By on May 10, 2013

I have two interests that are often in conflict with one another. One is my love of the automobile. The second is urban planning. Recently, I was reading a response piece to the notion that the car will become the next cigarette, or a similar “socially unacceptable vice”. Derek Kreindler wrote the following in his response:

“But heavy-handed, top down solutions are not the answer. The next generation of urban planners are being educated in universities by liberal arts faculty members hold views that are largely not representative of the opinions and needs of the general public. Combine that with a growing apathy for the automobile among young people and you create a situation where anti-car sentiment is easily bred. Look no further than the move to ban EV charging stations from urban areas as a perfect example of their utter refusal to meet reality on reality’s terms.”

I am 26, and am among the “next generation of urban planners” who was educated in those very universities in the author cites. Here are my thoughts on the subject.

I am a lifelong resident of Long Island, New York. To many, Long Island is the traffic jam on I495 that separates Manhattan from the Hamptons. I on the other hand see the 112 mile Island as so much more. Historically, Long Island was the birthplace of aerial innovation and set the template for suburban development across the United States. Our parkway system helped lay the groundwork for the Federal interstate system. Our unique environmental constraints helped create pioneering studies of population density (the measure of amount of people per square mile) and wastewater’s impact on groundwater. In fact, many of the land use preservation strategies employed on Long Island are replicated nationwide in an effort to help slow suburban sprawl.

As a planner, you constantly hear others promoting the dangers of suburban sprawl, continued dependence on the automobile, the need for “Smart Growth” and expansion of transit. These concepts are both valid and worthwhile. That does not make them the right approach for all areas. Like any other tool, these ideas are only useful when appropriate.

Unfortunately, there is a rising trend in urban planning that is biased towards dense, urban environments. Ideas that once were legitimate planning concepts such as “smart growth” and “sustainable” development have become real estate industry buzzwords that no longer resonate with the informed public. Once again, these terms are legitimate development concepts, but their misapplication by the real estate industry have numbed their impact. These density-biased concepts, such as the notion of the automobile becoming stigmatized in a similar manner to the cigarette, ignore the realities of existing suburban land use patterns. Older suburban areas, such as Long Island’s own Nassau and Suffolk Counties, typify the concept of Euclidean Zoning, or segmented, separate land uses. Due to these segmented developments, the car is still very much a necessity for most Americans.

City - Picture courtesy queenscrap.blogspot.com

In recent years, there is the appropriate push to consolidate the tract housing developments, and blend commercial uses in with the residences. These “mixed-use” concepts look to revitalize struggling downtown areas that are in dire need of economic development. This is where the call for increased bicycle and transit usage comes in. As population density increases, these ideas slowly become viable. However, new-age urbanists have taken the notion too far, calling for measures that make it harder and harder to use a car to get around cities. These measures are the antithesis to driving enjoyment. Think about it though…is it ever pleasant to drive in a city, or would you rather navigate country backroads?

In a dense urban environment, measures to reduce automotive use are successful because of the population density. In suburban areas, these measures don’t work nearly as well. Ideas such as expansion of transit service is difficult to impossible to implement due to the lack of resident demand, federal subsidy and most importantly, population density to support more buses and trains. In fact, I’ve written a piece calling for further reinvestment in our road system on top of innovative suburban transit solutions. Another push has been for increased bicycle usage, which works well in the city. In suburban areas, the landscape and destinations are too spread out for widespread bike usage to be viable. Simply put, thanks to suburbia, the automobile is here to stay for a very long time.

These new age, idealistic concepts are almost always perceived by the general public as condescending, and reflect what I call ”ivory-tower” planning. All too often, the planners who suggest these ideas come off as smug, and seem to talk down to those who live outside of dense urban centers. This projected image, whether intentional or not, lessens the impact of their important message. Further, this ivory tower smugness leads to a generalized mistrust of urban planners by the public. I agree with my peers that the urban environment isn’t suited for the car. That being said, urban policy solutions, predicated on the notion of ample population density, are simply not appropriate for rural and suburban areas. Kreindler closed his piece with the following:

“But still, don’t be surprised if this line of thought becomes part of the discourse at some point in the near future.”

Car - Picture courtesy thenational.ae

This line of thought is already entering public discussions in municipalities across the country, which isn’t a bad thing. Eventually, we will have to look beyond the automobile, and a planner’s job is to look ahead to anticipate future needs. What planners have to remember is that recommendations need to be grounded in reality and most importantly, be implementable. As I often say, there is no “one-size fits all” or silver bullet approach to solving this. While automobile reduction may work in Times Square, it isn’t suited for suburban areas across the country.

Readers, just remember: Not all planners hate the car. As a whole, we aren’t naive. We understand the car’s importance. Thanks to suburbia, the car will be popular for decades to come.

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123 Comments on “Thanks To Suburbia, The Car Can Never Be The Next Cigarette...”


  • avatar
    Summicron

    That picture of darkest Grafittica is very instructive.

    That’s why suburbs exist, hence cars.

    • 0 avatar
      CelticPete

      Most US cities aren’t very dense yet. Outside of parts of NYC and a few other odd spots population density is very low overall. Most of the US ‘cities’ have a density of under 20,000 per mile.

      So most of these cities are car friendly enough. I moved to the Bay Area – and where I lived its called a “city’ but really its relatively indistinguishable from the Surburban sprawl they call San Jose another “city.”

      Most US cities are like that – spread out with low density. My “suburb” has a population density of around 6000 people per mile – and the city San Jose has a a population density of 5500 per mile.

      And before you mock San Jose as not a real city – its tenth largest actually..bigger then SF.

      Denver is similiar – as are a ton of other cities. Most of Chicago is not particularly dense..(though of course there are crowded spots).

      The place where cars don’t work in the states is generally related to the NJ-NYC area.. Its very dense there. I lived there for many years now (and still have a place there) and wow who wants to own a car in that area? Its crazy.

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        It isn’t density per se; it’s the qualitative difference between the density of an engineering or medical conference and that of a Honduran prison riot.

  • avatar
    Dirk Stigler

    Sorry, but as a whole, you are naive. I attended grad school in urban planning just a few years ago, and substantially all my classmates, while great people in general, showed astonishing cognitive dissonance when it came to the dense downtown fad. I mean that adult couples with children, who lived in a house in the (inner, but still) suburbs and drove a car to get places, would sit around talking about how nobody really needs a car and society would be so much healthier if people lived in downtown apartments and walked everywhere. Nothing was stopping them from doing that themselves; they simply didn’t see the choices they themselves made, and the sound reasons behind those choices.

    I did have an enlightened (if closeted in the academic environment) professor who could quote chapter and verse on the history, transportation technology and demography behind suburban sprawl, which helped me see these issues much more clearly. Not that anyone else did. I can only imagine what it’s like in a program without that perspective.

    EDIT: I want to add that I love walkable downtowns. I lived in one myself, when I was young and single. When I had a family on the way, I moved — like everyone else — to a place where I could have a back yard, playgrounds, good schools and lots of other young families nearby. When the kids are grown up, we’ll likely move — again, like everyone else — back to a more adult-oriented place. People make these choices everyday, for good and valid reasons, and the urban planning community willfully ignores that fact while acting like sprawl is a plot by evil corporations to sell more SUVs, or something. There’s a lot of good insight to be had from the research these folks do, but as a group they let their politics cloud their judgement something fierce.

