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Do We Need More Government Planning to Create "Walkable" Living Environments?

In the American Prospect, Ben Adler has an interesting article [HT: TMPARG] arguing that we need more government planning and stricter zoning to create "walkable" living environments where people will be less dependent on cars for transportation. Adler is a supporter of the growing "New Urbanism" movement, which advocates using government planning to promote high-density living spaces.

Adler claims that there is an unmet demand for high-density urban living that would enable more people to rely less on cars and more on walking. But how do we know that such an unmet demand actually exists? After all, low-density living has advantages of its own, including greater living space and peace and quiet. Whether these advantages outweigh the benefits of walkability is a matter of personal preference on which different people have widely differing views.

Adler cites data suggesting that "in most metropolitan areas, academic research has found that roughly one in three Americans would prefer to live in a walkable urban environment." However, 58% of Americans already live in cities with populations of 200,000 or more, and about 25% live in the country's 200 largest cities, most of which have numerous high-density neighborhoods. If one third of Americans living in large metropolitan areas prefer walkability to space, it's quite likely that roughly that percentage of the population already lives in such neighborhoods. Moreover, it's not actually clear that the preference for walkability really is that widespread. Almost everyone would like to have walkability if it could be had at no cost. However, many people who express a preference for walkability might not be willing to choose it if doing so means reduced living space or having to put up with more noise and commotion.

Americans move around a great deal. The wide variety of communities available in most urban areas create a menu of options for people to choose from. As I have pointed out in the past, "voting with your feet" is often a better way for people to satisfy their preferences than centralized political decisionmaking (see,e.g., Part V of this article). Adler himself notes the wide contrast in density and walkability between different Washington, DC suburbs. He condemns low-density Leesburg, Virginia and praises high-density Gaithersburg, Maryland. But not everyone shares his particular preferences, and it is good that DC-area residents have a wide range of options. Local governments have strong incentives to compete for residents by offering attractive density policies, because doing so can increase their tax base. With dozens of different suburbs competing for residents in the DC metropolitan area, people with widely differing preferences can find communities that fit their needs.

To the extent that we do need to enable more people to live in densely populated urban areas, it's far from clear that government planning is the best way to achieve that goal. We can better achieve the same objective by cutting back on planning rather than increasing it. In many large cities, the cost of housing is artificially inflated by restrictive zoning laws, which tends to price out the poor and some middle class people. In the suburbs, as Adler points out, zoning policies sometimes artificially decrease density, for example by forbidding "mixed use" neighborhoods where commercial and residential uses are in close proximity to each other.

Finally, the growth of private planned communities (in which over 50 million Americans already live), offers an even wider range of choices than can be made available by competing local governments. Planned communities can provide either low or high-density environments for their residents without forcing the rest of the people in the locality to conform to the same model.

Like previous generations of planners, the new urbanists often ignore the diversity of human preferences. Some people do indeed like high-density "walkable" environments. Others prefer to have more space and more peace and quiet. Neither preference is inherently superior to the other. To paraphrase a popular liberal slogan, we should celebrate diversity, not seek to use urban planning to force everyone to live the same lifestyle whether they want to or not.

UPDATE: Adler does make one very dubious factual claim in his piece. He writes that:

The roads [in Leesburg] are already so wide that crossing any one of them is a life-threatening act — a game of waiting for the right moment to run out into the road when no cars are coming, then stopping midstream and dashing back as gigantic pick-up trucks and sport-utility vehicles emerge from around the bend at alarming rates. It's like playing Frogger with your body.

I live in Falls Church, Virginia, not far from Leesburg, and I have been to Leesburg a number of times. There are indeed many wide roads in the region. But crossing them is not "a life-threatening act": there are regularly spaced traffic lights with crosswalks. When the traffic has a red light and pedestrians a green one, the latter can cross safely - or at least at no greater risk than in the densely packed urban areas Adler prefers. After all, tightly packed traffic in urban centers creates its own hazards for pedestrians. Perhaps there are a few roads in Leesburg that are as difficult to cross as Adler claims. But such cases are hardly typical of the northern Virginia region or other low-density suburbs.

Real American (mail):
Get ready for The Projects 2.0.
5.12.2009 7:25pm
Tucker (mail):
Yes, let's force people to live in urban environments. That will do wonders for housing prices... Not to mention the impact it will have on our auto companies...
5.12.2009 7:29pm
geokstr (mail):
Coming right up as part of the next Five Year Plan.
5.12.2009 7:35pm
Roger Sweeny (mail):
"Adler cites data suggesting that 'in most metropolitan areas, academic research has found that roughly one in three Americans would prefer to live in a walkable urban environment.'"

Research also consistently shows that a majority of Americans would prefer to be stronger and weigh less.
5.12.2009 7:35pm
Mike& (mail):
Is there a correlation between "walkable" areas and fat people? In the walking cities I've lived in, I haven't seen a lot of fat people.

Fat people are demanding my tax dollars. If that's the case, then a forced exercise regime vis-a-vis walkable communities would be just.
5.12.2009 7:35pm
John Moore (www):
Urban planning is another of those phony areas of study that produces authoritarian and utopian solutions(hey, those almost always go together). They're the folks who pushed through huge expenditures for a light rail system here in the Phoenix metro area, where everyone lives in low density housing and the commute paths are not centralized but highly distributed.

A staff planner explained why this was such a great idea:

1) Phoenix needs a "world class downtown"
2) That means it needs to be high density to support the amenities
3) Downtowns were natural because bankers and lawyers had to be close to court houses (really, he said this in the 21st century), and they are the core of business.
4) Their workers need light rail to get to work - parking is too expensive

In other words, an attempt to create a mini-Manhattan in Phoenix!

See The Antiplanner for a good blog on the subject.
5.12.2009 7:42pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Walkability does not have to mean high density. Where I live -- a suburban neighborhood of six lots per acre, mostly single-story homes -- has a walk score of 82 (walkscore.com).

I can walk to the park, the library, post office, discount store, three groceries, three Starbucks, two video rental stores, and a liquor supermarket. A bit more of a hike takes me to a Radio Shack, a band instrument store, a cheap cigarette store, and a tattoo parlor.
5.12.2009 7:52pm
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
Many European cities have either partially (Rome) or completely (Munich, Stockholm, Copenhagen) shut down main streets at the center of the city to non-pedestrian traffic. The results have been positive. Our penchant for air-conditioned shopping malls in the U.S. is sterile and depressing.
5.12.2009 8:00pm
PeterWimsey (mail):
Ilya, you have new urbanism exactly backwards. New urbanism is about *eliminating* regulations - specifically separate use zoning codes, but also high volume road standards - that have the result of causing sprawl.

NU isn't a governmental program, and NU developments are both extremely successful and are all private. Well, as private as any development is today.

The link you provided doesn't seem to have much in common with actual new urbanism; for background look here or google "charter of the new urbanism."
5.12.2009 8:00pm
pintler:
I would point out that walkable and low density aren't mutually exclusive. The last time we were house hunting, one of the areas was a giant block of a couple of square miles. The exterior perimeter were 4 to 6 lane high traffic roads w/ no shoulder or sidewalk; not a place you'd want to walk or ride your bike, much less let your kids do so.

The entire block was residential - shops, schools, libraries, all had to be accessed via the major roads. The interior of the block was divided into a dozen or so subdivisions with those quaint names like 'Forest Acres' and 'Mountain View'. The subdivisions were nice, cul-de-sac type places.

The rub was - there was no way to get from 'Forest Acres' to 'Mountain View' w/o going out to the major roads. Merely punching the occasional sidewalk thru from a cul-de-sac in one subdivision to a cul-de-sac in the next would have meant kids could walk the interior to school, to visit neighbors in the next subdivision, etc. Doing so would have probably cost less than putting up the pretentious monuments that said 'Forest Acres' etc at the entrances.
5.12.2009 8:02pm
Frater Plotter:
The easiest way to do this is to require the users of highways to pay for them, proportional to their use and the wear-and-tear they impose upon them. End highway funding; pay for it all with gas tax. (And use gas tax for nothing but roads: total gas-tax revenues to balance with total roads expenditures.)

