Friday, February 25, 2005
The Public Health Roots of Zoning
But like most regulations, it's had its unintended consequences. Metropolitan Institute fellow Joe Schilling and Leslie Linton of SDSU explore explore some of these side effects, and the prospects for legislative remedies, in a new article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (link via Planetizen)
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
The salient fact about the decades ahead is that we are entering a permanent global energy crisis and it will change everything about how we live. The suburban cycle which began a hundred years ago is nearly over. We are in for a period of contraction and economic hardship.
There is not going to be a "hydrogen economy," and no combination of alternative energy systems or fuels will allow us to continue the suburban pattern. It's finished. We will, however, desperately need to grow more of our food closer to home, and so the preservation of agricultural hinterlands is of great importance.
Maybe he's been reading Dies the Fire? He's surely looking forward to a time when our technological society returns to the soil:
The skyscraper - any building over seven stories really - will come to be seen as an experimental building type that doesn't work well in an energy-starved economy. Once these energy problems gain traction, there will be a large new class of economic losers, and consequently a lot of social turbulence.
I think we'll see a leveling off and then a contraction of population, not a continued upward trend.
Under the current high energy / high entropy regime, sustainable development is a joke. In the decades to come, the successful places will tend to be the smaller traditional towns and cities with viable farming hinterlands. The economy of the 21st century will come to center on agriculture. Life will be intensely and profoundly local in ways that we can't conceive of today. Economic growth, as we have known it in a cheap energy industrial paradigm, will cease.
OK, seriously now. Clearly the oil will run out someday, but we do have essentially limitless supplies of nuclear, wind, hydro, geothermal and various other sources of energy that will become economical as oil becomes scarcer.
And it will be a trend, not an overnight change. As oil supplies get low, they'll become harder to extract and refine. These higher costs, plus increased competition for the remaining supply will gradually bid oil up to the point where investment in alternative energy becomes not just feasible but smart business. Among other things, the grossly inefficient and energy-losing proposition of extracting hydrogen to burn in engines or fuel cells will likely become a best-available solution, and there will be a 'hydrogen economy'. It will undoubtedly change the economics of daily life and thus the decisions we make about where and how to live and work, but this will be a gradual transition with plenty of time and information available to everyone for planning ahead.
But hey, why bother with such boring details when you can get copy like this:
[Le Corbusier] was a shit-head. Just about everything he thought about cities was wrong. And the ideas of his that actually found their way into practice were deeply destructive - for instance, the tower-in-a-park, which mutated into the vertical slums of the late 20th century.
Forget Corbu. Forget Modernism. Forget yesterdays' tomorrow. The cities of the future will be much smaller than they are today.
The medieval town may be a more appropriate model for where we're going.
Bring me a shrubbery!!!
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
I suspect cases like the New London one, or this neighborhood clearance in Cincinnati are related far more to zoning and economic development trends (in particular, the fad of deliberately encouraging an imbalance of jobs and housing) than to any nostalgia for public housing, but there's still danger here for planners if we become too strongly identified with those who justify any taking of property under the development mantra of the day. We have enough trouble getting buy-in from the public on a lot of things as it is.
Sunday, February 13, 2005
From the "What Else Are You Going to Do?" File
I think the nonobvious implication here is the importance of public education in planning. Those who use transit know that while it often does take longer than driving, there are tradeoffs. Most importantly, you're not behind the wheel and therefore you can read, work (including making any necessary phone calls, as irritating as it might be to your seatmate) or just bask in the downtime. I know many Metro riders who simply enjoy the people-watching opportunities. They'd hate to be sitting in traffic with nothing to do but listen to the same five CDs they've been meaning to change out for the past week. But you'd never think of those aspects until you try transit, and if you don't live near a Metro station, you probably don't know anyone who could tell you how to make the most of it. This is where education -facilitation, if you prefer- could make a big difference in how we commute, and thus ultimately in how we build in the next 20 years.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
You Have to Start Somewhere
"A colleague of mine, Mike Greenberg, gave me a little something his father-in-law, Bruno Zanin, had squirreled away. It's a 20-page booklet that appeared as an advertising supplement in the Washington Star on March 21, 1976. On the cover are the words, "This is Your Metro Owner's Manual."
It was an endearing bit of PR designed to familiarize Washingtonians with the subway system whose Phase I -- five stations between Rhode Island Avenue and Farragut North -- was just about to open. "
Five stations, all downtown. And look at it today. Clarendon, Ballston, King Street, Chinatown, U Street, Metro Center, and a dozen more places both downtown and suburban that were dying and have managed to pull new life at least partly out of that regional connection on their doorstep. Funny, then, that Kelly's headline is "Metro's Promise -- We're All Still Waiting". Maybe the funky orange jackets and caps (if not the funky orange upholstry) is long gone, but that just means Metro's made the transition from that glamorous new toy that you vaguely fear was a mistake, to the trusty old tool that reminds you of a hundred past adventures. Sure it's a little shabby these days, but can you even imagine what life would have been like without it?
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Back to the Future?
Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP and Carl Baxmeyer, AICP make a similar analogy in their article, Planning Ten Ingredients Found in Successful Downtowns. The ingredients are:
1. Customer FocusWhile they don't go so far as to use ugly words like "mall" or "shopping center", items 2 and 7 really make the connection clear--the entire downtown is to be thought of as a single retail operation ("much like a living organism") with the mission of attracting and keeping customers who come there to shop and find substantially everything they need in one area. In other words, an open-air shopping center with a unified marketing message for the buying public.
2. Tell A Story Everyone Knows
3. Clearly Communicated Shopping Experience
4. Value Driven Service
5. Brick And Mortar To Support the Mission
6. Reliance on Customer Attraction
7. A Long Term Customer Loyalty Program
8. Feedback on Performance
9. Dedicated Sales Staff Training
10. Good Business Rationssic - Cross Selling
This is the antithesis of Duany-style New Urbanist fervor, and it's also exactly what that movement needs to succeed; a hard-nosed business approach to making the traditional downtown not only look good but function economically.