottle, as Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser puts it—they might double down on the convenience of central city life.
But even the MPOs interviewed by Guerra recognize that too much hesitation over imponderables becomes its own sort of planning decision. Take a basic highway expansion plan that’s in the works. Local officials might go through with the project, only to discover that the extra lanes are unnecessary in an age of driverless cars, which can safely operate closer together and thus serve as a de facto road expansion by themselves. There’s only so much road money to go around: using it for expansion instead of maintenance can be a big mistake.
Several interviewees worried that a number of currently planned investments might be unnecessary if driverless cars increase effective roadway capacity.
Worse yet, if the planners who best understand local transportation networks don’t set their sights on a driverless world, politicians with particular agendas will do it for them. Just look at the case of Pinellas County, Florida. Last fall, one local official used the promise of self-driving cars to oppose increased bus service and a new light rail system for the area, based on the (highly debatable) presumption that autonomous technology would make public transportation obsolete.
It’s not too soon, but getting late
There are understandable reasons why some MPOs are reluctant to engage with planning changes of this magnitude. MPOs are conservative and largely reactive by nature. Insofar as their jobs guide the wise use of limited taxpayer funding, they’re wary of pushing piles of public money toward speculative ends. Self-driving cars are but one of many potential transportation game-changers (Philly’s long-range plan lists 31 others). It’s impossible to prepare for every one with equal intensity.
And it’s not as if MPOs are doing nothing. Planners told Guerra they hold plenty of meetings about self-driving cars. Some try to model it. San Francisco, Seattle, and Atlanta, for instance, have tested out different scenarios of driverless life. Nearly all those analyses expect driving (as measured by vehicle miles traveled) to go up, a finding that’s in keeping with academic research. At the same time, MPOs don’t feel confident enough in the existing models to rely on them for planning purposes—a fear that, per Guerra, is both sensible and risky:
Unfortunately, the extent and direction self-driving cars’ impacts, particularly if transformative, are unlikely to be fully understood until they have already started to happen.
For his part, Guerra offers several suggestions to MPOs. He urges them not to envision a perfect future where the technology totally or immediately eliminates huge problems like congestion, crashes, or pollution. He also pushes for adaptable plans that evaluate “a range of potential outcomes,” as opposed to one-size-fits-all plans that have become the norm. And he encourages MPOs to pursue investments that make sense with or without driverless cars: bridge repairs or pedestrian projects, for instance, will remain relevant in any foreseeable future.
Along those lines, it also makes sense for planners at all levels to look for areas where existing patterns and driverless possibilities converge. Parking policy is a clear example. As more and more cities realize the problems with excess parking—namely, higher rents and worse traffic—they’re eliminating or reducing their developer parking requirements. In a driverless age, when people can either send their cars home or hop in a robocab, dedicating lots of public space to parking makes less sense still.
Some federal guidance would help. There’s been little of it to date. The U.S. Department of Transportation has explored connected technology that can coordinate travel patterns among cars, roads, and traffic infrastructure, but autonomous vehicles can operate without these intelligent networks in place. The DOT just announced a $40 million contest for the midsized city that crafts the most tech-savvy transportation plan, but major metros aren’t eligible. The new transportation bill did set aside a little funding for autonomous vehicle research, but it’s probably less than what tech start-ups spend each year on pita chips.
Whatever it takes to get MPOs and local governments thinking about the impact of driverless cars on urban development, the better. At this point, given the pace of planning operations, there’s probably no such thing as too soon. But there’s definitely a too late.
The One Chart That Explains All Your Traffic Woes
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.
The severely scaled-down units are neither a utopia nor a dystopia. In fact, they expand housing options across many demographics.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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)”
A new book offers case studies and tips on creating quick and effective urban interventions.
Guerrilla gardening. Pavement-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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The development and redevelopment of towns and cities should respect historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- A primary task of all urban architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use.
- Individual architectural projects should be seamlessly linked to their surroundings. This issue transcends style.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Architecture and landscape design should grow from local climate, topography, history, and building practice.
- 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.
- 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.
- Preservation and renewal of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes affirm the continuity and evolution of urban society.
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.
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.
- 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.
- Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
- As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of transit stops.
- 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.
- Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
- The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
- The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
- 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.
- Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
- Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
- 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.
- Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
- The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
- Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought tolerant landscaping and recycling.