    • 0 avatar
      Sky_Render

      A lot of these urban planners see these “carless” cities in Europe, such as Mainz, Germany, and want to do the same thing here. However, they miss the fact that our culture is fundamentally different than theirs and what works well over there doesn’t necessarily work well over here.

      European cities have, for the most part, existed much longer than ones in the US. Thus, they were built with walking in mind, whereas US cities have almost always been designed with automobiles in mind.

      • 0 avatar
        Dirk Stigler

        You’re right (one of my profs – not the one I mentioned above – described it as “what they think they saw in Europe last summer”) but it’s strange because in every European city I’ve visited, there have been cars, motorcycles and scooters jammed in every possible corner. It’s missing the obvious to say those places were designed with walking in mind; they grew up and matured before motor vehicles were invented!

        The big takeaway from the other prof’s studies of the suburbs is that in every era of transportation, suburbs existed and spread out to the reasonable extent a person could commute to a day job. Walking -> very compact towns. Horse and buggy -> people who can afford a carriage move to country houses. Streetcars -> suburbs grow up and allow people to escape in droves from the tenements. Queens, NY was a suburb in its day. LA suburbs first grew up along streetcar lines (the largest system in the world before it was replaced by freeways) … I won’t write a book here, but there have always been suburbs, and people have always moved to them for the same reasons. You just may not recognize the older versions as you look at them today with your mental association of suburbs = cars and single-family houses.

      • 0 avatar
        otter

        Sky Render,

        That sort of determinism doesn’t carry much water these days; our culture, or any other, can change the way we plan cities if we want to. It is easy to look at a city like Amsterdam and its extremely high cycling proportion and say, “well, we can’t do that here, because their culture is fundamentally different.” But 40 years ago, what you see in that city today did not exist at all, and in terms of transportation it was heavily car-centered, rather like American cities and many other European cities at the time, too. It changed in the way and to the degree it did because people wanted the change.

        Finally, the relative age of European cities is, beyond the occasional difficulty in fitting larger vehicles down narrow streets, irrelevant to the suitability of the automobile. Car use in the US began increasing greatly around the early 1920s, and there are very few American cities that are less than 100 years old. American cities are no more inherently designed around an invention that postdated their creation by 80 years or more than any European city is. They have only been deformed by it, and it is not irreversible.

        • 0 avatar
          Sky_Render

          @Otter:

          What you are looking for is a fundamental shift in the entire infrastructure of the US. In most larger urban areas (for example: DC), people live out in the suburbs because they simply cannot afford to live in the city or anywhere close to it. And in those suburbs, having a car is a necessity. As the article above said, public transportation becomes less and less cost-effective the more spread out the population is.

          So unless you have a solution that allows me to live where I work (other than giving me about a 100% raise), I’m going to have to keep my car and my 45-minute commute.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          American cities may have existed on some level by 1920, but current metro populations live much more spread out than they did back then.

          San Francisco proper is dense, but the entirety of it’s economic viability stems from it’s suburban upland; which despite by far the most intensive public transportation infrastructure I’m aware of West of the East Coast, is still very difficult to navigate sans automobile.

          In Europe, even where there is outlying Suburbs, they mostly consist of high rise (Soviet Style, honestly) tenements overlooking a central shopping plaza with a subway station in the middle.

          Except, of course, for the areas inhabited by the wealthy and influential. Which, not surprisingly, aren’t laid out too differently from traditional American suburbs.

          So it’s not like aspiring US suburbanites have some bizarre, crazy and unparalleled notions about what constitutes a decent residential layout for raising a family. But rather that they have traditionally had greater opportunity to make what they perceive to be the dream become reality, than people in most other locales.

        • 0 avatar
          jim brewer

          I’m not much on these command and control type solutions. It does seem to me that we should at least rationalize the economics of suburbia. Cars entail two enormous subsidies: Roads are paid for by general tax revenues about as much as by the per gallon tax. In addition, zoning ordinances that require that enormous amounts of real estate be devoted to parking are a hidden subsidy for cars.

          It seems to me that we ought to at least take care of at least the direct subsidy. The gas tax has to be raised about 40 cents per gallon to do that. A little more, if we want something better than the slow deterioration we have now. After that, incremental public transit solutions make more sense.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      “When I had a family on the way, I moved — like everyone else — to a place where I could have a back yard, playgrounds, good schools and lots of other young families nearby.”

      If you say so. Here in Chicago, every single neighborhood in which income levels are above the median has a (high test score) public elementary school filled to capacity. These neighborhoods are also filled to capacity with cars – but just because we have them doesn’t mean we use them every time we go somewhere. In fact the greatest luxury of all is that we don’t HAVE to use them – we can use them when we WANT to use them.

      Picking out a very very small subset of urban dwellers and assuming we are all like that does a great disservice to the debate. Energy continues to get more expensive and people that have fewer options will pay a larger and larger share of their income on energy. If you can afford to do that and are fine with doing that, it is none of my business. Please understand that I have absolutely no desire to force anyone to be my neighbor.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        @ Chicago Dude – [slow clap]

        I’d also add that much of the same holds true for streetcar suburbs. The author and some of the commenters seem to think that suburbia and post-WWII exurbia are one and the same.

      • 0 avatar
        Dirk Stigler

        Here in metro Washington DC, our streetcar suburbs were an order of magnitude smaller and less far-flung than yours. Between that, the high median income of our primary industry, and the immutable location of that industry downtown, our inner suburbs are generally bastions of either rich families or single people who sacrifice space to afford it. The rest of us end up farther out, with quite limited non-car transport options.

        You’re right that it’s different in cities that were large and prosperous before everyone had a car, for the same reasons it’s different in Europe. I’ve spent some time in Chicago, and if I lived there I’d probably be somewhere like where you are.

      • 0 avatar

        If I assume that Chicago realestate is the same as Boston realestate than I think the cost of housing in a well to do urban area will be much higher than a well to do suburb which makes the energy cost kind of a moot point.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      The Canadian and US experiences have been very different. As suburbs developed in the 50′s and 60′s, Americans who could afford to moved to the ‘burbs, leaving the poor behind. And the doughnut city became reality.

      In Canada, it was the people who couldn’t afford the city who had to settle for living in the ‘burbs. So, the best neighbourhoods in major Canadian cities are all in the city itself.

      In the Greater Toronto Area today, my wife (who is a real estate agent, regularly encounters suburban dwellers who are sick of the stress and expense of commuting, and very keen to move into the city. Yes, the house will cost a lot more, but the schools and neighbourhood facilities are as good or better than in the ‘burbs and the quality of life when your commute is reduced by an hour a day or more is huegly better.

      Interestingly, the people she encounters who are keen to move into the urban lifestyle are in their 20′s and early-mid 30′s. Older folks want to stick it out in the ‘burbs.

  • avatar
    7402

    Urban planners have to take a much longer view than most. The life cycle of a residential or commercial development, along with the transportation and utility logistics that will support it, have service lives longer than the typical number of years a person resides or works in any area or that a business remains at a location. We’re talking at least many decades.

    When people decide where to live, statistics for the USA show they are making roughly a 7-year decision. When people buy a car the time frame is typically 3-10 years. The planning scale is completely different.

    To me the failure of Levittown-style, car-oriented planning is that residential, commercial, and retail locations are separated by distances not readily walked. While I’m a fan of the smallish city where retail and offices occupy the first two floors of a building and apartments the floors above that, it’s difficult to identify a city developed in the automobile era that actually makes this work.