Gas tax gets to be higher in places with more road maintenance, like the frozen Northeast. This makes sense: using the roads in New England is more costly than using them in Arizona, because Arizona doesn't freeze, pothole, and tear up its roads with snowplows.

If people had to pay the actual cost of their long-distance commute, the economic and demographic distortion created by "free" (taxpayer-supported) highways would disappear.
5.12.2009 8:03pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Every mammal species has a point at which crowding starts causing nurosis. Man is the only animal that willingly subjects himself to this condition.
5.12.2009 8:09pm
wm13:
I note that most university towns are quite walkable, because there are a large number of students with adult desires for food, books, electronics etc. but without cars. Nonetheless, I recall that very few of my professors lived in downtown New Haven or Berkeley: almost all of them lived out in Hamden or up in the Oakland hills.
5.12.2009 8:10pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Ben Adler simply wants to project his personal preferences onto policy. Like all central urban planners.

Totally indifferent to how people really live.

I live two blocks from a nice supermarket but never walk it. Why? Because we don't have the time to make 15 trips a week to get all the stuff we need. Walking limits the amount you can carry and takes 4 times longer to walk, even 2 blocks.

I live in a "first ring" suburb next to the city and can take public transit but, now, with kids, I just cannot afford the extra 30-45 minutes longer it takes to take the train. I'm barely at work as it is.
5.12.2009 8:12pm
Constantin:
No.
5.12.2009 8:15pm
Avatar (mail):
If you're suggesting that people pay for highway use based on wear and tear, keep in mind you're actually advocating a huge tax increase on trucking, which is responsible for a tremendous amount of road degradation compared to passenger vehicles. (It ain't a linear relationship.)

Living in a "walkable" area with a car is a pain, because all those master-planned units don't have parking (indeed, that's sort of the point); but living without a car limits your options severely. Five-minute errands become hour-long odysseys.
5.12.2009 8:26pm
ShelbyC:
Huh. The lefties want to ban driving. The righties want to ban butt-sex. And they think they're so different from each other.
5.12.2009 8:27pm
Raționalitate (www):
It's sad to see how many libertarians automatically shirk away at the thought of density, even when it's put in terms that they should understand -- zoning laws overwhelmingly restrict density rather than mandate it. You can wave your hand and cite Tiebout and say that because it's on a local level, it's basically the free market revealed, but that's quite frankly a cop out.

For anyone interested in facts rather than vague stated preference surveys, I recommend the following two sources, which demonstrate -- both with zoning and parking, two major determinants of land use -- that density is indeed lower than it would be under a freer market:

Zoned Out by Jonathan Levine
The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup

Neither of these books address probably the most important land use intervention -- government roads. For that, you aren't going to find any sort of convincing regression analysis, but the historical record is rich with information about the time around the 1920's when the bus and car runing on socialized roads overtook the streetcars running on private rail. I recommend this as an overview, along this analysis of costs for buses and trollies, as well as this public choice analysis of what forces conspired to prop up the car and burden the streetcar.

It's so sad when supposed libertarians defend the current transportation/land use situation, bceause in my opinion it's one of the most profoundly damaging interventions in the American economy today.
5.12.2009 8:29pm
nothing but flowers (mail):
The problem with low density isn't just one of preferences though. Low density living creates huge externalities for society at large: 1) high density is much nicer to the physical environment; 2) walkability is much less damaging to the globe because there is less C02 emissions; 3) Denser cities consume much less energy per capita for powering homes etc. than sprawling cities. The list goes on. I don't think anybody seriously argues there are environmental benefits to having low density sprawl. So one way to look at planning is it corrects an externality. Of course you might argue it makes better economic sense to just tax the hell out of low density but still allow people that choice.
5.12.2009 8:33pm
KenB (mail):
Complex issues I admit. But much of the urban landscape is already shaped by government policy choices. I'm all for greater flexibility, but to the extent policy choices are going to shape things, it's legitimate to debate what those choices should be. And opening the door to development without restraint will not create a libertarian paradise. Much development will happen as a result of expedient choices affecting individual projects with little regard for the big picture.

From what I have seen, local government does a poor job assuring good development. But I think this is a case of a poor job being better than no job at all.
5.12.2009 8:33pm
Raționalitate (www):
Frater Plotter: The easiest way to do this is to require the users of highways to pay for them, proportional to their use and the wear-and-tear they impose upon them. End highway funding; pay for it all with gas tax. (And use gas tax for nothing but roads: total gas-tax revenues to balance with total roads expenditures.)

You (along with pretty much everyone else) are forgetting one of the first things that you learn in introductory microeconomics: entrepreneurs in a free market care about opportunity cost, not economic cost. That is to see, an actual free actor wouldn't just need to make sure that 5th Ave. in Manhattan was profitable -- he'd also need to make sure that, say, tearing it down and replacing it with a light rail line flanked by luxury condos wasn't going to be more profitable than paving over it and collecting tolls. This is the Highway Trust Fund's biggest flaw, and it's why the roads and highways are much more heavily subsidized than a simple account of costs and revenues would tell you.

(And let's not forget the decades of the government's cheap acquisition of land through the power and implicit threat of eminent domain.)
5.12.2009 8:36pm
Borealis (mail):
The American public has overwhelmingly voted with their feet for the suburbs. Other living arrangements are fine too, and America should have all sorts of options, but government shouldn't force the urban Manhatten model on every city by heavily subsidizing it.

The idea of light rail in Phoenix is hilarious. It is over 100 degrees outside for 5 months of the year and there is no density of jobs or housing in the metro area.
5.12.2009 9:00pm
BGates:
The lefties want to ban driving. The righties want to ban butt-sex.

Automobiles for some, minature anal sex devices for others!
5.12.2009 9:00pm
ASaGuest:
Bob from Ohio, may I recommend one of these?
5.12.2009 9:05pm
rosetta's stones:

1) high density is much nicer to the physical environment;


I tend to disagree, particularly in the area of water resources. Stormwater runoff from densely populated areas will invariably pollute surface water courses, which are themselves channeled and otherwise altered to facilitate the mass development, thus jacking up the hydraulics of the system. Throw in combined sewer effects present in older cities, and you've got yourself a dirty mess. Newer communities are planned mindful of these issues, and face fewer of these problems.
5.12.2009 9:13pm
John Moore (mail) (www):

The problem with low density isn't just one of preferences though. Low density living creates huge externalities for society at large: 1) high density is much nicer to the physical environment; 2) walkability is much less damaging to the globe because there is less C02 emissions; 3) Denser cities consume much less energy per capita for powering homes etc.


So live in your city. From my point of view, the environment was put here for us to enjoy, and I enjoy it by living on a large lot in natural desert... sprawlish as it is.
5.12.2009 9:13pm
rosetta's stones:
If you want to see a failure of dense urban planning writ large, including full federal government support, check out New Orleans, LA.
5.12.2009 9:17pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Well.... I think that as long as we have governments involved in things like zoning, we might as well put it to use by trying to create more localized environments.

The real issue though is that zoning is usually an obstacle to a low commute environment. If we designed our cities better, with smaller blocks of commercial and residential areas, we could potentially get by with a lot less travel. And then there are restrictions on home businesses in areas zoned residential.

At the same time, I live in an area which suffers from a lack of urban planning, so urban planning is necessary....

I do favor rethinking how we do zoning but in the end I think that it will mean a number of structural changes. In many cases the zoning laws I would suggest would be weaker than what we have today.
5.12.2009 9:18pm
Splunge:
Why is this article "interesting?" I've heard the same garbage for 25 years. See, even though people do X, they really actually want Not-X, if only it was explained carefully to them. It's all nonsense, and age-old tired, intellectually bankrupt nonsense at that.

Anyway, people want "walkability" only in the sense that they want stuff they like to be close by. I'd like "walkability" to that nice cafe with the pretty waitress who flirts with me, but not to that nasty fast-food joint you like with the surly teenager who once laughed at my hairpiece.