- The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.
- The regional land-use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than freeways.
- Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
- Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
- 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.
- The general plan should be updated to incorporate the above principles.
- 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.
- Prior to any development, a specific plan should be prepared based on these planning principles.
- 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)
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.
Rather 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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
In 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.
A 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.
Authors/Editors: Peter Calthorpe, Peter Katz, Michael Corbett, Judy Corbett, Andres Duany, Steve Weissman, Elizabeth Moule, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stefanos Polyzoides.
The Oxnard Community Planning Group advocates for visionary practices in planning, design, and development that will lead to a more livable and prosperous city.
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.
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.
“A town is saved, not more by the righteous men in it than by the woods and swamps that surround it.” — Henry David Thoreau
A transect is a cut or path through part of the environment showing a range of different habitats. Biologists and ecologists use transects to study the many symbiotic elements that contribute to habitats where certain plants and animals thrive.
Human beings also thrive in different habitats. Some people prefer urban centers and would suffer in a rural place, while others thrive in the rural or sub-urban zones. Before the automobile, American development patterns were walkable, and transects within towns and city neighborhoods revealed areas that were less urban and more urban in character. This urbanism could be analyzed as natural transects are analyzed.
To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps. Standards were written for the first transect-based codes, eventually to become the SmartCode, which was released in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.
This zoning system replaces conventional separated-use zoning systems that have encouraged a car-dependent culture and land-consuming sprawl. The six Transect Zones instead provide the basis for real neighborhood structure, which requires walkable streets, mixed use, transportation options, and housing diversity. The T‑zones vary by the ratio and level of intensity of their natural, built, and social components. They may be coordinated to all scales of planning, from the region through the community scale down to the individual lot and building, but the new zoning itself is applied at the community (municipal) scale.
The T-zones are intended to be balanced within a neighborhood structure based on pedestrian sheds (walksheds), so that even T-3 residents may walk to different habitats, such as a main street, civic space, or agrarian land. The following table lays out the relationship of the region and community to the Transect Zones in the model SmartCode.
The table to the left explains the nesting relationship of the scales of planning addressed in the SmartCode. Note that the six normative Transect Zones are not applied at the regional scale, as they are used for municipal zoning or to achieve balance in private developments.
As a shorthand, New Urbanist practitioners refer to the framework of the rural-to-urban transect used in this way simply as “the Transect.” The benefits of using the Transect include
- a common language for a new zoning paradigm
- the ability to plug into transect-based codes and supplementary Modulescreated by different experts in the design, engineering, and environmental fields
- successional potential for communities to evolve gracefully and sustainably over generations.
Codes and architectural pattern books based on the Transect must be calibrated for each place, to reflect local character and form. Depending on the place, there may be fewer or more T-zones determined by analysis. For example, most towns do not have a T-6 Urban Core Zone.
Although the model T-zone diagram is based on exemplary American urbanism, there have been numerous successes adapting the Transect methodology to the traditional patterns of other countries, including England, Scotland, Mexico, the Bahamas, Spain, Russia, and Romania. This is possible because nearly every town has some rural-to-urban gradient or distinctions, and code calibrators, like scientists in the field, analyze the components of the local transects to extract their DNA for coding for the future. The components include the disposition, configuration, and function of buildings, thoroughfares and civic space, which are coordinated by T-zone number to ensure “immersive environments,” i.e., human habitats with distinctive character.
Because they are based on the physical form of the built and natural environment, all transect-based codes are form-based codes. The SmartCode, released in 2003, is the pioneering transect-based model code. The most up-to-date version is available free to municipalities and planning firms and may be downloaded here.
Practitioners are also studying regional transects for use in comprehensive plans and future inter-jurisdictional planning. The Regional Sector Plans of the SmartCode are based on natural regional transects, along with infrastructure such as existing or planned rail lines and thoroughfares.
Illustrative examples of regional and community-scale transects are available for download at our Image Library.
The OCPG has come to realize that the difficulty with density and parking and other issues relating to a walkable Oxnard Boulevard in our downtown and corridor areas is that our current zoning does not allow true urban placemaking.
For instance, current Oxnard zoning in the downtown allows 39 units per acre…which means that the living units must be 3 and 4 bedrooms. We need higher density to accommodate the empty-nesters, Millennials and others who are interested in living an urban lifestyle and want singles or 1 bedroom units. Form Based codes allow a broader range of options in specific overlay areas.