    Then again, I was raised in a suburb, raised my own kids in a suburb, live in one now, and remain a car enthusiast. I will own a car as long as I am able to drive, though I’d like to live in place with a very high walk score when it’s time to set aside the car keys.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I don’t want to walk to the grocery store or work if that means giving up the things I like about living in an inner-ring suburb. It sounds like you don’t either. I find that life is much better when you live where is best for you and your family. Everything else has the tendency to fall into place.

      Some neighborhoods with high walk scores also have high rape scores. Chicago, Washington DC, Oakland, and Miami are all top 10 walkable cities. I’m sure their suburbs are safer but less walkable.

    • 0 avatar
      Noble713

      7402:”While I’m a fan of the smallish city where retail and offices occupy the first two floors of a building and apartments the floors above that, it’s difficult to identify a city developed in the automobile era that actually makes this work.”

      Acquaint yourself with the urban development pattern of South Korea. Outside of Seoul, their cities are extremely dense and occupy a comparatively small footprint vis-a-vis a US city of the same population. Their cities, in my experience, manage to be walkable yet driveable, with sufficient parking for the existing density of POVs, accessible and cheap rail for inter-city travel, affordable taxis for intra-city movement for those without cars that don’t want to walk, and reasonably low crime and a strong sense of community. It’s an odd place there, where the transition from “dense urban environment” to “sprawling rice patties” happens in about 100 meters. The only main problem IMO is waste management – the country has grown so fast it hasn’t kept up, so trash can be found everywhere.

  • avatar
    harshciygar

    I love cars. I really do. But they have no place in a city center anymore.

    As the author correctly notes, you cannot apply a one-size-fits-all sense of urban planning to every metro area. But worldwide, it is estimated that 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050.

    Think about that. Now think about how much space in a city like New York is dedicated to parking and accomodating cars. Eventually, land prices will supersede the desire to cater to a car-centric society. I’m not saying urban roads will disappear, but I can see them being seriously limited and heavily tolled. London already has a hefty congestion charge, and Beijing’s air quality woes are at least partially linked to heavy car use. What happens in Beijing outright bans all but commercial and emergency vehicle use inside the inner rings?

    If you look around you can already see the sacrifices and struggles of suburbia. People aren’t buying big gas guzzling cars and SUVs anymore, they are buying hybrids and compacts with high MPGs to justify living a 30-minute morning commute. We enthusiasts are increasingly a smaller slice of the equation; one need only look at the decline of Mustang and Camaro sales over the past two decades to see what I mean.

    My worry is that America’s infrastructure, as a whole, needs a major upgrade. And while certain areas may not want or need public transit options right now, things could be very, very different in a decade or two.

    What happens if the economy slips into a depression? Or a major, I am talking WWII level war breaks out? Imagine what would happen to the American economy if India and Pakistan start trading blows, or worse, India and China. Even if America doesn’t get directly involved, imagine what that would do to gas prices. If gas prices doubled to $8 a gallon, tomorrow, would you still be able to afford to get to work tomorrow?

    WWII-era Americans had street cars and trains to fall back on, but I can’t imagine even the rail-heavy Northeast being able to cope with the sudden influx of train riders should gas prices spike.

    THAT ALL SAID, I still think this was a very well-thought-out piece. Kudos.

    • 0 avatar
      Don Mynack

      LOL!

    • 0 avatar
      Highway27

      If we slip into a depression, then non-cost effective transit isn’t going to be the way out, that’s for sure. As it is now, transit is mostly a luxury good paid for by non-riders. Whether it’s a white elephant shiny train to make people feel good about having a ‘world class’ rail system, or it’s cost subsidized buses that act as a welfare mechanism, fares don’t pay for even the operating costs of the mode they’re using, much less capital or maintenance.

      If transportation costs increased, people would change what they do. They’d get more efficient vehicles. They’d work 4 10-hour days instead of 5 8-hour days. They’d work from home a lot more. They’d move closer to where they work. It takes some time to adjust, but if it’s perceived as ‘the new normal’, then changes will happen.

      • 0 avatar
        Sky_Render

        Completely true. Public transportation in suburbs is heavily subsidized by the taxpayers who (for the most part) don’t even use it, because it doesn’t go where they need it to go: from said suburb to the overpriced urban center where they work but cannot afford to live.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        You’d also think they would finally recognize that the last thing they need to waste money on, is some nimbyistic taxfeeders running around telling people where and how they should live, and where and how they should work.

        It’s not like people in suburbs have some sort of morbid fascination with sucking smog on 3mph freeways for hours everyday. But rather that they cannot slap up an office building next door that they could walk to in 5 minutes. Because someone who has absolutely no business even having an opinion on the matter, has decided they cannot do that.

    • 0 avatar

      I have an issue with keeping cars out of cities. I think it’s actually bad for all but the biggest cities in the US. I live in Connecticut and the only two cities I would consider using public transit to access are Boston and NY. And at times I have driven into both of them. The only reason I consider public transit is traffic. (and I actually love trains they just aren’t that convenient while lugging your family in tow)As a sonmewhat typical american I grew up and now own a home in suburbs ( not exurbs I can walk to several stores and even my kids doctors in about 5 minutes)but I generally avoid places that are not car friendly for things like shopping and dinning. I won’t travel into anywhere that has paid parking and poor access unless someone talks me into it. And I’m not alone, In hartford they keep trying to add dining and shopping, the only people who use those places are those working in the city and new urban wannabes, the rest of us park close to the mall and stop at small local restaurant in the local shopping center.

      • 0 avatar
        thornmark

        LBJ had a “models cities” program as part of his war on poverty, or as it turned out, war on the poor.

        New Haven showed the way:

        New Haven voters elected Dick Lee mayor in 1954 on his promise to “renew” the city. Lee’s goal was “a slumless city — the first in the nation.” He secured massive amounts of federal money for urban renewal. He redesigned the New Haven Redevelopment Agency to coordinate redevelopment — projects that at first stressed slum clearance but increasingly included historic preservation and anti-poverty programs. New Haven led the nation, but the results were mixed. President Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Labor called New Haven’s efforts “the greatest success story in the history of the world.” But by the end of his tenure, Lee said regularly, “If New Haven is a model city, God help America’s cities.”

        http://www.yale.edu/nhohp/modelcity/before.html

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Rich is urban planner so Rich is enemy, but Rich say he love car, so rich is friend. Rich confuse Mongo.

    Nice balanced article Mr. Murdocco. I would like to see you step back even further and discuss how much you think government should plan where and how people live, work and move and who should pay for it. Maybe there are ways to make people pay for the services they receive and make choices based on cost. Does government involvement mask those costs?

    Or should we just assume an ever-increasing government role in these issues?

    • 0 avatar
      Highway27

      This is what I think the real key is: transparency in costs. One of the big complaints about suburbs and “sprawl” is that they’re more expensive, and end up subsidized from a utility and services point of view. Well, why isn’t all of that cost built into the prices of homes out there (although a hint: it mostly is). The people who use something should pay for it.

      Now, use is somewhat ambiguous. As I said in the previous thread, even those who don’t have a car ‘use’ roadways: they have things delivered to them, they have food brought nearby so they can eat it, they have people visit them, they walk on sidewalks and bike on roads, and ride buses. Is there a way to capture the costs for everyone fairly? It’s definitely possible to have use taxes, and those will be passed down in the case of deliveries to the end user. Which is fine.

