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Thread: Do planners want to end sprawl?

  1. #1

    Do planners want to end sprawl?

    I am curious if planners are interested in ending sprawl based planning. Or do they really think it is a good thing? Are they being led by the Civil engineers into accepting and promoting sprawl based planning? Is it the developers? the politicians? Or is sprawl planning kept on its pedestal by inertia? Is it the responsibility of planners to lead the fight against the insanity?

  2. #2
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    the way I see it, as my opinion, I would say... all of the above, and then some.

    I think sprawl is a contribution of everything. It's big business, because as much as we fight, they're dream of putting a store in or near our town/city/neighborhood will be on the basis of their template. They use a design (big box, usually facing the road, huge parking in front, etc.) they know works, a layout that has proven to maximize profits and ease for their customers. You see this a lot with Wal-Mart especially. Just a poll, how many people have "old" Wal-Marts in their town, and no one can do anything with? They just sit there, until some virtual unknown store moves in? And they best part... they left that store empty, to move into a brand new space down the street. Companies try to repeat what works, so they can continue making money, and sadly to maximize profits you need big box stores with lot's of land, and usually no sustainability.

    I also, as un-American as this will sound, blame the "American Dream". This isn't seen in other countries, because here everyone wants a house, with a yard, white picket fence, and a place for their dogs and/or kids to play. This was breed into us as the definition of successful. Moving out of an apartment, having the freedom to turn the football game up as loud as you want without fear of having an eviction notice, or noise complaint the following Monday (I'm still bitter, can you tell?).

    Lastly, people believe living close together, or in uptown/downtown urban areas has too many negatives. With the exception of great urban areas (Manhattan, Chicago,and some others) people don't have enough amenities within walking distance. I know in Charlotte, NC there is no retail to speak of within a few blocks of these handful of 40 story condos they just built. Crime is another thing. The mantra of urban areas being crime ridden is laughable mostly, but still, a fear of people when deciding to live downtown or in the 'burbs.

    I think it's a mix of things, not just the three above, but those are the main things that I believe cause sprawl. It's not an evil plot by anyone, it just happens, it's the general consensus, and good luck trying to change that overnight or stopping it with zoning laws or anything else.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    My undergrad courses are teaching me that Smart Growth is the way to go (reversing the last half-century of suburbanization and sprawl by focusing on intensification, mixed uses, etc.)

    I'm being taught that sprawl patterns are creating problems, thus the time has come for a paradigm shift.

    If my learning experience is the same as the experience of other current students/recent grads, then I think the tides will be turning in favour of Smart Growth in the coming years.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by steel View post
    Is it the responsibility of planners to lead the fight against the insanity?
    It's hard to lead the fight against sprawl when planners are at the whim of local politics. When there is no political will, there is no way.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  5. #5
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mr_Bacon View post
    My undergrad courses are teaching me that Smart Growth is the way to go (reversing the last half-century of suburbanization and sprawl by focusing on intensification, mixed uses, etc.)

    I'm being taught that sprawl patterns are creating problems, thus the time has come for a paradigm shift.

    If my learning experience is the same as the experience of other current students/recent grads, then I think the tides will be turning in favour of Smart Growth in the coming years.
    Although I support many of these ideas, I seriously doubt many will come to fruition. Many educators are just that...educators, not real world planners. Academia finds a way to try and sugar coat most of what is taught in planning school. 5 years ago, I was taught this... I think my first year out, I was pushing for change... and then realized that it just isn't practical 75% of the time and the other 25% is political.

    I think what sprawl really is currently, is cheaper land, with more development potential. Walmart in a downtown? That would cost them a fortune to get a 250k s.f. building. The model of construction we currently have (get everything you need in one place stores) does not create an environment that is friendly towards urban cores. Other than some larger MSA's most areas will work with whomever will expand their tax base. No matter where they want to go. I don't think this is a planner thing, but an elected official thing.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  6. #6
    I have sat in meetings with suburban planning agencies where my client is insisting that they do not need the amount of parking being required. They showed all kinds of data to prove their point but lost the argument. They built the required parking lot and all the extra water retention it needed and now have around 100 empty spaces.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    I agree with the line that planners may WANT for things to be more compact, walkable, cohesive, spontaneous and so forth, but when the local pols write zoning laws that legally require and enforce that 'wasteful' form of post-WWII style 'beigeville' sprawl development, there really isn't much that they can do. Those are the same pols who sign the planners' paychecks.



