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Thread: New urbanism vs. sprawl?

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    New urbanism vs. sprawl?

    I sense that the trend towards "new urbanism" is a way to try to get rid of the traditional suburban subdivisions or sprawl. For those of you who are proponents of new urbanism, why is this the case?

    As someone who likes suburbia, I don't see much difference between the two, at least in the area I used to live in. Some new urbanist communities, Kentlands and King Farm, have been thriving for a few years now in the suburbs of DC. However, they do have many elements that are appealing to people who like the traditional planned communities, in that pretty much everything in them is identical (houses, apartments, etc) and are relatively close to strip malls with wal-marts, staples, etc. and feel like they are still a part of the larger suburb, rather than a "new city" of its own.

    In these particular communities, there is a traffic problem because people drive to them and through them just like they were a regular subdivision. I know proponents would like to see a decrease in car traffic and more people walking, but they just don't like to do that. If you're going to a store in one area of Kentlands and need to go to a different one, you're going to drive there (even if it's within walking distance). Residents are not the only ones utilizing them either, many non-residents go to Kentlands also b/c it's attractive (night out at the movies, restaurants, nicer shopping area), which drives up traffic even more. I think the only people that might walk there are the ones that live directly across the street from the shopping area (if they walk at all).

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Arguments have been made against sprawling (traditional) development patterns for reasons including aesthetics, environmental degradation, loss of agricultural land, health, and several other reasons. I will offer an economic one.

    Traditional development usually fails to recognize the true cost of providing services and maintaining infrastructure. More compact forms are generally going to be more efficient or cost effective. For example, You are likely to need to construct the same length of streets, sewers, water mains, and other infrastructure to support a density of two units per acre as you are to support ten units per acre. Then there is use of the resource. If a resident can walk to a store, that takes a car off the road. Less congestion and lighter traffic may mean fewer stoplights, reducing their cost and the pollution caused by cars stuck in traffic. Now, somebody think of the children. If they can walk or ride a bike, then you don't need to provide buses. There are dozens of other examples like these.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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    Cyburbian
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    Cardinal says:
    Traditional development usually fails to recognize the true cost of providing services and maintaining infrastructure. More compact forms are generally going to be more efficient or cost effective. For example, You are likely to need to construct the same length of streets, sewers, water mains, and other infrastructure to support a density of two units per acre as you are to support ten units per acre. Then there is use of the resource. If a resident can walk to a store, that takes a car off the road. Less congestion and lighter traffic may mean fewer stoplights, reducing their cost and the pollution caused by cars stuck in traffic. Now, somebody think of the children. If they can walk or ride a bike, then you don't need to provide buses. There are dozens of other examples like these.
    I think one thing that makes the forms of "new urbanism" easier to swallow for a public who may not immediately understand the economic benefits is (forgive my simplification) that they create an aesthetically pleasing, welcoming, friendly atmosphere to which most humans respond positively. I am looking for pairs of photographs, or other clear and simple comparisons, to help illustrate the differences between the results of traditional setback, parking, density, use requirements vs progressive new approaches which in some cases require the adoption of codes utterly contrary to the norm. I think even apathetic members of the public could find in themselves a response to visual comparisons of sprawl vs denser centered growth. I have looked at visual preference surveys for more urban areas, but we are trying to quickly and simply show unsuspecting residents what the difference would be in a very small, rural, desert town which has yet to need "fixing" (but is on the verge of a boom). Anyone know where I could find such tools? Thanks.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian cmd uw's avatar
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    New Urbanism communities are different than the traditional suburban neighbourhoods mainly through design. NU communities are planned to provide a more conducive environment for the pedestrian and transit. They promote compact, mixed-use development, and provide accessible public spaces. These design modifications are intended to promote social interaction and most importantly, sustainability. As mentioned by another former, better utilization of infrastructure, integration with the environment, etc.

    New Urbanism will not solve the problems related to traffic congestion. Yes, it provides better options for residents to walk and/or take the transit. But, people will use their vehicles at their own discretion, it doesn’t matter what options are available. Fact is, we like our automobiles.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Arguments have been made against sprawling (traditional) development patterns for reasons including aesthetics, environmental degradation, loss of agricultural land, health, and several other reasons. I will offer an economic one.