      I’d like to see less government interference in suburbs, exurbs, *and* downtowns. Many places have density restrictions that prevent higher densities from being built. Why should we have those? I’m certainly not a fan of “I live nearby, so I have a say in what you can build on property you own.” Just make sure that people bear the costs they impose.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        +1.

        Strip away zoning preventing people from building apartment buildings in Bel Air, and Bel Air will density very quickly.

        Strip aweay bans on gunning down and stringing up bicycle thieves for sport, and bicycling becomes infinitely more practical. In SF, and even LA, the virtual certainty that ones bike will get stolen if parked (even locked up) almost anywhere, is a bigger impediment than any supposed lack of “bike lanes” for most aspiring bicyclists. Yet in every old western movie, you see people leave their horse outside wherever they go, and noone steals them. Except the occasional horse thief, that is rather quickly prevented from repeating that particular no-no.

        And strip away the ability of the wealthy and well connected from cordoning away their neighborhoods behind a jungle of speed bumps, while leaving roads past higher density housing with infinitely more children per road foot fast moving; and traffic flows would be more evened out; with not all of the burden falling on those unable to afford entry to the speed bump jungles.

        If people could just live, work and play where they bloody well felt like it, with no concern for the opinions of taxfeeding yahoos, and things would sort itself out. But of course, that would mean some over credentialed spawn of well connecteds would actually have to find something useful to do with their pathetic little lives; instead of feeling important by conducting five year plan experiments on the lives of others.

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          Thank you Stuki, this is exactly the point I would love to see the author address. Improving transportation seems to quickly become a conversation about government master-planned communities. I wonder if there is a solution that involves setting some minimal ground rules and letting the market have at it.

          Also, I agree with you that allowing bike owners to shoot fleeing bike thieves would reduce bicycle theft and help revive the American movie industry.

    • 0 avatar
      Sundowner

      Agree. Most people have no idea how wonderfully subsidized their suburban life is.

      Roads are underfunded, so people pay effectively reduced taxes on gas to get to and from their homes

      Homes are heavily subsidized through tax credits on mortgage interest, low rate sponored loans, home improvement tax credits, etc. Even the NEED for larger homes is subsidized by the government: we get tax credits for every kid that squirts out.

      Local munincipalities are heavily subsidized through participation in state employee benefits programs, and don’t even get me started on schools. small-scale local schools are HUGE losers at $9k-$15k/student/year cost indicies. Most of that money comes out of the state. Here in NJ, it largely comes from the sales tax and property taxes, the largest and most lucrative of which are in the urban and buisness centers of the state.

  • avatar
    Mykl

    I don’t want to live in a “dense urban environment.”

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Many other people do, though. Walkable urban areas, car-centric suburbia, small towns or actual countryside — there is enough land in North America that all can (and will) exist as options.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      As the author says, ‘there is no “one-size fits all” or silver bullet approach.’ There is no reason or need to make everyone live in any particular type of place or to make every place the same. A dense urban environment isn’t for you or for me, and that’s fine. It is good for others, and that’s fine, too.

      An excellent point is raised above about how people are apt to declare how something is best, and that (other) people should choose it, yet do not do it themselves. It reminds me of the Onion-esque headline: “90% of Americans Support Mass Transit for Someone Else.”

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Don’t judge the general case by today’s rotten specifics.

      Much of the reason people prefer today’s exurbia to to today’s cities, comes down to space available per dollar. Cities means cramped appartments; exurbia McMansions for about the same coin.

      But, if you simply look at development, maintenance and utility cost, single family construction is a more expensive way of obtaining living space than multifamily. The reason city people have to put up with cramped space, is mostly due to all manners of rules preventing people from just building whatever they want; so that those that are already well established and connected don’t have to deal with someone less fortunate than them moving in anywhere close by.

      If you just stripped away all that nonsense, and instead let people build what they felt like, where they felt like without having to ask d some taxfeeder’s “permission”, the cost a square foot of living space would start approximating construction cost everywhere. In the process making cities relatively more appealing.

  • avatar
    morbo

    As someone that grew up in a terrible urban center (Atlantic City, NJ), moved to a suburban college campus for 5 years (Piscataway/Rutgers), moved back to South Jersey suburban/exurban communties, and now lives in a ‘smart growth’ dense urban area (Crystal City – DC Metro), I think I know the this issue well. I live 4 blocks from a subway, there is a bus stop in front of my building served by 4 separate buslines that can take me anywhere in the DC metro area, 15 minute subway ride to Union Station/Amtrak/VRE, and I can walk to National Airport. I now walk to work every day. There is ZipCar across the street and a fully stocked rental car counter 5 minutes away at the airport. And yet I keep a 363 HP 2011 Chrysler 300C garaged and with a full tank of gas at the ready.

    No matter how easy it is for me to transit without a car, I will ALWAYS own one. I may not use it much, but I demand the freedom of movement it provides. I’m not going to be slave to mass transit. Because I’ve seen the best and the worst of urban planning. As nice as Crystal City is now, it wouldn’t take much for it to turn into an Atlantic City (or more local example SE DC). In my paranoid mind, if all hell breaks loose, that Chrysler gets me out of DC and into a quiet corner of Earth far away from whatever is going on (or at least within it’s 380 mile range).

    Maybe paranoid, but I sleep easier knowing the car’s there when I need it.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      No flies on you.

    • 0 avatar
      jbreuckm

      Exactly. It’s not about picking one or the other. It’s not about transit OR the car. It’s about both, but with different priorities for which mode is accommodated first. Where you live in a dense urban area driving is possible, but the infrastructure is, or should be, prioritized to meet the needs of pedestrians and transit first, cars second. You have the option.

    • 0 avatar
      Sky_Render

      I considered taking a job in DC and living the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington. My plan was to park my 450-horsepower Mustang in an underground garage and only take it out on nice days to escape the city. The rest of the time, my plan was to utilize mass transportation, walking, biking, and Zip Cars.

      So, I agree. Mass transportation can and should coexist with the private automobile.

      • 0 avatar
        morbo

        The real irony is that Arlington VA mostly gets it. They’ve been on a tear repaving the local roads in the last 2 years, and have announced an accelerated repaving program for next year. All county roads will be on a 27 year repaving schedule once they slog through next year.

        It’s DC and VA state (I95) that drive me insane. You can charge me $300 for a ‘left’ on red that exceeded the allowable time by 0.9 seconds (actual ticket) yet have potholes that eat 20-inch firestones?!? (also real).

        As long as Arlington can keep the car/bus/subway balance acceptable on the car side, life is good. if not, back to NJ for me.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Ah, yes, “government”. The catch-all term for cupidity and arrogance. But who’s really pulling the strings when government does or doesn’t act? I’d suggest that it is often large and powerful economic interests. For many years, that would have included Detroit. You might also say that these economic powers have often been the defacto planners. For example, when the supply of cheap land diminishes or an industry moves in or out, the plan changes. Only then are the professional planners called in to apply the window dressing.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Large and powerful economic interests ALWAYS pull the strings. Which is why it is so bloody tiresome to see millions of well indoctrinateds flat out refuse to realize that unless you happen to be amongst those precious few large and powerfulls, the only way to improve things, is simply to reduce, or remove, all pullable strings altogether. Flush each and every cupid and arrogant down the drain, replace them with nothing, and forget they ever existed. They haven’t done a lick of good anywhere so far, and aren’t about to start now.