    Mike

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Working for rural clients, I think we often take these undesireable components (big box retail, large lots, conventional subdivisions, etc.)out of their context, isolate them, and ridicule them. For example, a Chicago city lot (which ranges from 25'x125' to 25'x150") would look ridiculous in the middle of Montana. To create the right feel for transit oriented development, it's not just mixed uses around a mass transit node. You also need to have enough businesses and shopping traffic, and too many developers are trying to ram TODs down smaller communities throats because hey, that's the way the bigger towns are doing it.

    Greater emphasis should be placed on context sensitive design, from the dense urban core to the very rural and hardly-populated countryside. There are plenty of tools to make big box retail, large lots, and conventional subdivisions more aesthetically appealing, through the use of architectural pattern books/design guidelines, lot coving (varying the setbacks of individual large lots), or introducing conservation subdivision where applicable. Over the past 5-6 years, I have seen vast improvements in "sprawl" in many exurbs.
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  9. #9
    Some planners seem to be against sprawl, some don't. The majority would rather see more dense, less conventional development, smaller parking lots (or no offstreet parking at all) etc.

    But some seem to think that any alternative to a single family home on a half acre or more is inferior. They may say they oppose sprawl, but then they make it inevitable.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    Some planners seem to be against sprawl, some don't. The majority would rather see more dense, less conventional development, smaller parking lots (or no offstreet parking at all) etc.

    But some seem to think that any alternative to a single family home on a half acre or more is inferior. They may say they oppose sprawl, but then they make it inevitable.
    IMHO the compact stuff will become inevitable when cheap energy becomes scarce, and folks will seek out more compact development for the lower cost and because they won't be purchasing consumer goods they were manipulated into wanting and needing a huge house to put the stuff in. BUT many won't like or adjust to the increased density ( a new planning challenge). It is simply human nature.

    So I tend to want to let people make their short-term choices, as I can't take away what people want. But we need to start making places now for the coming wave of people realizing they can't have what they want. Not everyone wants a big yard, and not everyone wants a condo in downtown. Up until a year ago the majority in our country could make such a choice.

    The change is on the horizon and the most democratic thing to do (do we have a democracy any more?) is to allow the widest range of choices. When the suburbs are too expensive, many of those big houses will be scrapped and recycled. Not a disaster - I'll be the first one in for windows for my greehouses.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    What planners want and what actually happens are two different animals, largely because planers don't make laws - they enforce them (more or less).

    And while it is true that we have a seat at the table (or some might say, behind the first row that is actually sitting at the table) and can make recommendations, I think that studies and literature supporting compact development, urban growth boundaries and the like are easily trumped by a housing developer(s) who contributes cash to a politician's campaign. And I shudder to think how this will look in the future now that the lid has been blown off corporate donations.

    In my fair town, we have the added layer that at least some of our City Councilors have significant land holdings in an undeveloped part of the City. There is little doubt in my mind that some see the forwarding of sprawl development as their opportunity to make it big and they are using the platform of City Council to ensure their land is as valuable as possible.

    Given all of this, the power of the planner (despite what Mr. O'Toole says) to curtail future sprawl is really quite limited. Larger, more nefarious forces are at play.

    This doesn't mean its hopeless, but it certainly is challenging.
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  12. #12
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    This is going to be a two-parter,

    I have worked with some planners that have actually advocated sprawl -- low-density, large-lot single family development, and low-density single-use commercial development. Why? They had a strong watershed planning orientation, and believed that low-density development was better for the environment, especially for waterways and aquefers, because there is a lower percentage of impervious surface than with higher-density development.. Planners that advocate sprawl because of its perceived environmental benefits, though, make up a very small minority in the profession.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  13. #13
    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    This is going to be a two-parter,

    I have worked with some planners that have actually advocated sprawl -- low-density, large-lot single family development, and low-density single-use commercial development. Why? They had a strong watershed planning orientation, and believed that low-density development was better for the environment, especially for waterways and aquefers, because there is a lower percentage of impervious surface than with higher-density development.. Planners that advocate sprawl because of its perceived environmental benefits, though, make up a very small minority in the profession.
    Do you think they were using this argument as a shield or did they really believe that?

  14. #14
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by steel View post
    Do you think they were using this argument as a shield or did they really believe that?
    I would say they come in both flavors. I encountered this in the far eastern suburbs of Cleveland, where there were several very prominent, well-funded "Friends of [name] Creek|River"-type organizations, a "planning culture" that placed a great deal of emphasis on environmental and watershed issues (this is an area where very intrusive heavy industry was once common, and a strong local environmental movement emerged after the smokestacks fell and the Superfund sites were discovered; the pendulum analogy applies), and very low-density suburban context development was the norm.