I'd like "walkability" to the bookstore, because it's nice to look in and see all the elegant shelves and people studiously browsing, although, ha ha, I get all my books from Amazon because it's loads cheaper, so I wouldn't actually buy books from them.

I'd like "walkability" to an elegant neighbhorhood full of nice houses, including mine, so I can take a restful turn around the block after dinner, admiring my and my neighbor's taste, but I don't want the prices so high that my mortgage hurts, and I also don't want those houses sold to families with loud teenagers, or any of those jesusfreaks who are going to ask me, when we encounter each other fetching the mail, which my church is.

I'd like walkability with nice narrow, low-traffic, low-speed roads, maybe quaintly cobble-stoned in places, but of course when I need to make a beer run to Wal-Mart (hey, who can afford those charming neighborhood store prices for a dozen sixpacks?), it better not take long at all.

And so on. In short, only an intellectual without is own capital in the game could be so silly as to rely on what people say to design their town, rather than on what they do.
5.12.2009 9:20pm
rosetta's stones:
Choke off the federal highway money, and choke off the EPA money for new water and wastewater construction, and we can about guarantee a slowdown in developmental "sprawl".

That choke-off is gonna be happening anyway, as we run out of fed money shortly here, so we don't really have to do much but wait, I suspect.
5.12.2009 9:23pm
M.C. R.:
I live in Waterford, VA, and have to go into Leesburg any time I need to do any shopping. I can't really think of any road that I'd feel uncomfortable crossing, except maybe, maybe, Rt. 15.
5.12.2009 9:23pm
Slocum (mail):
It's sad to see how many libertarians automatically shirk away at the thought of density, even when it's put in terms that they should understand -- zoning laws overwhelmingly restrict density rather than mandate it.

But libertarians don't shrink away at the thought of density -- they object to centrally-planned, mandated, eat-your-spinach-dammit-whether-you-like-it-or-not approaches to density. And yes, zoning laws that restrict density should be abolished -- but they should not replaced with new zoning laws that require high density.
5.12.2009 9:49pm
Oren:

Every mammal species has a point at which crowding starts causing nurosis. Man is the only animal that willingly subjects himself to this condition.

Interestingly, we don't even get much out of it. Some NYU group did an experiment where they posed random little math questions to random people walking out on the street and those coming out of Central Park -- the park folk scored considerably better.
5.12.2009 10:14pm
Kirk:
Frater Plotter, where exactly do you live, that the gas tax isn't subsidizing many other non-individual transit endeavors, rather than the other way around.
5.12.2009 10:26pm
altysin (mail) (www):
I'm against most government action to twist our arms and force us into a new urbanist era, but . . .

1) We give tremendous subsidies right now to suburban living. Whatever we say about either the fairness of laws favoring walkability or public preferences have to be discussed in that context. It's not, at least in the current political scene, a question of whether we'll favor one type of neighborhood over another, but which we will favor.

2) Preferences for standard single family residential zoning cannot be separated from left wing public policy the last fifty years or so which has made most urban centers unlivable.

3) Preferences for single use zoning, as opposed to the eclectic mix favored by new urbanists, cannot be separated from the evisceration of nuisance law.
5.12.2009 10:27pm
Kevin E (mail):
An answer to Ilya's question--"how do we know that such an unmet demand actually exists?"--is simple and market-based; the prices for homes in walkable communities are markedly higher than the lower density areas:

" Pent-up demand for urban living is evident in housing prices. Twenty years ago, urban housing was a bargain in most central cities. Today, it carries an enormous price premium. Per square foot, urban residential neighborhood space goes for 40 percent to 200 percent more than traditional suburban space in areas as diverse as New York City; Portland, Oregon; Seattle; and Washington, D.C.

It's crucial to note that these premiums have arisen not only in central cities, but also in suburban towns that have walkable urban centers offering a mix of residential and commercial development. For instance, luxury single-family homes in suburban Westchester County, just north of New York City, sell for $375 a square foot. A luxury condo in downtown White Plains, the county's biggest suburban city, can cost you $750 a square foot. This same pattern can be seen in the suburbs of Detroit, or outside Seattle. People are being drawn to the convenience and culture of walkable urban neighborhoods across the country—even when those neighborhoods are small. "--Chris Leinberger, The Atlantic

Higher prices mean that people are voting with their feet; but high prices also mean that there isn't enough supply.

The article I got this from also talks about how difficult walkable communities are to create, as they require the achievement of a critical mass of services--including mass transportation--that are inherently difficult to accumulate. This explains why such walkable communities aren't everywhere; they're harder to build than cookie-cutter suburbs.

Also, Peter Wilsey and others are absolutely correct that the status quo of low density and sprawl is heavily a matter of regulation rather than the pure working out of preferences in the market. The modern sprawling American city is the product of central planning and savvy politicking by developers. New Urbanists understand this and, indeed, NU is precisely about changing or repealing these regs. Which doesn't mean they aren't into central planning too.
5.12.2009 10:28pm
name:
I have to second (or third) those saying that the agenda of new urbanism isn't to foster density through central planning, but rather to remove regulations that favor sprawl -- things like minimum lot size, zoning restrictions, mandating that new buildings include parking spaces, etc. Measures I would think libertarians agree with.

Ilya should be embarrassed about his knee jerk response. It's clear he has no idea what he's talking about and didn't bother to try to learn.
5.12.2009 10:37pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
ASaGuest: Good solution if your sidewalks are as smooth as bowling lanes. If, however, you have to contend with brick sidewalks, heaved by tree roots and under-maintained by the city, then not so much. Sure, I guess you could replace a cart every month or so, but then the hassle exceeds that of just jumping in the car and going to the market while also performing other tasks on a efficiently-planned route.
5.12.2009 10:47pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Bob from Ohio, may I recommend one of these?
For the DINKs, that's great. But people with actual families can't fit their weekly shopping into one of those.
5.12.2009 11:12pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
All of my ancestors lived in villages of roughly 1/4 the density of my suburban neighborhood. This is the environment for which I was evolved.

Further, every house in my 82% walkable neighborhood has a two car garage, along with lawns or other landscaping. This provides the soothing green environment which we were all evolved to prefer.

Only people of my generation have lived in cities, buildings of more than two stories, or other than single family homes, even if the house shared a wall and a roof with the barn.


high density is much nicer to the physical environment

Personally I prefer green lawns to concrete, but that's just me.


But people with actual families can't fit their weekly shopping into one of those.

Shop twice a week. Food will be fresher, and you won't have to freeze half your food. One day Mommy can shop, the other day Daddy can shop. I can't get a week's worth of food into my fridge, anyways.
5.12.2009 11:34pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
I don't buy these suggestions that eliminating the zoning restrictions on mixed use areas is a workable way to reduce the cost of housing or to enable walk to work areas.

I mean the problem is that once people move in nearby suddenly it becomes tough/impossible to decide to stay open 24 hours (people complain about the loud drunk college kids making noise at 2am) or to use the property for some other noisier purpose or one that offends people (adult bookstore).

I mean sure if we lived in some perfect libertarian society we could just tell people exactly what the rules were going in and tell them "tough shit" if they later complained. Unfortunately, in the real world the people get to vote and make the laws so you can't just ignore their complaints. They will change the laws the moment a buisness starts behaving in a way that they find annoying.

Ultimately my point is that the mere ability of homes to locate immediately adjacent would discourage all but the corner store type of business to avoid that area. Worse, if they are already located there it motivates them to start any unpleasant activities (noise, lights etc..) immediately just to decrease the chances they lose the right to do so.
5.13.2009 12:08am
MnZ (mail):
The vast majority of zoning laws are intended to prevent higher density.

