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Thread: Walkable communities: are we to blame?

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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Walkable communities: are we to blame?

    This article seems to give planners the blame for communities NOT being walkable... I wouldn't have guessed that one. Developer's argue that they have to go through too many loops to make "good" development..... because we all know how much we can trust all decisions....

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/walkable_...ZThmWSMgMDW7oF
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    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink_Planner View post
    This article seems to give planners the blame for communities NOT being walkable...

    Maybe we are partially to blame, but it's frustrating when I have trouble just getting sidewalks on both sides of all the streets.
    Last edited by Gedunker; 02 Apr 2008 at 11:56 AM.
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    Recent article in the Louisville Courier-Journal:
    HEADLINE: Welcome, walkers
    Fitness advocates want to make Louisville more pedestrian-friendly
    http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/...ES03/803270333

    Interview with Mark Fenton:
    Q: What are obstacles to promoting the concept of making communities more walkable?
    Fenton: Inertia, habits and fear. You say you're going to narrow a road and slow the traffic down, people fear the change. They fear a walking path going by their house because they think someone will use it to rob them. But the more people that go by, the safer the area. But the shrill voices against change often prevail.

    Q: Are there current forces that favor making communities more friendly for pedestrians?
    Fenton: The public health epidemic (increasing obesity, rising diabetes), rising oil prices and global warming.
    I'm more hopeful than not that we can retrofit suburbia.
    If you ever have a chance to hear and go for a walk with Mark Fenton, his observations are well worth it.
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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink_Planner View post
    This article seems to give planners the blame for communities NOT being walkable... I wouldn't have guessed that one. Developer's argue that they have to go through too many loops to make "good" development..... because we all know how much we can trust all decisions....

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/walkable_...ZThmWSMgMDW7oF
    This article was obviously written by someone who has no clue what urban planning is or involves. IMO, the two main reasons why communities aren't walkable are:
    1. Not a market for urbanism/ preference for suburban designs
    2. Developers refuse to build sidewalks/ communities aren't willing to force developers to do so/ communities can't afford to build them

    Zoning, as usual, is sent to the pole as the whipping boy for another thing we don't like about our built environment

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I think there is some blame to be laid at the feet of planning as a field for this, though. Planning determined the framework within which development works. yes, they may push the boundaries and yes, they may often be concerned more with maximizing profit from the land than with "good design" that improves the area. But the framelork was set in place by planning departments.

    I think, though, to suggest that this is still the trend and represents a "best practices" model for planners is way off base. Clearly, walkable, mixed-use approaches to zoning an land use regulation are all the rage.

    Here in Albuquerque, from the 1950's through the 1970's, zoning for subdivisions actually encouraged inwardly-focused design within the superblock structure. So, you get no. or at least very few, through streets - just a lot of curvilinear patterns, few of which connect directly to parallel arterials. Ordinances of this era also restricted commercial activity to along these arterials and not within the subdivisions (that's just for housing). Looking back on it now, the detrimental results of such an approach seem fairly obvious, but at the time I think planners thought they were doing a good thing.

    For us here, given how much growth we experienced during this time frame, the result has been a widely un-walkable place and a very inefficient land use pattern.

    The design model was loosely based on a "garden city" type of arrangement and many of these one mile X one mile superblock areas have a park and school within their boundaries. Its all very bucolic, unless of course you need to buy milk or something. Then its just annoying.
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    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    I just moved to superblock land and yes it is annoying to drive so far to get milk.

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    Cyburbian
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    Is Sallis a professor? It just says he is from San Diego State University. Either way, I totally disagree with him on multiple levels:

    Zoning laws today really enforce the separation of uses; they are designed to move cars as quickly as possible -- which is dangerous to pedestrians

    Land uses (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.) are not the same as amenities (sidewalks, curb cuts, parking lots, etc.). An industrial park can be walkable if there is pedestrian access. Zoning laws were traditionally created to buffer noise, pollution, etc.from residential areas.

    Long blocks without crosswalks/stop signs would be more dangerous to pedestrians than a separation of uses.

    The most walkable cities are on the east coast of the U.S. because they are older. "Any city built in the 1800s is likely to be walkable because everyone who lived there walked. Cities like Boston, Manhattan, Washington D.C., inner Baltimore, Savannah, Charleston, are all very walkable.