    I believe "think of the watershed!" was more of a shield in the very wealthy gentlemen's estates communities in the Chagrin Valley and Geauga County to justify large-lot zoning, and keep those cities and towns exclusive.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by steel View post
    Do you think they were using this argument as a shield or did they really believe that?
    I've seen the same thing coming from supposedly cutting edge planning/architectural firms, where low density, traditional sprawl-like development was justified using any means necessary to convince people that was the best thing. It depends on what they're hired to do. If they're hired to plan a low density community in an area with sensitive resources, they'll justify it based on environmental reasons. If they're hired to do so in an area where there are no community amenities, they'll justify it by explaining how traditional development will provide regional parks instead of "useless" pocket parks.

    It's amazing how money changes people's notions of what's best for the environment and community.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    I've seen the same thing coming from supposedly cutting edge planning/architectural firms, where low density, traditional sprawl-like development was justified using any means necessary to convince people that was the best thing....
    It's amazing how money changes people's notions of what's best for the environment and community.
    Even at those rich-client densities the impervious % is enough to impact receiving waters. So one must make mental justifications to have such housing for the rich only.

  17. #17

    Sprawl

    Many planners, espcially the well meaning volunteer planning commission members who work a day job vastly different from the planning profession, simply are not aware of the options available to landowners and planners. I know many that are not aware of conservation subdivisions and often confuse them with "clustering".

  18. #18
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    I think most planners do favor an end to sprawl. However, most planners paychecks are signed by elected officials who have different views or have different occupational backgrounds that provide a different perspective. While most planners I know do not like sprawl, few are willing to put their paycheck on the line to go to battle.

    Planners are not elected officials. We as professionals can give our advice to elected officials, and we can attempt to lead people in the right direction, but the power to enact change is often times not with planners.

    It depends on your organization and location as well. I work in a small town, so I have a louder voice, whereas a planner for a large city probably doesn't have as much of a say in things. However, my municipality is very small, so I am able to impact a smaller physical place than those working in larger places or at the state or federal level.

    Which brings us to... our lack of any kind of planning at the federal level.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian kw5280's avatar
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    I've never really had a problem with the suburbs. They are an element we have to contend with. And actually I think their origins did our developing country a favor. I know the boilerplate position for most anti-suburban advocates is the highway system facilitated our current housing sprawl issues. But I like to suggest to those advocates that they need to consider what our urban cores would be like today if we didn't have the means to move people into rural areas during the post WWII baby-boom. Sure it might have gotten a little out of control, but that egg has been cracked.

    I don't think planners need to have an agenda like ending sprawl or increasing TOD. We need to find the best method for allowing people to enjoy their life in the built environment regardless if it agrees with our personal sensibilities or not. My issue with sprawl is that the people who live there must own up to the lifestyle they are promoting: long commutes in single-occupant vehicles, automobile dependence for every aspect of life, brain drain, white flight, over-consumption, etc. I think it's very disingenuous for someone who has to commute 20 miles to work every day to have environmental concerns or complain about traffic congestion.

    But we have to address how people living in sprawl do so in a manner that is beneficial to them and the environment (both built and natural). Unfortunately there are only so many miles of rail and lanes of highway we can add to ease traffic congestion. Short of running bus lines down every street we're kind of limited to how accommodating transit can be. Ultimately the end of sprawl is up to the consumer and like others have suggested it will take a stronger financial incentive than the latest recession to make that happen. Planners may not be able to end sprawl but we must be prepared for that eventuality and act accordingly.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    I grew up in a suburb in a single-family 2000SF house on a 1/4 acre lot, so I have a hard time finding fault with that model of development. Of course, my suburb was an old inner-ring suburb from the 1920's that was only 10 miles from downtown Boston, so it doesn't represent the kind of suburb that people talk about when they talk about sprawl.

    My neigborhood was built in the 1920's and 30's. In 1930, the population of the U.S. was only 123 million, and only 69 million lived in urban areas. It was easy for a suburb to be 11 miles from downtown. Today, the population of the U.S. is 305 million, and about 241 million live in urban areas. Its much harder for 241 million people to have a yard near where they work, so what we call a suburb has spread farther and farther away from central cities.