I lived in a close-in suburb in which the locals were agitating to create a special zoning code that would have (more or less) banned anything more dense than a two-flat. Similarly, my brother worked for a city zoning board when he was in college in the mid-1990s. He said that new mixed-use buildings was more or less banned in virtually all of the city. In addition, creating mixed use neighborhoods was impossible because all commercial buildings were required to have gobs of free parking. (Who wants to live next to a giant parking lot?)
5.13.2009 12:20am
mkrause (mail):
We have an interesting "walkability" problem in my Northwest Denver neighborhood, which has been designated a "marketplace Initiative" area by the City of Denver. This basically means we (taxpayers) are paying an anti-automobile, pro-walking and pro-density consultant to draw up a long term development plan for the neighborhood's business district. At the same time, other neighborhoods in Denver have been "down-zoned" and property owners in whole areas have had their zoning changed from R-2 or R-3 (or lots where a duplex or triplex can be built) to R-1, strictly single family homes. The "downzoners" have now targeted my neighborhood. So the same City Council that is paying an urban planning consultant to tell us all how to make the neighborhood more dense and more walker friendly is also considering zoning changes to ensure that the neighborhood never becomes any more dense. I feel so fortunate to have such wise elected leaders.
5.13.2009 12:45am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
TruePath:

I don't buy these suggestions that eliminating the zoning restrictions on mixed use areas is a workable way to reduce the cost of housing or to enable walk to work area


I think most folks still drive to/from work in walkable communities. However, they might frequently walk to the restaurant when eating out, do light shopping on foot, etc. This is a significant portion of the way most folks use their cars.

However, my other point is that home-based businesses should be easier to start and subject to fewer zoning restrictions than they currently are.
5.13.2009 12:48am
Ken Arromdee:
An answer to Ilya's question--"how do we know that such an unmet demand actually exists?"--is simple and market-based; the prices for homes in walkable communities are markedly higher than the lower density areas:

That might not necessarily be because of a demand for walking, but a demand for something else associated with it. For instance, reducing sprawl to the point where nearby locations can be reached by walking also means that less nearby locations which still require driving may require less driving. The people may be paying the money for the greater convenience in driving to those places.
5.13.2009 12:51am
pmorem (mail):
I don't think anybody seriously argues there are environmental benefits to having low density sprawl.

Here's one: It slows pandemics and the general flow of disease. Apocalypse by disease would be pretty messy, and there would be a lot of environmental damage (visualize nuclear sterilization). Yea, it's unlikely.

So one way to look at planning is it corrects an externality. Of course you might argue it makes better economic sense to just tax the hell out of low density but still allow people that choice.

Your commentary touches me, or at least my "fight or flight" instinct.

My brain does not work like yours.

Among other things, I have a very limited ability to tolerate crowds I am not a part of. After a while, I need to get out and away. Out in suburbia, I'm ok.

I am not well equipped for compliance with much of anything. No matter my intentions or desires, attempts to do something which is not consistent with my own very different drummer will go awry.

If you feel the need to coerce me into complying with your preferences, I oppose you. Even if you succeeded, it would only be temporary. It would go badly.

"Why can't we all just get along?"

You tell me.
5.13.2009 12:55am
AlanfromOntario:
We already have goverment planning to create driveable living environments. Suburbs, planned communities, etc. would not exist without infrastructure (roads,bridges, public transport, water systems, etc.)
5.13.2009 1:11am
Neobuzz:
The grand boulevards of Paris were an early experiment in urban planning. What a shame that those life-threatening thoroughfares destroyed the walkability of the City of Light.

Rest assured that if there was indeed an unmet demand for New Urbanist projects, my greedy Developer friends would have cashed in on that market years ago.

Thank you for the marvelous post, Mr. Somin.
5.13.2009 1:31am
Perseus (mail):
Prof. Somin seems correct in identifying zoning laws as a big culprit in preventing New Urbanist developments.

That way, when developers come, they will have a choice: build a walkable, eco-friendly environment, or build nothing.

Yet another example of how the Left defines being pro-choice.
5.13.2009 2:12am
BGates:
high density is much nicer to the physical environment

Thus the environmentalist lobby's advocacy of factory farming.
5.13.2009 3:09am
Linda F (mail) (www):
Some of these "pro-density" comments are PRICELESS!

As it happens, I've lived in both high-density and low-density environments. They both have their pluses. High-density does allow kids to use their legs - however, some of those environments also have higher crime rates. We were robbed several times, and always had to watch our backs on the streets.

Despite our so-called amenities available, we generally took the car to shop. It wasn't worth having to make more trips or tie up multiple people's time to carry groceries home. When I could, I walked, and enjoyed the exercise. I must add that I was hit by a car the last time I walked to the bank to deposit money in the ATM - luckily, no permanent damage.

I live in a suburban environment, about 1/2 mile from shopping. I am surrounded by greenery, and the peace from noise, cars, and slabs of concrete not being on my doorstep is wonderful. At my previous house, I walked down my drive, and was smack in the middle of a major road.

I briefly lived in the country, and DID have to drive everywhere - however, I bundled my trips, and only drove any distance about once a month, when I loaded up on supplies.

Have any of the pro-density commenters considered that most people aggregate their trips, handling both commuting and shopping, as well as dining/entertainment/visiting on the same trip? I know I do. If we have to go out, we make the trip worth our while.
5.13.2009 4:51am
ShelbyC:

An answer to Ilya's question--"how do we know that such an unmet demand actually exists?"--is simple and market-based; the prices for homes in walkable communities are markedly higher than the lower density areas:


Or, higher priced/higher demand areas tend to be higher density.
5.13.2009 7:33am
Aguirre:
Ilya, you've got this one wrong. As many other commenters have pointed out, our current suburban development patterns are the result of heavy government involvement, not the free market. If you want to get rid of this government interferance, I'm with you, but few people seem willing to do away entirely with local land use regulation. The New Urbanists, at least, want to move things in the right direction by doing away with or loosening some of the more pernicious regulations like parking requirements and density limits. These regulations are little more than rent seeking by incumbent property owners who want to boost their property values in high demand areas by limiting new supply. Yes, the New Urbanists do not go far enough and unfortunatly remain enamored with some types of counter-productive regulations, but you mischaracterize the project when you say they want "more governement planning to create walkable environments." For the most part they just want to reorient the existing government planning to add some consideration for non-car transportation.

Also there seems to be a misconception by many of the commenters that New Urbanists are anti-car. They aren't. They want to encourage development that makes mass transit possible, which isn't the same thing. To the extent that the people who want to can ride transit, that will mean less traffic for those who want to drive. The Orange line corridor in Arlington is the New Urbanist model. And you'll notice that it is one of the more pleasant places to drive in the DC area.
5.13.2009 9:10am
bellisaurius (mail):
One could argue that they're being forward thinking. When oil was getting to the four dollar range, the amount of people taking the train was definitely on the upswing. Given that we'll end up back there sooner or later (future supplies being less accessible and costing more, at least as far as we can see), encouraging density might be good for the nation as whole, minimizing dependence on oil supplies we don't directly control.

Of course, being libertarian, I'd argue that it's better to stop subsidizing loose development in rural areas, as well as the suburbs and exurbs than it is to subsidize tighter development, but hey, that's just me.
5.13.2009 9:28am
Houston Lawyer:
I just moved back to the suburbs after 5 years in the inner city. I have a yard and peace and quiet. I no longer fight trash can wars with my neighbors. My kids can go outside and play without running into crack dealers and hookers. I actually see and speak to my neighbors.

I have quite a few friends who live closer to downtown in good neighborhoods. They pay twice to three times what I paid for housing. They all drive Suburbans or Expeditions just like me.

The only people who walk in this city are those who can't afford cars. I could have walked to work from my last house. However, on hot days (half the year), I would have been soaking from sweat by the time I got to the office. When it rains here, it pours and comes down sideways. That'll ruin a nice suit very quickly. If you are a college professor and can come to work in tennis shoes and shorts, walking would seem more plausible.
5.13.2009 9:29am
sbron:
There is a racial component to the New Urbanism -- suburbs and rural communities are viewed as predominately white (even though they are not) and boring. Dense living will force whites to appreciate other cultures. Here's a piece by Kathleen Parker, "You'll love diversity or else" discussing propagandistic radio ads implicitly preaching NU.

