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Thread: Austin planners embrace new urbanism:

  1. #1
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Austin planners embrace new urbanism:

    This is great news! There are so many great things happening around this city lately... the highrises that are planned, the push for downtown density, and now this. It's a good time to be in Austin

    http://www.statesman.com/news/conten...svc=7&cxcat=52

    Subdivision cul-de-sacs, the theory goes, isolate neighbors and are tough for ambulances and garbage trucks to navigate. Dead ends and security gates enhance loneliness and clog nearby roads with traffic. And long, curvy streets force residents to drive cars instead of walk.

    Now, Austin land planners are hatching a plan to create better subdivisions with shorter blocks and smaller, well-linked streets.
    A City Council subcommittee ruled in December that ideas for better subdivisions are needed, and Austin Planning Commission members will present a plan to the council later this year.
    The Planning Commission has tried reforming subdivisions a few times since 1998, but the idea died before the City Council because developers, urban planners and city staff members disagreed on whether to mandate rules or spur them through incentives. Making change optional, some planners argued, would plop one smartly designed subdivision next to a poorly designed one.

    Developers say it's expensive to shorten blocks because they have to add side streets, gutters and utility lines, which drive up the housing prices they pass on to home buyers. Some developers also cringe at the idea of losing cul-de-sacs, which are thought to have a higher value because they draw less traffic.

    Residential blocks are now an average of 1,200 feet; Sullivan would like to see a shorter maximum block length.
    Council Member Brewster McCracken said current city rules are arcane because they require wide streets for firetruck access and prevent developers from easily dividing land into smaller lots, and therefore smaller blocks.
    Those extra, narrower streets could help slow drivers, McCracken said, while still being big enough for firetrucks and breaking up some of the traffic leading out to main highways.
    Of course the developers are going to throw a fit about it and point out any flaw they can find:
    Jim Knight of the Real Estate Council of Austin said the changes could actually discourage density, in conflict with Envision Central Texas, by forcing builders to cut up subdivisions with small streets instead of packing in extra homes.

    Developers also have to build according to topography and can't always create a perfect street grid, Knight said.
    "There's a renewed interest in making neighborhoods more permeable," like subdivisions of the old days where neighbors once walked and biked and interacted freely, said Chris Riley of the Planning Commission. "It's a very fundamental thing."
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  2. #2

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    As a planner with some idealism still left, I think this is great.

    However, the builders' representative makes some good points. I may despise the cul-de-sac and collector pattern, but if you read the real estate adds, they are full of references to "cul-de-sac lots" and the premium associated with such a street pattern. Isn't this actually what people really want, as exhbited in what they spend their own money on? (As for choice, I don't even buy that. there are still non-cul-de-sac lots-and there is always older neighborhoods for the minority??? who still want to live on a grid.)

    So...being realistic, and recognizing that my own aesthetic/urbanistic preferences are not what many/most middle class and upper middle class people suburban homebuyers want, is the public benefit from better interconnected streets and slightly slower streets worth this somewhat heavy-handed intervention in the marketplace?

    No answers here, just some thoughts.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    People think they want cul-de-sacs but they'll get over it eventually. I think that once people get to live in these new neighborhoods with the classic design, they will see that they like them much better. I live in a brand new neighborhood that doesn't have cul-de-sacs and people are still buying the homes faster than they can build them.

    My prediction is that developers will make more money on these traditionally-designed neighborhoods simply due to the competition between buyers trying to get into them. The general population in Austin is very into the "retro" thing and really loves unique living areas. We have all kinds of "green homes" running off solar energy and recycling rainwater, etc. Even the downtown condos have huge waiting lists and most units are sold out (at 300k plus) before construction even begins.
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  4. #4
    Narrower streets offer the same benefits as cul-de-sacs, privacy and safety.

    Of course, they have to be legal.