    Does this mean that people no longer have the right to have 1/4 acre of land with a single-family home on it? That we all need to live in apartments clustered around transit stops? I don't think that's true. I think planning can find ways to let the people who want a yard have one, while also offering other amenities to people who don't really want the yard but have it because it came with the house.

    What local governments and land developers have not done well is give people choices about what form the place they live can take. I'm amused when people talk about the "failure" of planning and zoning. In my mind, postwar planning, zoning, and road building in the U.S. were all amazingly successful, though many planners now feel that the philosophy that underlay those planning and zoning decisions was fundamentally incorrect. This doesn't mean that planning was/is a failure, just that there were unintended consequences from past decisions that now have to be recognized and dealt with. Unfortunately, there is a lag between professional planners who understand this and their bosses, the local governments, who don't quite yet.

    There are markets for many different forms of land development and housing. Local governments, planners, and land developers have to do better at allowing multiple forms of development to be created, so there is more choice than just "McMansion on 1 acre lot" vs. "high density 1 bedroom condo built for young or very old people." Some people will always want to live in a large lot in the hinterlands, and in a free society there's not much that anyone can do about it short of buying the land or the development rights. But I firmly believe that many people are living in suburbs because there were no other options available to them, not because they truly want to live in a ranch house on 1/3 acre that is 35 miles from where they work.

    Local governments don't need to curb "traditional" suburban-style development. They do need to curb the excesses of the last 20 years, such as McMansions, large-lot zoning, and exurban development that causes infrastructure to be spread out in expensive and unsustainable ways. But mostly they need to open up development to smaller single-family housing on smaller lots, different forms of apartments and condos including 3 and 4 bedroom units, and other forms of dense development in areas that are already built up.

    In short, it's not about "stopping sprawl" or removing property rights. Its about expanding property rights in built-up areas to allow for multiple types of affordable development close to where people want to be. Do that and the sprawl will (mostly) take care of itself.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    In short, it's not about "stopping sprawl" or removing property rights. Its about expanding property rights in built-up areas to allow for multiple types of affordable development close to where people want to be. Do that and the sprawl will (mostly) take care of itself.[/QUOTE]

    Respect. I couldn't have summed this argument up better if I'd written for days, and I thank you for putting my opinion out without me having to do all the typing!

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    Push over politicians

    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    It's hard to lead the fight against sprawl when planners are at the whim of local politics. When there is no political will, there is no way.


    That's so true. I live in Lost Vegas... and despite what the master plans call for so much development gets (or rather got) built that doesn't comply with plans (or with zoning for that matter)... all because the politicians are weak and/or corrupt as are many of the developers.

  23. #23
    This Planner not only wants to end sprawl, he wants to reverse almost 100 years of it.

    Think about it, the fossil fuel age (the last 300 years), the oil age (the last 150 years) and the automobile age (the last 100 years) are such an exception in human history and coming to an end.

    We really have no alternative but to commit to radically change the way we deal with the built environment and the purpose that the built environment serves.

    Think of all the Jobs!


    In Peace, Friendship, Community, Cooperation, and Solidarity,

    Mike Morin

  24. #24
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    There tends to be a lack of space in already built up urban areas, and land in urban areas tend to be costly. Also, cities are not so desirable. I would rather live in a suburb of LA or a suburban city away from the Metro area rather than downtown LA or west LA.

    Also, as stated before. Planners don't want to end sprawl. Planners don't make decisions. We are regulators, not enforcers. We do as the public wants.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    There tends to be a lack of space in already built up urban areas, and land in urban areas tend to be costly.
    That's where redevelopment of parcels comes in and the idea of building up over out. Planners should encourage through comp plans and zoning ordinances, but the market will ultimately decides if this happens. Studies have shown that over infrastructure costs are lower in "ubran" areas as compared to a green field development because of the costs to bring services to the greenfield area as compared to an upgrade, if it is even necessary.

    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    Also, cities are not so desirable. I would rather live in a suburb of LA or a suburban city away from the Metro area rather than downtown LA or west LA.
    This is pretty much what most american's think. Can't end sprawl or even think about that when people agree with this statement.

    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    Planners don't make decisions. We are regulators, not enforcers. We do as the public wants.
    Planners are regulators and enforcers (you play that role at the front counter during plan checks). We don't do what the public wants. Planners answer to councils/boards of supervisors and live at the political whim. I hate it when people think we are simply regulators. If we were, than "Any Idiot Can Plan".
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

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