    Traditional development usually fails to recognize the true cost of providing services and maintaining infrastructure. More compact forms are generally going to be more efficient or cost effective. For example, You are likely to need to construct the same length of streets, sewers, water mains, and other infrastructure to support a density of two units per acre as you are to support ten units per acre. Then there is use of the resource. If a resident can walk to a store, that takes a car off the road. Less congestion and lighter traffic may mean fewer stoplights, reducing their cost and the pollution caused by cars stuck in traffic. Now, somebody think of the children. If they can walk or ride a bike, then you don't need to provide buses. There are dozens of other examples like these.

    Nice summary of "Suburban Nation".

    Excellent precise post.

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    Rather than repeat the many good points already made, I'll try to just add my 2 cents worth. New urbanism was initially a reaction to the utter banality of post-war suburban development and was intended to improve the quality of design of our built environments. By design, this refers to both form (i.e. aesthetics), and function (i.e. compact, pedestrian-friendly, transit-supportive, mixed-use development). I think initially, form was the real selling point (and still is from a marketing perspective - who wants to live in an ugly community?), but more recently function is gaining prominence, particularly with the dovetailing of new urbanism with the smart growth movement, and recent attempts to quantify the benefits of new urbanism. For me, the real issue is sustainability in the broader sense, i.e. planning communities that incorporate a broad range of social, economic, and environmental policy objectives. We are definitely beginning to see a convergence in this direction - the Congress of New Urbanism has recently hooked up the US Green Building Council to develop LEED-ND (Neighborhood Development), a certification for neighborhoods designed to incorporate environmentally sustainable features.

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    Cyburbian Breed's avatar
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    You would think that with advancements in GIS, there would be a movement to make people pay property taxes by not only factoring in appraisal values, but to consider the economic impact of a structure.

    A 100 lot subdivision with one mile of roads should be paying more for road maintenance than a 100 unit apartment building downtown, but that it doesn't. Once the true economic impact of bad development is passed on to consumers, maybe some economic Darwinism can weed them out.
    Every time I look at a Yankees hat I see a swastika tilted just a little off kilter.
    Bill "Spaceman" Lee

  8. #8
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Breed
    You would think that with advancements in GIS, there would be a movement to make people pay property taxes by not only factoring in appraisal values, but to consider the economic impact of a structure.

    A 100 lot subdivision with one mile of roads should be paying more for road maintenance than a 100 unit apartment building downtown, but that it doesn't. Once the true economic impact of bad development is passed on to consumers, maybe some economic Darwinism can weed them out.
    I have never even considered this but you have a great point! What better way to encourage better development? Breed for President

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    Cyburbian nuovorecord's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cmd uw
    New Urbanism will not solve the problems related to traffic congestion. Yes, it provides better options for residents to walk and/or take the transit. But, people will use their vehicles at their own discretion, it doesn’t matter what options are available. Fact is, we like our automobiles.
    I don't see NU as solving congestion problems either. You're right, we do love our automobiles, as long as the current situation of heavily subsidzing them continues. We won't like them as much as we do when the price of fueling them goes through the roof. Between instability in the Middle East, foreign nations signing long-term agreements with China to supply them with fuel, and the shrinking supply of fossil fuel, it's likely that autos will become obsolete anyway. Walkable communities are going to look pretty good at that point.
    "There's nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what's right with America." - Bill Clinton.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian cmd uw's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Breed
    You would think that with advancements in GIS, there would be a movement to make people pay property taxes by not only factoring in appraisal values, but to consider the economic impact of a structure.

    A 100 lot subdivision with one mile of roads should be paying more for road maintenance than a 100 unit apartment building downtown, but that it doesn't. Once the true economic impact of bad development is passed on to consumers, maybe some economic Darwinism can weed them out.
    /\ Most municipalities in Canada require the developer to front the costs associated with infrastructure and services related to the development. In addition, the municipalities charge development fees that the developers must pay before receiving their approvals. In the end, the consumers do cover portions of the costs.
    "First we shape our buildings, and then our buildings start shaping us." - Sir Winston Churchill

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    Quote Originally posted by Breed
    You would think that with advancements in GIS, there would be a movement to make people pay property taxes by not only factoring in appraisal values, but to consider the economic impact of a structure.

    A 100 lot subdivision with one mile of roads should be paying more for road maintenance than a 100 unit apartment building downtown, but that it doesn't. Once the true economic impact of bad development is passed on to consumers, maybe some economic Darwinism can weed them out.
    There's been a lot of discussion recently about fiscal impact assessment, the idea being that as part of the planning process local governments should be considering whether a development proposal makes financial sense. Along the lines of what you were suggesting regarding the use of GIS, there is a software product called Infracycle that allows you to perform this sort of fiscal analysis.