Some excerpts

"A cheerful, third-party voice explains that "diversity shouldn't be left behind at work each day. In our neighborhoods, we can create a greater appreciation and respect for cultural differences. And prepare our children for the global life that lies ahead. After all, your family doesn't live in a 9-to-5 world. Why should diversity?"

Another ad, called "Parallel Lives," features a boring white guy and an exciting Latino. White Guy is dull because "my neighborhood always stayed the same." Latino is vivacious and engaging because his diverse neighborhood "always got more interesting!"
5.13.2009 10:14am
Tony Tutins (mail):

The New Urbanists, at least, want to move things in the right direction by doing away with or loosening some of the more pernicious regulations like parking requirements and density limits.

Funny, I always thought "pernicious" meant something bad. But actually it must mean something like "beneficial" or even "delightful."

These regulations are little more than rent seeking by incumbent property owners who want to boost their property values in high demand areas by limiting new supply.

The supply of lots holding single family homes is necessarily limited. A four-story high block built out to the property lines is no substitute for a one-story house surrounded by dirt.

Further, I catch a whiff of Georgism here. But most people have come to accept that brains are the source of property today, not land.

the New Urbanists ... want to reorient the existing government planning to add some consideration for non-car transportation.

Government can add adequate sidewalks. They can plow them in winter. They can also add Walk lights at intersections.

While these might be considered no-brainers, modern industrial parks tend to lack sidewalks, which have been replaced with berms.

Also there seems to be a misconception by many of the commenters that New Urbanists are anti-car. They aren't. They want to encourage development that makes mass transit possible, which isn't the same thing. To the extent that the people who want to can ride transit,

The extent of people who want to ride transit is practically nil. Riding the L in Chicago, my wife had her purse snatched once a year until she wised up and started driving. Waiting for a bus on a street corner after dark in January, exhaled breath forming stalactites on my mustache, I swore "As god is my witness, I'm never riding public transit again."

The type of transit people want to ride is the Monorail at Disneyland. Or a steam train in a park.
5.13.2009 10:29am
The Unbeliever:
There is a racial component to the New Urbanism -- suburbs and rural communities are viewed as predominately white (even though they are not) and boring. Dense living will force whites to appreciate other cultures.
I, for one, welcome our new densely packed minority overlords.
5.13.2009 10:29am
KenB (mail):
If you want to facilitate more people living closer to downtown in places where that requires redevelopment, which I suspect is most places, take a hard look at historical preservation laws. In my city, which is probably typical, we have a Historic Design and Review Commission, which strongly resists knocking down even down-scale old properties so as to create more upscale development.

I call it the Keeping Neighborhoods Poor and Preventing Urban Redevelopment Commission. You could hardly design a process better calculated to keeping neighborhoods poor and inhibiting redevelopment.
5.13.2009 10:30am
Tony Tutins (mail):
I've begun to realize from this thread that there are two types of people: those who want to continually be jostled by strangers and those who do not.
5.13.2009 10:36am
Tony Tutins (mail):
A side note: Another feature of walkable high density urban areas, at least on the West Coast, is pedestrians asking you for money. This doesn't happen in suburbia, however walkable.
5.13.2009 10:42am
George Smith:
I live in the 'burbs, 80 blocks and 25 minutes from my office. My family of four lives in a 2,800 sf house with a large backy yard for the kids and dog. I have great neighbors. The elementary and middle schools are four blocks away, as is the grocery store. Threre is a pool for the subdivision, two golf courses within a mile, baseball and soccer fields a plenty, lots of trees, bike and walking paths. All in all, a pretty typical midwestern 'burb. No rich people, just folks who have worked long and hard for what they have. We like it here. And this nebbish wants to use the government to push me into a loft, apartment, row house or what-have-you to comport with his vision of how we all should live? No thanks. There is nothing "new" abut the New Urbanists. Its just the same old sneering at the way other people choose to live. They are free to live where they choose, and so m I; at least for now.
5.13.2009 10:49am
sbron:
One of the most successful examples of "New Urbanism" is Portland Oregon, with its extensive mass transit, grunge music scene, world-famous bookstores and numerous cafes/restaurants/nightclubs. From the New York Times


Portland is The City That Works, a slogan not just emblazoned on official vehicles, but taken to heart by its citizens. It is perhaps the most European of American cities, literate and small-scale urban, a pleasant surprise around every corner. And it is often a city of firsts, doing things well and sensibly before any other.


To reinforce my point that New Urbanism is really about race, the Oregonian recently published this article
"In a changing world, Portland remains overwhelmingly white."

I'm giving credit to the "white nationalist" website vdare.com, which pointed out the hypocrisy of wanting American cities to be European, and then denouncing them if they have too many European-Americans living in them.
5.13.2009 11:10am
PeterWimsey (mail):
sbron, not only does NU has nothing to do with race, but you will be pleased to know that NU developments are almost exclusively white because they are substantially more expensive than conventional developments. They are also extremely popular because people are willing to pay a premium to live there.

NU is not about getting rid of cars. It's not about having people live downtown (that's old urbanism, I suppose...). NU is about building *new* developments, mostly in suburbs, although I supppose that's not a requirement, that incorporate elements like walkability, higher density, etc. NU is about developing places like Seaside FL, or developments within existing suburbs - see Village of West Clay, in Carmel, IN.

It is, again, *not* about redeveloping downtown Philadelphia, and it's a mistake to confuse NU with, say, urbanism.

For anyone who is interested in what NU actually is, here is a link that links to a series of you tube lectures by Andres Duany. It's somewhat dated (Bush I era), but not meaningfully so.
5.13.2009 12:13pm
Aultimer:

the prices for homes in walkable communities are markedly higher than the lower density areas

Perhaps density is created by demand, rather than density being the object of demand.
5.13.2009 12:35pm
ShelbyC:

If you are a college professor and can come to work in tennis shoes and shorts,


'course if more folks walked, you'd probably have a lowered dress expectation.
5.13.2009 12:44pm
JTJ:
As a number of VC commenters have noted, Ilya's shockingly uninformed characterization of NU is wildly off the mark. Brilliant example of political ignorance in action, Ilya. Well done.
5.13.2009 1:29pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

Ilya's shockingly uninformed characterization of NU is wildly off the mark.

Then somebody must have hijacked that "newurbanism.org" site Ilya linked to -- their visions seemed shockingly like Ilya's informed characterization.
5.13.2009 1:41pm
Fûz (mail) (www):
"'roughly one in three Americans would prefer to live in a walkable urban environment.' However, 58% of Americans already live in cities with populations of 200,000 or more, and about 25% live in the country's 200 largest cities"

Maybe this means that (58% minus one-third) of those who already live in so-called walkable environments want to leave them?
5.13.2009 2:22pm
Randy R. (mail):
Sprawl is great -- when you can drive a car. But what about when you can't?

If you are underage, you can't drive a car, so what do you do? You do what all the other teenagers are doing: You drink, do drugs, and have sex in your parent's basement. OH NO! Not MY children, you say! But of course, they are doing it because they have nothing else to do, and they are very good about hiding it from you.

When happens if when you get old? Can't see as well, reflexes arne't as great. Oops! They took away your drivers' license! So now how are you going to get your food, your medicine, and socialize with your friends and family?

What happens if you can't afford a car? I recall my mother's favorite friend, who was divorced and living on a fixed income. Her car needed repairs, and she could barely afford them. She certainly couldn't afford a new car. Yet she needed a car to get to her job. what happens when the car gives out? Oops! It would have been nice to be able to walk to work.

I live on Capitol Hill, which is one of the most liveable and walkable neighborhoods you will find. and people are certainly voting with their feet -- housing prices are still up, even in this recession. People, especially empty nesters, are moving back into the city to be close to theater, music, restaurants, and not have to worry about maintaining their half acre of lawn.