    Older cities, regardless of location, are more likely to be walkable.

    The developers told me they had to get 25 waivers from zoning laws to put in the development. All that kind of paperwork costs the developer time and money so it discourages them from building walkable neighborhoods

    25 waivers for what? Sidewalks? Variances for setbacks, minimum lot sizes? Wetlands? Was this a 10AC site or a 330 AC site? The bigger the site, the more headaches and obstacles to overcome. Developers know this.

    The suburbs have really been designed to take away the option of walking to places; there are no sidewalks, everything is spread out, and there is really only one way to get around and that is by car.

    What about inner ring suburbs in older cities? I grew up in two suburbs and lived on city lots. They do exist!

    Any alums from San Diego State? Is this guy a reflection of the planning program?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Planners are not to blame in California. The following can be blamed:

    1. Bureaucracy
    2. NIMBYs
    3. NIMBYs understanding of bureaucracy and the ways that it can help to serve their interests

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Most of the blame is due to market forces. Most of the unwalkable areas were developed during suburbanization. When the suburbs were originally created (by the private sector on Long Island quickly spreading to other parts of the country) this model of development was common, as a way to get away from over crounding, pollution, and crime. This new type of community was developed with the car in mind, for people that wanted a change of life from what had existed. The Planning profession codified this suburban model and it quickly spread nationwide. The only areas that were immune to this were areas that deveoped before it occured. Thus, in my opinion, planners are partly to blame, but the creation of the suburban model of development had more to do with it than we did. We just reacted to the situation and the desires of the community at that time.
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  10. #10
    James Sallis is a professor and one of the most respected researchers in the influence of the built environment on health. He runs the Active Living Research program at San Diego, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    Zoning separates land uses and makes destinations far from housing. Building codes (or lack there of) and subdivision ordinances are responsible for the large blocks and the system of feeder roads that makes even crows fly destinations inaccessible. You may see the three as very distinct things and to an extent they are, but to anyone outside they are pretty much all the same thing.

    These codes pretty much govern how most of the country is built. Yes, there are older suburbs built under no or older versions of the code, but almost everything built after the mid 1970s is unwalkable.

    To a certain extent, building by the codes is easier, no one will get upset and it is enforced by nimbyism. This is a society wide problem and yes planners (or at least the conservative ones) do share some responsibility.

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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Here in Albuquerque, from the 1950's through the 1970's, zoning for subdivisions actually encouraged inwardly-focused design within the superblock structure. So, you get no. or at least very few, through streets - just a lot of curvilinear patterns, few of which connect directly to parallel arterials. Ordinances of this era also restricted commercial activity to along these arterials and not within the subdivisions (that's just for housing). Looking back on it now, the detrimental results of such an approach seem fairly obvious, but at the time I think planners thought they were doing a good thing.

    The design model was loosely based on a "garden city" type of arrangement and many of these one mile X one mile superblock areas have a park and school within their boundaries. Its all very bucolic, unless of course you need to buy milk or something. Then its just annoying.
    I agree many planners today to do not adhere to what you call "1950's through 1970's" zoning. However, I do not agree with 1970's being set as the timeline of the end of that kind of planning. It is still far to prevalent throughout most of the land, even in 2008. Therefore, yes, planners are to blame (sorry to all the more up-to-date ones).

    Why is that? When will the older models be finally laid to rest? When all the older planners retire? Can we wait that long? What's it going to take?

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    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Julia XA View post
    I Why is that? When will the older models be finally laid to rest? When all the older planners retire? Can we wait that long? What's it going to take?
    I agreed with what you were saying until you decided to throw an ageist comment in there. Please be respectful on these boards. You may learn a thing or two when you talk to these "planners that should just retire".
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    , the two main reasons why communities aren't walkable are:
    1. Not a market for urbanism/ preference for suburban designs
    2. Developers refuse to build sidewalks/ communities aren't willing to force developers to do so/ communities can't afford to build the
    This pretty much says it all.

    There is not as much of a market for urbanism and there is a market for suburbanism. There is less of a market for sidewalks than there is a market for sidewalks.

    Why should a developer be "forced" to built something that he can't seel because people don't want.

    So much insanity done in the name of the man-man global warming cult. Why not just take the developers business away from him rather that slowly strangle them to death and deprive the citizenry what they want?