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    Quote Originally posted by cmd uw
    /\ Most municipalities in Canada require the developer to front the costs associated with infrastructure and services related to the development. In addition, the municipalities charge development fees that the developers must pay before receiving their approvals. In the end, the consumers do cover portions of the costs.
    Unfortunately, there is often a disconnect between the collection of development charges and the use to which they are put, which is supposed to be for growth-related capital costs. Yet municipal councils in areas approaching build-out inevitably say that the reason they are increasing taxes so much is that the development charges are drying up! Go figure.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Breed's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cmd uw
    /\ Most municipalities in Canada require the developer to front the costs associated with infrastructure and services related to the development. In addition, the municipalities charge development fees that the developers must pay before receiving their approvals. In the end, the consumers do cover portions of the costs.
    There needs to be more though. Low density subdivisions generally cost more in terms of providing governmental services than they generate in property taxes, over the long-term. Simply making developers pay infrastructure costs isn't going to do it.
    Every time I look at a Yankees hat I see a swastika tilted just a little off kilter.
    Bill "Spaceman" Lee

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Geoff
    There's been a lot of discussion recently about fiscal impact assessment, the idea being that as part of the planning process local governments should be considering whether a development proposal makes financial sense. Along the lines of what you were suggesting regarding the use of GIS, there is a software product called Infracycle that allows you to perform this sort of fiscal analysis.
    Thanks for your post Geoff, but I'm really skeptical about this product. Land markets are flooded with externalities, which can't be accounted for even with the best computer programs. I guess that a software program could establish a framework for decision-making but it would be very limited at best because their are too many variables to consider.

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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller
    Thanks for your post Geoff, but I'm really skeptical about this product. Land markets are flooded with externalities, which can't be accounted for even with the best computer programs. I guess that a software program could establish a framework for decision-making but it would be very limited at best because their are too many variables to consider.
    Well, fiscal impact assessment is not really concerned with exernalities. It is more concerned with the finances of the local government. (Hence the name) It can answer questions like, "If we permit this development, will it exert a positive or negative impact on our municipality's finances?" The argument is frequently made that low density development is effectively "subsidized", even without accounting for externalities, and software like this can allow examination of this.

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally posted by organize
    I sense that the trend towards "new urbanism" is a way to try to get rid of the traditional suburban subdivisions or sprawl. For those of you who are proponents of new urbanism, why is this the case?

    As someone who likes suburbia, I don't see much difference between the two, at least in the area I used to live in. Some new urbanist communities, Kentlands and King Farm, have been thriving for a few years now in the suburbs of DC. However, they do have many elements that are appealing to people who like the traditional planned communities, in that pretty much everything in them is identical (houses, apartments, etc) and are relatively close to strip malls with wal-marts, staples, etc. and feel like they are still a part of the larger suburb, rather than a "new city" of its own.

    In these particular communities, there is a traffic problem because people drive to them and through them just like they were a regular subdivision. I know proponents would like to see a decrease in car traffic and more people walking, but they just don't like to do that. If you're going to a store in one area of Kentlands and need to go to a different one, you're going to drive there (even if it's within walking distance). Residents are not the only ones utilizing them either, many non-residents go to Kentlands also b/c it's attractive (night out at the movies, restaurants, nicer shopping area), which drives up traffic even more. I think the only people that might walk there are the ones that live directly across the street from the shopping area (if they walk at all).

    Before I bought my home in Arlington, I considered Kentlands. I prefer Arlington because the homes are older and have more character, and Arlington as a whole has more history. But Kentlands homes certainly are a step or two up in design compared to Gaithersburg as a whole. I typically run at least half my local errands (dry cleaning, grocery shopping, drug store, restaurant, movie theatre, barber shop, coffee shop) on foot. I can't imagine that I wouldn't do the same if I lived in Kentlands. The point about New Urbanism is that it at least gives its residents the option to walk. Most of suburbia doesn't give that option. We have reached the ridiculous extreme that many who live in suburbia now have to drive somewhere in order to go for a walk! The problem is that our lifestyles have changed to reflect the car culture reality, and now we drive even when we don't have to or when walking is actually the better option.

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    Quote Originally posted by maximov
    Cardinal says:

    I think one thing that makes the forms of "new urbanism" easier to swallow for a public who may not immediately understand the economic benefits is (forgive my simplification) that they create an aesthetically pleasing, welcoming, friendly atmosphere to which most humans respond positively. I am looking for pairs of photographs, or other clear and simple comparisons, to help illustrate the differences between the results of traditional setback, parking, density, use requirements vs progressive new approaches
    Here is a pair of pictures showing the difference. The top is an actual photo taken in Oakland, CA, of an ugly stretch of (older) sprawling development. The bottom is a digital rendering of what the area could look like if it were developed in a more urban manner...Which one would you rather live/work in?