  • avatar
    jbreuckm

    There are great urban centers and terrible ones. There are great driveable-only suburbs and terrible ones. Can we move past lumping all dense city centers into the terrible bucket and admit that there is great variation within walkable urban places AND great variation within driveable suburban places?

    Thanks.

    The issue isn’t cities vs. cars. It’s about proper prioritization. Think of it as a priority list. All modes should be represented in cities and suburbs, but with a different prioritization. In cities it’s probably 1. pedestrians, 2. bicyclists, and 3. cars. In suburbs its probably 1. cars, 2. bicyclists, and 3. pedestrians…but that doesn’t mean that we exclude cars from cities or pedestrians from suburbs. It’s about how you design based on your priorities. One of the reasons that Detroit is a failure is because it was a city that tried to operate like a suburb starting in about 1946 and it failed spectacularly at being either.

    Again, I’m a planner and I love both cities and the car. I like my cities walkable and my roads driveable – these two things are symbiotic, not contradictory. Unfortunately, suburbia often creates vast swaths of unwalkable cites and congested, undriveable roads. Worst of both worlds.

    But, to bring it back on-point, cars are not like cigarettes because they aren’t toxic in and of themselves (setting aside the whole CO2 thing…). They’re more like guns – they can be harmful or deadly when used incorrectly, but they also cannot and will not be banned our outlawed. Anyone who thinks differently is kidding themselves. Of course, those who think that we can abandon cities and all live in a suburb are kidding themselves, too.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Detroit didn’t fail because it was a city acting like a suburb. Cities like Columbus, Charlotte, Indianapolis, DFW, the Twin Cities, and Chicago have large areas of single family homes that look more like suburbs than urban areas. This was an atribute of Detroit before the riots and white flight.

      White people, and now black people, stopped wanting to live in Detroit. It is/was poorly run and has experienced decades of mismanagement. Millions of jobs lost from the auto industry, finance, and other manufacturing sectors also played a role.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “There are great urban centers and terrible ones”

      The only tool urban planners have to make “great” urban centers is gentrification. You’ve got to move the dangerous and offensive untermenschen *somewhere* to spiff up your targeted renewal zones and that just makes other areas more terrible.

      You’re like a hoarder who satisfies Human Services by emptying the ground floor into the rest of the house and the garage where he knows they don’t want to look.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      A well-thought-out comment. Trying to design (or redesign) urban spaces with no parking is idiotic – if it has to be underground, then make them put it underground. But there has to be limits.

      Trying to design (or redesign) suburban spaces with no sidewalks and with labyrinthian, winding lanes and cul-de-sacs where you need to go 3 miles to travel a mile as the crow flies is similarly idiotic.

      I love to drive and am enthusiast, but in my village, I see people who live closer to the supermarket than I do (2 blocks) buying one bag of groceries and getting into the SUV to drive home. One block off of my street, the cross street dead-ends. There are two sets of parents who drive their teenagers that one block to the school bus stop in front of my house. Then they drive back home.

      Nobody dresses for the weather – they wear t-shirts when it’s 50 degrees and then want to park 20 feet from whatever building they’re going to – if they have 4 stops along the main drag, each 150 yards from the last, they will drive to each one, and then circle the block looking for a space to park. If they could get their vehicles through their houses’ front doors, they’d drive to the bathroom.

      • 0 avatar
        jsixpack

        I agree nearly 100%.

        One addition, as a city-dweller, I own a car and use it. The difference is ratios of cars to people. I don’t expect us to ever be a 1-car-per-adult household, the way we’d likely be in the suburbs. Cars aren’t going away, but dropping the ownership from >1.0 cars per adult will make a huge difference to any number of things.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Then there are those who live in the more rural areas. An acre of land for out buildings and to park several cars, a large garden for her so she can provide us fresh vegetables and fruits all year long. Just put in some Fruit trees, hope to see the benefit of those in a few years. Privacy, quite when we want, yet I can crank my music or guitar up as loud I want and not have cops on my door 20mins later.

    We’re in our 20′s. Sure, we drive a bit to work, but it’s more then worth it to us. I grew up in extra-urban area, I’ve had an apartment in one of those new urban-downtown centers in the middle of the suburbs, then we lived closer in to the actual city in one of those old outlying neighborhoods. But the country is for us.

    With that being said, Richmond Va is very easy to navigate with a car. I enjoy heading into the city often, the traffic isn’t that bad, and there is usually parking found without too much trouble. The road infrastructure is very good around here, and if more cities would take note and invest in their roads, and not pie-in-the-sky public transportation projects, they could be far better too.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      I wouldn’t call Richmond a city except in the sense that it’s southern fried Philadelphia.

      Don’t get me wrong, I actually like Richmond, family in Charles City, and work takes me there often enough. It’s just the type of density this article references is geared towards NYC, Boston, DC-metro, SF, LA, MAYBE Chicago, Seattle, Philly.

      Anything other then bus service and maybe a better Amtrak connection to the NE corridor is all a small/mid sized city like Richmond needs.

  • avatar

    P.J. O’Rourke explained what all this is about a while ago thus:

    “Cars didn’t shape our existence; cars let us escape with our lives. We’re way the heck out here in Valley Bottom Heights and Trout Antler Estates because we were at war with the cities. We fought rotten public schools, idiot municipal bureaucracies, corrupt political machines, rampant criminality and the pointy-headed busybodies. Cars gave us our dragoons and hussars, lent us speed and mobility, let us scout the terrain and probe the enemy’s lines. And thanks to our cars, when we lost the cities we weren’t forced to surrender, we were able to retreat.”

  • avatar

    “In recent years, there is the appropriate push to consolidate the tract housing developments, and blend commercial uses in with the residences. These “mixed-use” concepts look to revitalize struggling downtown areas that are in dire need of economic development.”

    So basically revert to a time before urban planning screwed cities up by zoning cities out of use. Forcing even residents to travel by means of mechanical transportation to work isn’t a good idea. It’s about time! Cities have so much potential when let to live rather than be controlled by well meaning individuals.

    FHA and GI loans cause a lot of urban sprawl by requiring newer construction rather than renovation of old existing buildings that are commonly in cities. It’s old, but I greatly enjoyed the book “Life and death of great american cities” by Jane Jacobs, it does a good job selling the idea of a natural city.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      FHA and VA loan require new construction? The FHA/HUD 203k loan I used was for the renovation of an existing home. Maybe back in the 50s and 60?

      • 0 avatar

        I was always told it was 30 years or newer (new construction by my mind, I understand this isn’t the official terminology), though after you challenged it I found this not to be the case. Thanks, and sorry for passing on bad info.

        The requirement passing home inspections is silly. Sure, the loan needs to be appraised accordingly, but a good loan is a good loan. Cities would gain from further renovation, not ripping down old structures that are sound, but just out of date or repair. I love the country and I love the city, but both are being mismanaged by zoning laws IMO.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          There are some ridiculous inspection issues that keep some FHA and convertional loans being done, especially FHA. You are right that the inspection process favors newer homes. This happens even though my 1947 brick home with plaster walls and a poured concerete foundation is built better than the McMansions ten miles away.