The Kentlands is a development in Gaithersburg that is built entirly around New Urbanism principles. Prices rise faster there than anywhere else, and they keep expanding it, only to have everything sell out. This is terrible? Please explain why. And if your developer friends haven't asked to build this type of community, then they don't know that they can make a higher profit,because you build more houses upon less land.

The problem in America is that we have way too many suburbs. Sure, they are fine for some, but others want walkability and neighborhoods. There are too few of them. Why can't we have some?
5.13.2009 2:26pm
Randy R. (mail):
One of the reasons we are fat is because we don't walk much. I see many more fat people in the suburbs than in the city.

I saw a study once that showed that the amount of chemicals dumped on a suburban lawn are many times more the chemicals that the farmer put into his farm before it was subdivided into developments. No, the suburbs are NOT good for the environment -- they are poisoning our water supply with all the lawn care they want. And all the water-- lawns absorb much more water than farmland, or fallow fields. suburban lawns are NOT nature -- they are as artificial and phony as the 'old tyme' city streets in new shopping malls. There isn't a living creature allowed in most suburban environments other than dogs, and the occasional human, when you can spot them.

I've lived in both suburb and city, and there is no question the city is more vibrant. Sure, some areas have drug dealers and crime, but almost all my friends who live in the suburbs -- the good suburbs,mind you -- have had their house broken into, or were held up at gun point, or had their car stolen. My house in Bethesda, one of the richest suburbs in American, was broken in over a holiday weekend and they stole the tv and a few other things.

Safer? Not by long a shot. Turns out that children are much more likely to be killed or injured by a car in the suburbs than in the city. AND much more likely to be injured by said car in the burbs than getting shot in the city. Source: FBI stats.

But now we have people saying that we don't need any more, as though we have SO many walkable neighborhoods we don't need any more. But as the population ages, we will need more, not less, that you can walk or take public transportation. Someday, even YOU will won't be able to drive anymore, and walking is something every doctor tells their elderly patients to do.
5.13.2009 2:34pm
Randy R. (mail):
"To reinforce my point that New Urbanism is really about race"

This is the most ridiculous comment by far.

suburban sprawl is actually about race. White people fled the cities in the post war years specifically to get away from blacks. Levittown prohibited blacks from buying any houses, and many suburban housing tracks followed suit. Even where race wasn't legally an issue, practially it was, because the assumption was that only whites could afford a car, and blacks can't, therefore, they won't be able to buy houses in the suburbs. Which is why many suburbs refused or prohibited public transportation, or allowed only a minimal amount.

Or if a black family did want to buy, there were ways to get them to not move in. The whites might get together and buy them out at a higher price, or make them feel unwelcome.

All suburbs are segregated to some degree, whether by plan or accident. That's because when a developer comes in and builds, all houses are sold at a certain price level. That eliminates anyone from buying who earns below a certain amount of money, and yet makes it unattractive for anyone who earns above the average amounts in that particular development. so you have a situation where most everyone on your street looks and earns pretty much as you do. When you become rich, most people move up to the more expensive housing so that they can be among their peers again.

NU actually allows for housing prices in all ranges, so that you have many different income levels within a few blocks of each other. Some people think that's bad, but I think, for a democracy, it's a good thing.
5.13.2009 2:43pm
Randy R. (mail):
One of the saddest developments of the 20th century is our abandonment of the city. Up until the mid-century, we had really great cities: Detroit, Cleveland, Denver, Buffalo, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and so on. Then we left them and built out more suburban development, but it didn't just happen. We put in place lots of federal, state and local incentives to destroy the city. Investment in the cities dropped, and the funds raised from cities was used to develope the suburbs. In short, the cities were made to fund their own demise. Dean Rusk has written a great deal about this.

People go to Europe and often lament why don't WE have such beautiful cities? Well, we did. But we left them to rot, and let criminals and such take them over. Then we complain that the cities are loaded with criminals!

Suburbs, with their strip malls, asphalt parking lots, big box retailers -- maybe they have a place in our society. But do they have to take top place? Why can't cities, the traditional way of living, take top priority?

You can go to any small city and find that they most charming parts are the pre-WWII sections. It's where the tourists want to go, and they have the best and oldest buildings. That's no accident. If you wanted to build a town from scratch just like any traditional 18th or 19th century town, you would be prohibited to do so with current laws. That's libertarianism? That's conservativism? No -- that's statism forcing down my throat how I can build my community. Everyone here should be against that.

I often hear that we can't change things like marriage because we've had a certain way of life for thousands of years. Here's an argument: We've lived either as farmers or city dwellers for thousands of years too. suburban living is a new way to live, and we shouldn't tamper with how people live.

And the results are in: people are fatter, more isolated, more depressed in the burbs than in the cities. (Amherst, the most affluent suburb of Buffalo, has the highest dometic violence rate in the region. And that's just the known violence -- much doesn't get reported).

Again, if this is how you want to live, go ahead. But please don't limit my choices and force all development this way!
5.13.2009 2:54pm
Aguirre:
I think using labels like "new urbanism" might obscure more than they illuminates. There are a lot of things that someone might mean when they say "new urbanism". It is much more helpful to evaluate the specific policy recommendations.

Among other things, New Urbanism, as I understand it, seeks to remove the existing regulatory barriers to dense mixed use development and adopt congestion pricing on crowded freeways to mitigate the dead-weight loss from government's massive subsidies for freeway development. Principled opponents of government intervention should welcome these policy changes.

In my libertarian utopia, where the government is only there to provide public goods, all roads would be toll-roads and there government would not build any roads (as they are excludeable and therefor not true public goods.) This is not going to happen, however, so the second best alternative would be to at least charge for freeway use. This would at lease remove the government imposed financial pressure to drive when the individual might have otherwise preferred an alternative.

This would be a particular boon to Tony Tutins, and others who strongly prefer cars, single family houses, and suburban sprawl, as this would mean that those less enamored with their cars would forgo driving and leaving an uncongested freeway to the committed drivers.
5.13.2009 3:03pm
George Smith:
Here's the deal, urbanites - we don't care where you live, we really don't. We like it here as much as you like where you live. We mow our lawns (using mostly organic lawn treatments, despoilers of the earth that we are), have cookouts, really, actually interact a lot with our neighbors, and tax the crap out of ourselves for good schools. And we're not a damn bit sorry. We've earned the life we live. You enjoy yours.
5.13.2009 4:01pm
rosetta's stones:

"One of the most successful examples of "New Urbanism" is Portland Oregon..."


Hmmmmm, wasn't Portland where they tried to force a property owner to "donate" a portion of his property in order to build a bike path? I suspect the new urbanism movement is likely to wind up doing exactly what current zoning laws do... jamming property owners.

In my township, a few miles from my house, they've recently built a "walkable community" called Cherry Hill Village . Looks cool in the photos, eh? It's houses on small lots, built out on farmland. The developer greased the Township Board, and got the zoning changed, for additional houses to be crammed onto this site.

It made it into all the best archy and planning magazines, and got them all sexually aroused. The Township Board went on junkets, "researching" this nonsense. Some commercial space built in (50% filled or so), and an expensive performance theater located nearby (sucked in township cash... the Supervisor fancies himself an actor, so he pushed for this).

They coulda saved our money and asked me first. It's an expensive trailer park, with garages crammed next to all the trailers houses , so everybody can drive 35 miles to their jobs.
5.13.2009 4:07pm
Putting Two and Two...:
Haven't had time to catch up on the thread, but I'm enjoying quite a chuckle at the implication that today's America of far flung sprawl isn't, itself, the result of government planning and just sort of happened.
5.13.2009 5:04pm
wht (mail):

Haven't had time to catch up on the thread, but I'm enjoying quite a chuckle at the implication that today's America of far flung sprawl isn't, itself, the result of government planning and just sort of happened.