Zoning in Oxnard’s residential areas will not change. Form based codes are generally applied in very specific overlay areas do not replace existing zoning.
Below is a copy of the Form Based Code section of our Resources page – click the Resources tab above to view all our great place-making and urban design links.
Form Based Codes
“Why form-based codes? Because our current laws tend to separate where we live from where we work, learn, and shop, and insist on big, fast roads to connect them all. Roads that are unfriendly to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit. As a result, North Americans spend more hours in their cars than anyone on earth, and a growing number of communities are working to do something about it.” [ PlaceMakers.com ]
- Wikipedia – Form-based code
- Form-Based Codes Institute
- What Are Form-Based Codes?
- Mesa, Arizona – Form-Based Zoning Code
- Conventional Zoning vs. Form-based Code
- The Sustainable Cities Institute – Form-Based Codes
- Puget Sound Regional Council – Form-Based Zoning
- Sample Form Based Codes
- Ventura – Sample Codes
- SmartCode Modules
The SmartCode differs from some other form-based codes in that its community-scale and block-scale articles are written explicitly for zoning. Zoning reform is essential to allow walkable mixed-use neighborhoods, thereby combatting sprawl, preserving open lands, and reducing energy use and carbon emissions.
- Form-Based SmartCode
Looking to curb sprawl with a form-based alternative to conventional zoning? No need to reinvent the wheel. The SmartCode is a model ordinance that’s customized to reflect local context, character and goals. And best of all, it’s open source and free.
More on Form Based Codes from the Form-Based SmartCode website:
The SmartCode is a model, form-based unified land development ordinance designed to create walkable neighborhoods, towns and cities across the full spectrum of human settlement, from the most rural to the most urban, and incorporating a transect of character and intensity within each. The SmartCode was originally developed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. It now exists as shareware and typically serves as a foundation from which it is then customized to address specific municipal goals. It can be leveraged as a tool towards both aspirational and preservationist ambitions.
[The long version:]
The SmartCode is a unified land development ordinance for planning and urban design. It folds zoning, subdivision regulations, urban design, and optional architectural standards into one compact document.
Because the SmartCode enables community vision by coding specific outcomes that are desired in particular places, it is meant to be locally customized (also known as “calibrated”) by professional planners, architects, and attorneys.
The SmartCode is not a building code. Building codes address life/safety issues such as fire and storm protection. Examples of building codes include the IBC, IRC, and ICC documents.
The SmartCode supports these outcomes: community vision, local character, conservation of open lands, transit options, and walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods. It prevents these outcomes: wasteful sprawl development, automobile-dominated streets, empty downtowns, and a hostile public realm. It allows different approaches in different areas within the community, unlike a one-size-fits-all conventional zoning code. This gives the SmartCode unusual political power, as it permits buy-in from stakeholders of diverse interests and concerns.
The SmartCode is considered a “form-based code” because it strongly addresses the physical form of building and development. Conventional zoning codes are based primarily on use and density. They have caused systemic problems over the past sixty years by separating uses, making mixed-use and walkable neighborhoods essentially illegal.
The SmartCode is also a transect-based code. A “transect” is usually seen as a continuous cross-section of natural habitats for plants and animals, ranging from shorelines to wetlands to uplands. The specific transect that the SmartCode uses is based on the human habitat, ranging from the most rural environments to the most urban environments. This transect is divided into a range of “Transect Zones,” each with its own complex character. It ensures that a community offers a full diversity of building types, thoroughfare types, and civic space types, and that each has appropriate characteristics for its location.
The six T-Zones are: T-1 Natural, T-2 Rural, T-3 Sub-Urban, T-4 General Urban, T-5 Urban Center, and T-6 Urban Core.
The Transect is a powerful tool because its standards can be coordinated across many other disciplines and documents, including ITE (transportation), and LEED (environmental performance). Thus the SmartCode integrates the design protocols of a variety of specialties, including traffic engineering, public works, town planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and ecology.
The SmartCode addresses development patterns at three scales of planning (thus it may replace a number of other documents):
> The Sector (Regional) Scale
> The Community Scale
> The Block and Building Scale
If stronger architectural guidelines are desired, a community may further adopt supplemental regulations or a pattern book.