    • 0 avatar
      Sundowner

      Screwed-up planning does exist, but just as mild counterpoint, good planning must exist. I present West Milford NJ as a prime example. No zoned cental buisness district, no munincipal waste and water, no real code enforcement. What does that get you? a “Downtown” that looks like crap and strip malls spread to the four winds. Otherwise viable buisnesses wither and die out in the woods becuase there’s no central traffic hub for commerce. Government and Buisness must FUNCTION TOGETHER in order to prosper.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “Government and Buisness must FUNCTION TOGETHER in order to prosper.”

        Very well put, lets skywrite it for the drones to see (both gov’t employee and flying variety).

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Government and business functioning together is just a clumsy way of saying corruption. Whenever existing business have a say in government, issue number one is always: How do we prevent upstart competitors from undercutting us? Uh, zone them away from the ability to set up shop in the first place. Drown them in red tape. Make sure that, before they can as much as offer a single service, they need to make a few million in campaign contributions, hire every lawyer in the county, and donate a small fortune to whichever nonsensical charity or NGO is currently providing the internship the mayor’s retarded daughter needs to get into the women’s studies program at some supposedly prestigious school. And, by all means necessary, make competing with us “successful pillars of the community” as hard as bloody possible.

          For those of us not belonging to that “pillars…..” club, much better to simply get business out of government, and government out of our lives, completely and entirely.

  • avatar
    banjopanther

    You have it backwards. Because the automobile is doomed, so is suburbia.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you aware that British suburbia existed long before automobile? Bankers boarded the morning train to the City and returned to their private homes in the evening. Of course they didn’t have university courses for urban planners back then, and the governments are going to try and deny rail lines to uppity people in suburbs now, but we’ll see about that. Oh and BTW – telecommuting. Heard about that?

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        “Oh and BTW – telecommuting. Heard about that?”

        Yes, indeed. If I could work from anywhere, I would definitely choose a lifeless suburb over a Hawaii beach.

        • 0 avatar

          I certainly did. The sand in Hawaii beach is nasty, and taxes in HI aren’t light.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I would find a better beach, Caribbean maybe?

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            Get paid in Bitcoin. Mixed and anonymized. The final solution to the tax problem.

          • 0 avatar
            Sam P

            “The sand in Hawaii beach is nasty, and taxes in HI aren’t light.”

            You’ve never been to Waimanalo Beach on the windward coast of Oahu if you’re making such a comment.

            Taxes? Hawaii’s tax burden is in line with Pennsylvania or Maine, which is, to say, not nearly as bad as California.

            http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2013/03/02/state-local-tax-burden/1937757/

        • 0 avatar
          Japanese Buick

          The problem with telecommuting from Hawaii is getting up at 3:00 am to make 9:00 am east coast meetings.

      • 0 avatar
        banjopanther

        Yes I am aware of train based suburbs. Do you really think we are going to build them to all the far flung suburbs we have now? Not a chance, although some areas, like where I live in Portland, will be able to enjoy that. I think telecommuting has limited uses, especially given the impending contraction of consumer society as a whole. I do 3D computer modeling, and you would think it’s perfect for that, but it doesn’t work as well as you might think. Anyway, we aren’t going to be running an economy based on pushing a bunch of numbers around. Economies are based on energy, and no combination of alternative energy will be able to replace what we get now from oil. It’s a one time allotment of millions of years of solar energy, easy to pump, easy to transport. Nothing else will be that easy.

    • 0 avatar
      Sky_Render

      And why is the car doomed?

      • 0 avatar
        banjopanther

        Peak oil.
        You might think, hey, we will just switch to electric cars. The technical issues will soon be surmounted, but that’s not the problem. The problem is the scale of energy that must be replaced as oil becomes depleted. The implications for our economy are dire. We will not have the luxury to live whatever lifestyle we choose. Our love for suburban living will be irrelevant when the jobs disappear. We will have to refocus on things that actually matter, like agriculture. Transportation will center around trains (if we start rebuilding our passenger rail system), and waterways. The energy involved in building even an electric car are tremendous, involving mining machines, container ships, metal foundries, and a large variety of industrial chemicals. Try running all that on a windmill! The public is largely delusional about the issue, they want their flying cars. What a colossal waste of human effort. The suburbs were the biggest misallocation of resources in history. They will be salvaged for their materials and left to rot.

        • 0 avatar

          Someone has read “The Long Emergency” one too many times.

          • 0 avatar
            CelticPete

            Heh. There is no actual energy shortage. If push came to shove we could build boatloads of sorta safe nuclear power plants – and allow reprocessing of the fuel (cuts down dramatically on the so called waste). Actually the so called ‘waste’ we have could power the US for a 100 years.

  • avatar
    skor

    People keep trying to spin this as a left-wing, one-worlder, conspiracy, but lots of people seem to believe that reality has a liberal bias.

    Fact is that petroleum reserves are not unlimited…..nothing on this planet is unlimited. Most geologists agree that we’ve consumed most of the “easy” oil, and the price from here on out will trend upward. Unless fusion energy becomes practical in the very near future, adjustments will be needed.

    If new, practical, energy technologies are not perfected soon, the suburbs, especially the ex-burbs, are toast. It doesn’t mean cars will cease to exist, it means that the daily 80 mile one-way commute will stop.

    Recent Census numbers show that the trend to more urbanization is accelerating. Here is a recent article about the reverse migration of wealthy and middle class back to NYC

    http://www.northjersey.com/fairlawn/Reverse_migration_from_North_Jersey_to_New_York_City_signals_a_new_challenge.html?page=all

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “.. reality has a liberal bias”

      For once I agree with you. Reality, as in inexorable social forces, is every bit as horrendous as any liberal fantasy. It’s just taking longer to get here than does the onset of a liberal’s Stockholm Syndrome.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        We aren’t running out of oil anytime soon.

        Meanwhile, in the real world, the death of the suburbs has been greatly exaggerated:

        http://www.joelkotkin.com/content/00735-triumph-suburbia

      • 0 avatar
        thornmark

        “.. reality has a liberal bias”. Dying cities and states surely.

        The same people fretting about today’s government created energy shortages were fretting about the unsustainability of large horse populations and their waste in cities in the early 1900′s.

        Look at the boondoogle of high speed rail to nowhere in CA. It’s filed under “.. reality has a liberal bias”.

  • avatar
    jimble

    With all due respect, Mr. Murdocco, you’re seriously lacking in imagination if you think “automobile reduction…isn’t suited for suburban areas across the country.”

    Of course it is. There are plenty of ways to build suburban communities so you don’t have to drive as much. Allow small commercial areas to be integrated into residential neighborhoods so people can walk to the store for a carton of milk. Put in sidewalks so kids can walk to school. Make it easier to bike to a train station. Get rid of stupid dead ends and cul de sacs so a 1-mile trip doesn’t require a 3-mile drive.

    Most planners and urbanists own cars and understand that people will want or need to use cars for many trips. Very few are trying to eliminate the car from American life. But the forward-thinking ones are trying to give people more options, not just throwing up their hands, like you, and saying that the suburbs exist and there’s nothing to be done.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      Completely agree. We are a very walk-y neighborhood when we can be. We’d love to have more small businesses incorporated to within, say, an 8 block radius.

      The key is keeping crime out and the quality of the residents high. And if any issue is more snarled in political ramifications, I don’t know what it would be.

    • 0 avatar
      thornmark

      >>Get rid of stupid dead ends and cul de sacs so a 1-mile trip doesn’t require a 3-mile drive.<<

      You must not be a parent because such are preferred for safety and reduced traffic. The best streets in any town for small children.