  5. #5
         
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    They need to do something even if it only allows developers and buyers a choice between the typical Texas style development and something a bit more human. I visited the Austin area last year for the first time and was rather shocked by the suburban communites out in the hinterlands. Classic text book single-family sprawl with isolated subdivisions with no interconnection, no sidewalks and access only onto state highways. That was bad enough but they are building all these toll roads with huge elevated interchanges. It was like the express-way madness has taken over Texas. If a few good developments can be permitted and built then its easier to move the required standards in that direction. Maybe then the smaller communities in the area will also start to understand the benefits of something a bit more human.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Senior Jefe
    They need to do something even if it only allows developers and buyers a choice between the typical Texas style development and something a bit more human. I visited the Austin area last year for the first time and was rather shocked by the suburban communites out in the hinterlands. Classic text book single-family sprawl with isolated subdivisions with no interconnection, no sidewalks and access only onto state highways. That was bad enough but they are building all these toll roads with huge elevated interchanges. It was like the express-way madness has taken over Texas. If a few good developments can be permitted and built then its easier to move the required standards in that direction. Maybe then the smaller communities in the area will also start to understand the benefits of something a bit more human.
    Yeah, it is amazing isn't it. Austin is such a progressive and forward-thinking city in so many ways and is especially environmentally conscious, but we have the absolute worst transportation planning (or lack thereof) in the country. The developers and neighborhood associations have a deathgrip on the city government's balls and refuse to let go. The weak government officials have allowed a real mess to take place here and now they're having to clean it up the hard way. I think we still have time to turn things around and I think we're making big steps in the right direction, but it would've been much easier if they'd done these things 10 or 15 years ago.

    For a city that constantly compares itself to Houston and Dallas and says that it NEVER wants to end up like those places, it sure does act just like them. Why are we building all these freeways and sprawling out into the countryside when these are the very things everyone here hates about other sunbelt cities?

    Well, hopefully things change for the better in the near future. This is definitely a good start.
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    I think that 'closes' offer a nice alternative to Cul-de-sacs/collectors from a street/frontage but still good safety/rpivacy standpoint

    Also, a modified grid (u-patterns) with terminated vistas also slows traffic and gives that sense of not being too strictly euclidian.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    I think that 'closes' offer a nice alternative to Cul-de-sacs/collectors from a street/frontage but still good safety/rpivacy standpoint

    Also, a modified grid (u-patterns) with terminated vistas also slows traffic and gives that sense of not being too strictly euclidian.
    Yes. I am always amazed at how rare the close is in the United States (a small loop street, if I understand the term). Of all places, generally dismal Stockton, CA uses a lot of loops instead of cul-de-sacs. It just reflects a developer's preference.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Yup what I meant by 'close' here is a system where the city 'grid' or at least the main connected avenues have houses that look more or less onto the road but with the front door in direct conact of a large driveway.

    Cul-de-sac

    ====================== connected road
    _____l l
    _____l l feeder road
    _____O O end loop

    close

    ====================== connected road
    _____U U U loop plugs directly onto connected road

    I'll try to get photo examples of them here in London. I think they work quite well.

    In a sketch by DPZ, they also had a couple of very nice looking closes.

    http://www.dpz.com/projects.htm and scroll down to Bellke Chasse Navy Base
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    Yup what I meant by 'close' here is a system where the city 'grid' or at least the main connected avenues have houses that look more or less onto the road but with the front door in direct conact of a large driveway.

    Cul-de-sac

    ====================== connected road
    _____l l
    _____l l feeder road
    _____O O end loop

    close

    ====================== connected road
    _____U U U loop plugs directly onto connected road

    I'll try to get photo examples of them here in London. I think they work quite well.

    In a sketch by DPZ, they also had a couple of very nice looking closes.

    http://www.dpz.com/projects.htm and scroll down to Bellke Chasse Navy Base
    The DPZ project loops look a bit like the Stockton, CA example I had in mind. The mind reels-Stockton, CA as an "example" for anything. ( )

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally posted by jread
    Yeah, it is amazing isn't it. Austin is such a progressive and forward-thinking city in so many ways and is especially environmentally conscious, but we have the absolute worst transportation planning (or lack thereof) in the country. The developers and neighborhood associations have a deathgrip on the city government's balls and refuse to let go. The weak government officials have allowed a real mess to take place here and now they're having to clean it up the hard way. I think we still have time to turn things around and I think we're making big steps in the right direction, but it would've been much easier if they'd done these things 10 or 15 years ago.

    For a city that constantly compares itself to Houston and Dallas and says that it NEVER wants to end up like those places, it sure does act just like them. Why are we building all these freeways and sprawling out into the countryside when these are the very things everyone here hates about other sunbelt cities?
    You hit the nail on the head. If it wasn't for the allegedly "progressive" central city neighborhood associations, Smart Growth wouldn't have been killed in the mid-nineties and Light Rail would have passed in 2000. (2001?)

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