This
The author should drive over a few miles to Tysons and tell me why that type of planning is better, even the people who had a part in that mess say it was stupid to force a city planning structure completely around driving.
5.13.2009 5:16pm
Putting Two and Two...:
wht, I think you misunderstand me (or I misunderstand you). America's choice to push the automobile and sprawl was, in my opinion, a really bad mistake. We used enormous resources to build a system which can be sustained only with large subsidies and, most precariously, only as long as we have cheap energy.
5.13.2009 5:31pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

Sprawl is great -- when you can drive a car. But what about when you can't?

If you are underage, you can't drive a car, so what do you do? You do what all the other teenagers are doing: You drink, do drugs, and have sex in your parent's basement. OH NO! Not MY children, you say! But of course, they are doing it because they have nothing else to do,

When happens if when you get old? ... It would have been nice to be able to walk to work.

OK, pick an urban setting or any setting. Where can you live where teenagers are not drinking, drugging, or having sex? What are the teenagers doing there that they can't do in the suburbs? Leisure in our culture revolves around shopping and spending money. Here a kid with pocket money can walk or ride his bike to the arcade, or take a bus to the mall or downtown.

What happens with the person who gets old who can no longer walk? Or who can walk only the distance from her front door to her garage? Have you ever tried to pick up an elderly woman from a street where cars clog the curb 24/7?
5.13.2009 5:55pm
JoeSixpack (mail):
If Ben Adler really believes that there is an unmet demand for high-density urban living, he should present his evidence to some private equity fund or developer and convince them to invest in his urban utopia. Together they'll make a fortune satisfying this unmet need. Of course, as many others have pointed out, this is really just Ben Adler trying to impose on the rest of us by force of government his own preference about how we should live.
5.13.2009 6:34pm
JoeSixpack (mail):
I'm all for those who use the roads paying for their use, but let's also stop subsidizing the mass transit system in every area and let the people who prefer dense urban living pay their own way as well. Mass transit is a huge money loser just about everywhere and wouldn't exist if it wasn't for large subsidies from the tax dollars of people who don't even live in the city let alone use the system.
5.13.2009 6:38pm
chird:
JoeSixpack,

The point of the article was that in most places it is illegal to build dense mixed-use developments, not that this is the only way cities should be built. I'm sure Ben Adler thinks dense mixed-use development is the way cities should be built, and he may or may not be right, but he isn't saying they should be mandated by law. I would think we can all agree that if a private developer wants to build a dense mixed-use development on private property, the city should not stop it.

Your arguments against mass transit apply with even more force to highways. Just about everywhere highways are built they are a huge money loser. These roads would not even exist if it wasn't for large subsidies from people who don't ever drive on them. And no, gas taxes don't come close to covering the cost of roads.

Yes, I agree with you that neither highways nor transit should be government subsidized. But given the fact that the government is in the business of subsidizing transportation, and is not going to stop anytime soon, it is detrimental for the government to favor one so heavily. A better mix of transit spending would get both drivers and non-drivers to their destinations faster.
5.13.2009 7:11pm
Market Urbanism (mail) (www):
I posted my two cents at the only site dedicated to the topic of free market urbanism.


The ultimate question is whether we should trust deeper interventions into land use to fix the complete failure of past interventions. Long before "New Urbanism" was the progressive utopian ideal, sprawling, auto-friendly and trolley-free, single-family suburbs was their "American Dream". But, progressives quickly forget their history when it turns out their past visions created something they are now supposed to hate.
5.13.2009 7:12pm
Randy R. (mail):
"And we're not a damn bit sorry. We've earned the life we live. You enjoy yours."

And thanks for hitting the nail on the head.

Opposition to NU and walkability often centers on the strange belief that proponents want to outlaw suburban life. Even if we could, there would still be the vast multitudes of suburban sprawl that would still exist, ready for your purchase at any time. But thanks for raising the straw man, because I forgot all about it.

Joe Sixpack: "If Ben Adler really believes that there is an unmet demand for high-density urban living, he should present his evidence to some private equity fund or developer and convince them to invest in his urban utopia."

There IS ample evidence. As I mentioned earlier, the Kentlands is sold out and continues to build. Seaside in Florida sold out way earlier than expected. Every place that has implemented NU has made a great deal of money.

The problemi that you have to go through such hoops to convince towns to allow for higher density and walkability. The laws have been set in stone for at least 50 years and aren't changed easily.

"I'm all for those who use the roads paying for their use, but let's also stop subsidizing the mass transit system in every area and let the people who prefer dense urban living pay their own way as well."

I'm all in favor of letting mass transit pay it's own as long as you agree to pay your own way. That means that you have to pay for all roads that you use every time that you use them. It also means that the developer that built your subdivision had to pay full costs for water, sewer and roadway costs when he built them. (Most states subsidize these things from the public treasury). Also, you have to pay for all snow removal on your streets.

In short, if you are willing to fully pay for all the services that you receive for your suburban living, then I will gladly pay the full costs of public transportation as I use it. However, I can assure you, your costs would be significantly higher than mine.

BTW: ARe you really sure you want to end subsidies for public transportation? By doing so, it would make it actually cheaper to use cars. Unless you live in a very remote area, I find it hard to believe that anyone would actually argue that we need to have more cars on the roads, not less.

But perhaps you enjoy traffic jams.
5.13.2009 7:52pm
Perseus (mail):
I'm sure Ben Adler thinks dense mixed-use development is the way cities should be built, and he may or may not be right, but he isn't saying they should be mandated by law.

Then why does Ben Adler write: "They could also put Kentlands-type zoning restrictions in place on land that is not yet in any developer's sights. That way, when developers come, they will have a choice: build a walkable, eco-friendly environment, or build nothing. Will the moms in minivans still complain about having to get out of their car to go to an ATM? Sure. But they may appreciate that their children can walk to school safely."

If you are a college professor and can come to work in tennis shoes and shorts,

It's sad but true that most academics dress like slobs (I am frequently confused with being an administrator because I regularly wear a suit), yet they love to prattle on about the ugliness of America(ns).

If you are underage, you can't drive a car, so what do you do? You do what all the other teenagers are doing: You drink, do drugs, and have sex in your parent's basement. OH NO! Not MY children, you say! But of course, they are doing it because they have nothing else to do, and they are very good about hiding it from you.


What an utterly ridiculous view of suburbia, as if kids in the suburbs can't read a book, ride a bike, play basketball on the driveway with the hoop set up over the garage, etc.
5.13.2009 7:55pm
Randy R. (mail):
Tony Tutins: "Where can you live where teenagers are not drinking, drugging, or having sex? What are the teenagers doing there that they can't do in the suburbs? Leisure in our culture revolves around shopping and spending money. Here a kid with pocket money can walk or ride his bike to the arcade, or take a bus to the mall or downtown."

Of course, kids can do drugs anywhere, and certainly do. However, suburban life isolates teenagers. Without access to a car, what are kids supposed to do? At least in a real neighborhood, they have options -- they can go to a park to play ball, or see a game.

"What happens with the person who gets old who can no longer walk?" Are you suggesting that a person who can't walk can still drive a car? Buses and other forms of public transportation can now can accomodate wheelchairs and walkers. Of course, if you are an invalid, then there isn't much you can do.

Where I live on capitol Hil, I have a great many options. I have a car, I have the metro system, I have buses, I have a good bike, and I have my legs. When my car is in the shop, as it was a for a week, I had no problem getting around to meetings and seminars, getting food, visiting friends, etc. If your car is in the shop, what are your options? Use another car?

Last summer, we had high gas prices. I didn't care, because I had many options for getting around. It didn't affect me very much. But I know people who are so car dependent that they had to cut other necessities to pay for gas. That to me is in insane. Why would you become a slave to a machine? Today, most people simply cannot live without a car, and it has become THE priority in terms of sucking up your money. Hunan beings lived very well for thousands of years without this dependency (and many still do).