  • avatar
    redav

    I enjoyed this article. One of the things that IMO gets lost in the discussion is that cars, density, mass transit, etc., aren’t really the driving factor. It’s the fact that we move to various locations in the first place.

    I saw a great idea from a Japanese designer who converted his tiny Tokyo studio apartment to have many rooms–not by moving himself from stationary room to stationary room, but by moving the rooms around his stationary location.

    In lean manufacturing, the concept is to eliminate any process that doesn’t add value to the final part. A great example of a non-value adding process is transportation. Picking up a part at one of the shop and moving it to the other end does not make that part more valuable, thus it is a wasted process. The same is true of people. Driving 30 mi to work/shop/play adds no more value than driving 5 mi (of course, assuming the drive is not the goal). A Boeing exec once said that the future of airplanes was teleconferencing. The future of mass transit might be telecommuting.

    I live in the suburbs, and I work in the suburbs only a few miles away. Most everything I need is within a few miles. Generally, people need the same things in life, so there’s no reason this type of distribution can’t exist in more places. I don’t believe the claim that suburban design makes bicycles unfeasible, since I have lived in many suburban locations where my bike was my only transportation. However, it all depends on how it’s designed. For every good suburb, there is another with thousands of houses yet not an office, grocery store, or even sidewalk can be found. I am disappointed that (at least in my community) we spend billions of dollars to move people instead of just planting the destination where the people already are, e.g., building professional office buildings adjacent to neighborhoods where professionals live where the number of jobs roughly equals the number of working residents.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Even if you build an office building where people are, that doesn’t mean that those people are going to work there. Businesses are also looking for tax breaks, cost savings, etc. Even if this office building is opened, there is nothing keeping XYZ business from moving to a cheaper office or one closer to its customers.

      There is a reason why people and businesses don’t always cohabitate, they aren’t usually looking for the same things.

    • 0 avatar
      Sky_Render

      Telecommuting can actually INCREASE productivity in addition to saving fuel.

      Yet most employers are loathe to even consider it, and those that do have restrictive policies and allow it on a very limited basis.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    I find the article stimulating, although I find too much of the discussion on this thread (as in many of the other “issues” threads on TTAC) gets filled with a particular set of views and perspectives which simply repeat slogans and contribute very little to the actual discussion, and more particularly invite very little thought and desire to learn more information and perhaps change opinions.

    I think North American culture has a very particular view of cities and urban life which results in a particularly vocifierous negative response to them, or a minority response of unyielding passion for all things “urban.”

    I think part of this must come from the unique lack of space and resource contraints we have enjoyed in the development of North American society to this point.

    I find that those who have travelled and lived on different continents and within other cultures tend to have a different perspective as they have seen other types of urban/suburban environments and the virtues/drawbacks thereof.

    I feel that we in North America while claiming to cherish our freedom and “space” tend to be extremely wasteful of it, and even in our urban environments tend to encourage behaviour which makes these places less enjoyable.

    I also feel that through discussions about what governments need to do vs how much taxes should be paid an extremely ineffective set of policies have been brought to bear on North American societies which have led to both an excessive worship of the “suburbs” and an extremely poor quality of living environment. I think this situation is much worse in the US than in Canada, but we are all dwelling in glass houses here.

    There is nothing wrong with suburbs,nor is there anything unnatural about them. There is also nothing wrong with a city. The problems we have are related to poor decisions on how to use tax dollars to make them livable environments. Personal transportation is not something which should be excluded from the transportation environment of anywhere. It creates flexiblity and provides mobility for people to achieve more in their lives. I think that owning 3 full-size SUVs in a downtown urban environment would be a pretty bad idea, but that isn’t what most people do and we use too many extreme examples in these kinds of discussions.

    We need places where we can live, work and play, and do all these things indepedently. I think that part of the problem we have had has been a desire by all political persuasions to impose their particular lifestyle choices on others through one-size-fits-all programs. I don’t know how that would be changed, but I think that until education, health, public safety and transportation funding and planning is made flexible enough to pursue evidence-based solutions at local levels with minimal moral imposition from national political parties, things are really going to improve too much.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    As it turned out, I spent most of my career working in the sort of large industrial plant (although government-owned) that fewer and fewer people work in these days. This brought about several things I found humorous. People there who were old-timers when I started there told me about how in 1939 they car-pooled thirty miles to work. During WWII when the place pretty much ran on a 24/365 basis there was of course even more car-pooling as well as bus transportation. So when car-pooling and transit riding got to be a big freakin’ deal in the 1980′s and 1990′s and industries were ranked on the basis of how much improvement in car-pooling and transit riding they brought about, my employer which already had a half-century history in this area didn’t compare so well.

    I know that there are good urban planners and bad urban planners, and I’m quite convinced that since most all of them work for governments there is not the necessity for their work to be successful that there would be if they worked for private industry. One simply doesn’t hear of urban planners losing their jobs because their plans helped turn their city into a slum, or more likely into a congested, slow-moving area that people avoid if they have a choice.

    One doesn’t always hear about how massive downtown transportation projects – light rail, streetcars and the like – often come about more because of the power they give to the downtown politicians and the lobbyists for the construction companies and railcar and streetcar suppliers than because they’ll help anyone get around.

    I had a fellow employee, a loyal member of the League of Women Voters and a continual advocate of riding transit to the point where people would edge away when she got onto the subject. Her own commute to work? Although she lived a block from a bus stop, and about a fifteen-minute walk from work, she had her retired husband drive her to work and home again after her shift ended. In this inconsistency she was like a lot of other mass-transit advocates: I want more of you people to ride transit so there won’t be as much traffic for me to deal with when I want to use the roads and streets.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    “evidence-based solutions”

    Sounds like a definition of suburbia to me.

    My personal evidence is:

    Since escaping urban life I haven’t had a single gun in my face nor smelled a urine-soaked elevator.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      That’s a reflection of the quality of American cities. Not the concept of one.

      I never had either of those problems in Toronto, nor in Japan. My point is that it’s not just about “urban planning.” Education, healthcare, policing, social programs and transportation are not all policies overseen by urban planners. But they can dictate how nice a suburb or city are to live in.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        How can they dictate how nice a city is to live in if they can’t effect education, health care, policing, social programs and transportation. It seems to me you can have a well laid out city that no one wants to live in due to other factors.

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        “But they can dictate”

        Such is their dream, anyway.

        “That’s a reflection of the quality of American cities”

        Yes, we regrettably have some “exceptionalism” there.

        • 0 avatar
          juicy sushi

          I was speaking of the programs, not those who implement them when I used the word dictate. We can’t dictate anything, beyond what we want in our coffee (occasionally not even that).

    • 0 avatar
      banjopanther

      When people say “solutions” what they really mean is the campaign to sustain the unsustainable.

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        Even chemists?

        BTW, your bod is ultimately unsustainable, so cease your autonomic functions this instant. Eating, sleeping, pooping… all just temporary “solutions”.

  • avatar
    ect

    In the course of my adult life, I have lived in both the US and Canada, and in rural, suburban and urban environments. I liked living in the country, and I like living in the city. Suburbs were supposed to deliver the best of both, but they actually deliver the worst of both.

    When we lived in the country, I described it as like living at the cottage – every evening, I came home from work to a very different environment. Lots of space, lots of privacy, fresh air, etc. Necessitated 2 vehicles, both with good ground clearance and 4WD, because we had to drive everywhere and we lived on gravel roads.