    (photos courtesy of the Sierra Club; see more here
    http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/com...ions/index.asp)
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Oakland, CA.JPG  

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    Quote Originally posted by KSN
    Here is a pair of pictures showing the difference. The top is an actual photo taken in Oakland, CA, of an ugly stretch of (older) sprawling development. The bottom is a digital rendering of what the area could look like if it were developed in a more urban manner...Which one would you rather live/work in?

    (photos courtesy of the Sierra Club; see more here
    http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/com...ions/index.asp)
    I've seen this picture before. I've always wondered where the CLRV came from, since they're only found here in Toronto!

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by KSN
    Here is a pair of pictures showing the difference. The top is an actual photo taken in Oakland, CA, of an ugly stretch of (older) sprawling development. The bottom is a digital rendering of what the area could look like if it were developed in a more urban manner...Which one would you rather live/work in?

    (photos courtesy of the Sierra Club; see more here
    http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/com...ions/index.asp)
    Wow, quite a difference there! Thank you, KSN, for just the sort of thing I was hunting. Heading for the link now. Oh, and I'll take door number 2.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    What, sales of CLRVs to Oakland would be prohibited? Thats the great thing about Photo sims. You can take features you like from other cities and drop and fit them into the scene you're working on. They are a powerful tool for educating the public about the kind of difference that you can make.

    See also www.walkablecommunities.org
    Adrift in a sea of beige

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    That "before" pix of Oakland doesnt look too bad to start with. Just a bit scruffy, but all the elements of a good "walking city" environment are already there.

    The real problem is in true postwar suburbia, with the long stirp centers and vast parking lots.

  22. #22

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    Quote Originally posted by KSN
    Here is a pair of pictures showing the difference. The top is an actual photo taken in Oakland, CA, of an ugly stretch of (older) sprawling development. The bottom is a digital rendering of what the area could look like if it were developed in a more urban manner...Which one would you rather live/work in?

    (photos courtesy of the Sierra Club; see more here
    http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/com...ions/index.asp)
    Edit: Trinity Moses already captures my comments re: Oakland.

    I believe this is either the Laurel Village area (Macarthur Blvd) or maybe further to the west (International Blvd), which are already fairly walkable.
    I was just in Laurel Village (which I believe was the site of this photograph) Monday. (I am such a planning nerd that I love to go for long walks in various neighborhoods and open space parks on weekends )

    Anyway: this is not a typical modern subdivision environment, its an older pre-1960s corridor that is actually quite walkable. Note that the storefronts open directly onto the sidewalks. Parking is on-street or to the side or behind (Note-there are exceptions to this. It isn't a particularly pretty strip, but then it is not Concord or Tracy, eit

    I am a little skeptical that there is really enough right-of-way along Macarthur "Boulevard" to do that much streetscaping. And, it is a somewhat troubled area, with high crime neighborhoods nearby. (If it's International Blvd, its very troubled but being improved through significant investment).

    Still, withn high regional housing prices, Laurel (and Fruitvale) are trending more affluent (Laurel becomes rather posh uphill) and newer residents may certainly demand upgraded streetscapes. I would argue, though, that the buildings should come first, before streetscaping. Rockridge, one of the best neighborhood shopping corridors in Oakland, has minimal fancy streetscaping but good commercial architecture.
    Last edited by BKM; 19 Jan 2005 at 3:02 PM.

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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater
    What, sales of CLRVs to Oakland would be prohibited?
    Well, we haven't built any in about 25 years, and they were designed to stand up to Canadian winters, but hey, why not? You won't even have to change their acronym. Rather than the Canadian Light Rail Vehicle, they can now be the California Light Rail Vehicle.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    We have reached the ridiculous extreme that many who live in suburbia now have to drive somewhere in order to go for a walk!
    Lol, I do this twice a week (twenty minute drive).

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    We have reached the ridiculous extreme that many who live in suburbia now have to drive somewhere in order to go for a walk!
    My subdivision is not a walkable place. There is nothing to walk to, and then you would soon findyourself walking between a street and an unhospitable fence anyway. The city I work in is somewhat more walkable. I took advantage of the nice weather to walk a mile each way to a meeting Monday. I need more of that. Of course, when I really feel the need to walk, I am talking about a hike. An hour and a half each way to a good trailhead is worth it.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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