Elderly people need more options for transportation, not fewer. Once you can no longer drive, you are screwed in the burbs. This is a major worry now for baby boomers who are seeing their parents age, and are worried about them driving. And I would hope that people like you would prefer that elderly people be prohibited from driving if their vision or relfexes are no longer satisfactory to driving, because that affects road safety for everyone. If you are a threat behind the wheel, the keys should be taken away. It's at that point you will wish that you could walk to the store to get a quart of milk.
5.13.2009 8:04pm
Randy R. (mail):
Perseus: "What an utterly ridiculous view of suburbia, as if kids in the suburbs can't read a book, ride a bike, play basketball on the driveway with the hoop set up over the garage, etc."

I never said that they can't. And who would they play basketball with? Their dads? Right...

Their options are much less than those who live in places where you can get to the library without a car. Having grown up in an affluent town that is the very definition of suburbia, I knew plenty of fellow students who would go to their basement and drink their brains out after school, and several of my classmates ended up as alcoholics by the time they entered college.

I still come back here because we have a house, and we had a great talk with my cousins, who also grew up in this town. They were planning on buying a home here, but they ruled it out because they found out about the extensive underground drug use. Kids with money equals substance abuse, it seems, so they decided to go elsewhere. So, no, Perseus, it's not just my crazy thoughts, but rather froms seeing it happen. And if you really think this isn't true, you are in serious denial about what kids are doing after school.
5.13.2009 8:10pm
rosetta's stones:

It also means that the developer that built your subdivision had to pay full costs for water, sewer and roadway costs when he built them. (Most states subsidize these things from the public treasury).


Don't know what state you're from, but I've never known a state that subsidized private development from the public treasury. Here, you pay EVERYTHING to develop, including municipalities' costs... it's included as a % of the project construction.

I'll gladly keep paying my share for transportation, as I'm already doing so. Unfortunately, in addition to this, I also have to keep paying somebody else's share, for public transportation.
5.13.2009 8:20pm
John Moore (mail) (www):

Of course, kids can do drugs anywhere, and certainly do. However, suburban life isolates teenagers. Without access to a car, what are kids supposed to do? At least in a real neighborhood, they have options -- they can go to a park to play ball, or see a game.


I grew up in suburbia, and have lived there most of my life (except some time in Paris). It's apparent that those who talk negatively about suburbia with respect to kids have never lived there and are clueless.

Suburbia is great for kids. Lots of land to roam around in. Places to ride you bike to (yeah, you don't have to *walk* everywhere). Big green lawns.

And, importantly, separation from high crime neighborhoods.

Walkable neighborhoods make sense, too, but trashing suburbia is missing the point.

I suspect as we baby boomers get older, more walkable neighborhoods will become popular. Or, more places like Sun City, Arizona will - retirement communities that are golf-cartable!
5.13.2009 9:42pm
Another Steve (mail):

And, importantly, separation from high crime neighborhoods.


As Randy R observed upthread, children in suburbia are at greater peril from automobile accidents than city-dwellers are from crime.
5.13.2009 11:47pm
yourpharmacystoreonline (mail) (www):
MESSAGE
5.14.2009 12:24am
Perseus (mail):
Their options are much less than those who live in places where you can get to the library without a car

My point is that you have not really proven that their options are as few as you make them out to be, and since people who live in the suburbs have cars, parents frequently do shuttle their kids to various places and activities (and one doesn't really need to visit the library very often to check out enough books until the next visit). So I reject the notion that living in suburbia constitutes a major factor in juvenile delinquency. And if you don't think that cities provide even more ample opportunities for juvenile delinquency, then it is you who are in serious denial.

As for the comparison of crime to car accidents, it ignores why children are less likely to be crime victims. I strongly suspect that in higher crime areas parents restrict the freedom of their children to roam the streets, which, of course, would reduce the opportunities of children to take advantage of the supposedly vastly superior range of activities that city life offers within a short distance of home. Moreover, regardless of whether children are likely to be crime victims, many parents wish to shield their children from direct exposure to the dregs of society, which are more prevalent in cities.
5.14.2009 12:56am
SFC B (mail) (www):
I too live in the Phoenix area. It has been 100+ all week, and will likely not cool off again until October or November. Frankly, any attempt to get me out of my air conditioned car and into an open air bus stop waiting for a bus (the light rail isn't expanding to my part of the valley any time soon) will be met with violence. And as long as my jury consist of Phoenicians I will not be convicted.
5.14.2009 2:13am
John Moore (www):
SFC B - Yep, that's the way it goes in PHX.
5.14.2009 4:58pm
Randy R. (mail):
John Moore: "I grew up in suburbia, and have lived there most of my life (except some time in Paris). It's apparent that those who talk negatively about suburbia with respect to kids have never lived there and are clueless."

Sorry, John, but I guess we'll just have to disagree. As I said, I grew up in suburbia, and as I've said, for some people, it's heaven on earth. However, substance abuse is fairly widespread in the town I grew up in when I was there, and reports from my friends and relatives is that if anything, it's gotten worse. Have we forgotten already that Sarah Palin's hometown in AK is the crystal meth capital in that state?

Sure, many kids thrive in the burbs, but many wilt. Whether they would do much better in areas where there is a lot more to do, I don't know, but I suspect that when there are more attractions, the temptations to substance abuse out of boredom would be less, not more.
5.14.2009 8:36pm
Randy R. (mail):
Stone: "Don't know what state you're from, but I've never known a state that subsidized private development from the public treasury. Here, you pay EVERYTHING to develop, including municipalities' costs... it's included as a % of the project construction."

In Maryland, before Gov. Glendenning, the state provide ample subsidies for just these things. When he proposed cutting it, the developers were howling about it.

"I'll gladly keep paying my share for transportation, as I'm already doing so. Unfortunately, in addition to this, I also have to keep paying somebody else's share, for public transportation."

Then why not take advantage of public transportation so that you can get some return on your money? As it is, you already are: The more people that use public transportation, the less that drive cars, which makes for a better commute for you. This reduces costs for new roads and maintenence of existing ones.

Additionally, it helps make our society work. For those who cannot afford a car, it provides them a means to get to and from a job. Without it, do you seriously think all those maids who clean your hotel room would be able to get to work? And I would hope that working maids are better for society than welfare women.
5.14.2009 8:41pm
George Smith:
THEN....DON'T....LIVE....HERE!!!! Stay wherever you are. We don't care what you think. Let people live where they wish. If enough people desire the types of living environments that you espouse, someone will make money building or rehabbing it for them. The loft market in my SMSA is still "If you build, it they will come." Well and good for them. Now the grocery store and other amenities have followed the loft dwellers. That's how it works. No one was cajoled, pushed or urban planned into living anywhere except where they choose. We out in the 'burbs are here by choice and would really appreciate it if everyone who doesn't want to live here would give it a frackin' rest.
5.14.2009 9:01pm
PeterWimsey (mail):
Relax, George, no one is trying to make you move. Especially because NU developments are all NEW DEVELOPMENTS in SUBURBS. They are also FAIRLY EXPENSIVE which, while not ideal, does keep out the BAD ELEMENT. They are not inhabited by URBANITES. They are in SUBURBS.

And I have to agree that Ilya should really have done some sort of research on NU before launching his screed...although I'm really more surprised that he didn't already know what it was...it's been around for almost 20 years.

Tony T. - I suppose anyone can name a site newurbanism.org...but that site has little to do with NU. The appropriate site would be .
5.14.2009 9:30pm
George Smith:
Show of hands from everyone who has done the legal work on a residential development and done all of the plans and zoning work and committee hearings. Well, then....I've been working with planning departments for quite a while, and they almost uniformly hate residential subdivisions as initially submitted, and not just because of the stupid names. They want much smaller side and front yards. They want shops every few blocks. They want more density. Doesn't make any difference if that isn't what the buyers want. They shouldn't want otherwise. They just don't know how they should live. They should want what the planners learned in their University Urban Planning Department was the correct way to live. They should only have what the planners want. (This discussion excludes the cul-de-sac, which, like the round-about, was invented by Satan.) The point is, they want to eliminate choice. If they had their way there would be no suburbia, just rowhouses as far as the eye could see, and you'd take it and like it; your penance for "abandoning the city."
5.14.2009 10:51pm

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