    When we were first married, and during the last 9 years, we lived in midtown or downtown settings. Today, the latter. We have 1 car – most of my work is in the downtown area, so it’s easier to use transit (streetcar and subway)than to drive/park/etc. We can walk to everything we need within 2-15 minutes, or bike in good weather. My wife is a real estate agent, so she needs a car for her work, but even if she didn’t, we would still have a car. What we don’t need is 2 cars, so we save about $12,000 a year – which is about $20 grand pre-tax. The cost of the occasional taxi or AutoShare (like ZipCar) is trivial in comparison.

    In suburbia, we needed 2 cars and had long drives to get anywhere – just like in the country, but without the benefits of country living.

    Every North American city has proven that you can’t solve traffic congestion by building more roads, because you can’t build enough roads to handle the rush hour traffic, and you can’t afford it anyway. For cities, the only realistic and affordable answer to moving large numbers of people is medium (LRT and streetcars) and heavy (subways) rail. And transit requires density, which mitigates against the classical suburb.

    This doesn’t mean that living in the city means living without a car. We have a car, which we put 25,000-30,000 km per year on, and I expect we will have a car until we reach an age at which we’re incapable of driving. When that happens, we’ll be happy we’re living downtown, with easy access to health care.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    Brasília is a warning to urban dreamers
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/52a967d0-409d-11e2-8f90-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2SzAa35BN

    Another monument to enlightened planning.

    I find much of the charm of European cities exists because they weren’t planned. Maybe, 100 years from now, urban dwellers will think the same of America’s postwar exurbs.

    If we must have planning, at least let’s farm it out to people who know what they’re doing:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebration,_Florida

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “I find much of the charm of European cities exists because they weren’t planned.”

      Nor were they made holding pens for an engineered underclass, although that’s rapidly changing, inshallah.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I always plan little exploratory jaunts before I visit back home (CT). Christmas, 2000 I visited Levittown for the day – I was going through my whole post-WWII housing stage. Pretty incredible story.

    I remember seeing the twin towers on my way from Levittown to Coney Island…

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Rich, since you grew up on Long Island, you know from first hand experience about some of the original suburbs in America. Think about the LIE Route 495. How much better it would have been if Robert Moses did not kill the idea of mixed transit solutions. Imagine if down the center ran a rail system that could have competed with the LIRR. Cars could have been easily parked right next to the highway, railroad, and commerce. Because of the geography of Long Island, you could still have the communities configured as they are now, but with easy transit hubs and highways together. Some areas of LI are now so congested that living and working there is a total drag. Take, just as an example, Mineola LI. It is so congested that when I worked there, you never wanted to take your car to lunch because you could not find a place to park at lunch, and often there would be no place back at the office when you returned. Yet, there was no real way to travel around the area unless took your car. I often thought of towns like that as being caught in the middle. They were too crowded to offer what I considered a good suburban experience, but not enough like a city to offer what a good urban lifestyle has either…

  • avatar
    ixim

    Some thoughts: I grew up in NYC; now I live in a northern suburb about 30 minutes by car from Times Square. That’s right – I can be in the theater district by car faster than people in the outer boroughs can drive or take rapid transit there. Street parking in the evenings is quite doable. I love cars and driving; even driving in Manhattan – except for peak traffic hours – is easy for me. I learned how years ago when I drove a cab there. An honest urban planner should admit that motor vehicle traffic is essential to the economy of NYC, just as much as public transit. Both are heavily subsidized through taxes, and increasingly with tolls and fees. It amazes even me that thousands of one-per-car commuters burn $4.00 gas with $13.00 bridge/tunnel tolls, though. But they do.

  • avatar
    ixim

    PS – Watching the ball game while posting I forgot to add that I belong to a five person car pool which means I get to sleep both ways four days out of five. I work uptown; It takes about an hour to get in most days, mostly due to bridge traffic delays. A rail commute would run about twenty bucks a day and take at least as much time.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Does anyone else ever fantasize about being able to walk/bike/drive through our great cities without ever encountering a soul?

    To just absorb the enormity of the engineering and architectural miracles that have been wrought by humanity’s finest without ever encountering humanity’s dregs? A celestial hose-down/vac-up of everything organic and just leave the genius behind?

    I’d book that trip.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Hook me up with your travel agent when you get back, if you ever do. Yeah, when I am in those places, I spend most of my pedestrian time staring at these structures and trying to block out my fellow monkeys. Physical plant/life support related infrastructure can be just as fascinating.

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        “Physical plant/life support related infrastructure can be just as fascinating.”

        Oh, hell yeah… tunnels, steam pipes, transformers… in a way these are *more* impressive because they show just how gargantuan a scale civil engineers worked on even way back when. And there was nothing cosmetic or trendy about what they built.

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    While I may be a wall street republican heavily leaning right in my thoughts and beliefs, I find myself heavily in agreement with left wing types on a number of issues, one being the automobile. I think the current form of the automobile threatens our long term existence and change need to occur. While it would be nice if the car was never adopted, it is too late for that. What the world needs is super high efficient vehicles, perhaps even alternative energy vehicles, which cut on wasteful burning of oil supplies. Thank god for Toyota who has driven the demand for hybrid vehicles … but, this is just a start. Detroit has done absolutely nothing except to copy Toyota’s hybrid. What a shame. While I am against new government regulations, I applaud the Obama administration’s drive to drastically raise CAFE. Obama, you should raise CAFE again. Obama, the UAW and the auto executives will shed tears, but ignore them and raise CAFE again.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Detroit did not copy Toyota’s hybrid; Ford developed their own system independently of Toyota. That’s a fact. Toyota did eat the initial loss with the first generation Prius, which I am impressed that they stuck with it. GM would have never continued with it…

      • 0 avatar
        jimmyy

        Untrue. I suggest you read the following.

        en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_Synergy_Drive

        When you buy a Ford hybrid, you are getting Ford’s warmed over version of Toyota’s HSD.

        Toyota was selling hybrid technology 10 years before Ford, and you are trying to tell me that Ford developed the same hybrid technology as Toyota? This is a spin.

        • 0 avatar
          CelticPete

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lohner-Porsche_Mixte_Hybrid

          They had hybrids in 1901. In all honesty the Japanese aren’t really automotive innovators for the most part.

          Both Ford and Toyota used some prexisting technology to make their vehicles work.

          • 0 avatar
            VA Terrapin

            Implying that Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive isn’t innovative because another hybrid car existed more than a century ago? Don’t be silly CelticPete. Using your logic, a Panzerfaust and a StG 44 are not at all innovative because they operate on the same basic principle as a Song Dynasty fire lance.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Fking Republicans…

  • avatar

    Forget Europe. Our ideal should be the Soviet Union – no personal cars and very high density urban areas. It is also a vast country like USA. Of course there is not enough land to accommodate all immigrant who want to come and settle in USA. I hope that you understand that we need a continued population growth because there is no other way to sustain economic growth without a population growth and American have fewer children than ever. Our population has to be about one to two billion people to be able to compete with China and India. To achieve that we need to force middle class to move into high density urban areas. I would suggest Obama administration to come up with the Urban Development Act establishing progressive property and car taxes based on the lot and engine sizes to drive middle class out of low density suburban areas and midsize cars/SUVs while it can, before 2014. It may be too late after 2014 elections. Right now Obama being a lame duck president has the perfect opportunity to push though unpopular but much needed laws to set up America for the future growth.


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