    Quote Originally posted by Plan-it View post
    Most of the blame is due to market forces.
    Why are market forces to be blamed? Market forces are the result of the citizenry's demanding a product to the point that someone provides them with that product.

    I do not subscribe to the current belief that some evil plan was devised to influence urbanites to leave the city for the suburbs. For those of you who do not know or refuse to acknowledge history, people left the cities because they were dirty and dangerous.

    They were like that in the 40's and 50's and became even more so after the American Cultural Revolution of the 60's.

    The only reason they are moving back now is because their is no more manufacturing in the cities and they are less dangerous because there is less economic diversity (fewer poor people). The cities now are like the suburbs were in the 50's - all middle and upper class gentry.

    It is government's responsibility to react to the desires of the citizenry. It is not government's responsibility to tell the citizenry what should be their desires even if the government is populated with environmental cultist that believe they have so higher calling or responsible for the ignorant and unwashed common person.
    Last edited by Maister; 03 Apr 2008 at 8:47 AM. Reason: sequential posts

  14. #14
    I believe that this "less of a market" vs "more of a market" doesn't really explain how we build. There is more demand for Coke than Pepsi in this country, but both are on the market. We don't say if 51% of the population prefers Coke, then no Pepsi should be sold.

    There is more demand for sidewalks and walkable communities than is being produced. As evidence for that look at the prices for these communities (and their lower foreclosure rates today).

    These neighborhoods don't get produced as much because developers prefer to cut costs, some very vocal people are anti-sidewalk and some planners don't push for them.

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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DaddyYo View post
    Why are market forces to be blamed? Market forces are the result of the citizenry's demanding a product to the point that someone provides them with that product.
    Quote Originally posted by DaddyYo View post
    It is government's responsibility to react to the desires of the citizenry. It is not government's responsibility to tell the citizenry what should be their desires even if the government is populated with environmental cultist that believe they have so higher calling or responsible for the ignorant and unwashed common person.
    These seem to me to be the two biggest problems that planners are facing today. So many people feel that the market is forcing suburbia...but is it? New Urbanism is very popular, just too expensive for most "common" people. I guarantee that if you told a "common" person they could live in a new urbanist development at least 25% would.

    The fact that you degrade "environmental cultist"s the way you do, I will guess that you are a strong republican who does not feel that government should interfere with the people. I agree with you in many ways. But again, having sidewalks and creating a pedestrian freiendly environment does not make me a cultist. Nor does it intrude on your civil liberties. What it does do is force developers to provide a service to those that want it. Even if people are not screaming for it. I feel that we provide that service to people without them knowing it.

    I do not subscribe to the philosophy that developers will build a good development because they are good people. I know many developers who will build a great development. But I also know that there are many developers who are not looking out for the community or their needs. Just to make a buck. And if planners can be part of making their process more adjusted to what a community needs...then it is our fault.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

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    Quote Originally posted by Hink_Planner View post
    Nor does it intrude on your civil liberties.
    Yes it does. What about my desire to live in a neighborhood without sidewalks? I would prefer that strangers do not come in my yard. I wouldn't let my kids play in the front yard now for fear that some pervert doing his own thing would snatch them up. I sure don't want to give criminals an invitation by providing good access.

    How can you say that my civil liberties are not being affected and, in the next sentence, say what you would "force" a developer to do. The market should excert that force. The market is providing what people want.

    The idea that planners provide something to people who are not asking for their help and get their help without asking for it is the kind of arrogance that, if the public was as aware of the fact as I am, would call for the cut back to every planning department in this country.

    Developers don't have to be good people and planners don't have the right to decide who is a good person or not.

    Do you work as a planner for free or is your profit motive somhow more "moral" because you thnk you are "doning-the-right-thing" and a developer isn't?

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DaddyYo View post
    Yes it does. What about my desire to live in a neighborhood without sidewalks? I would prefer that strangers do not come in my yard. I wouldn't let my kids play in the front yard now for fear that some pervert doing his own thing would snatch them up. I sure don't want to give criminals an invitation by providing good access.

    How can you say that my civil liberties are not being affected and, in the next sentence, say what you would "force" a developer to do. The market should excert that force. The market is providing what people want.

    The idea that planners provide something to people who are not asking for their help and get their help without asking for it is the kind of arrogance that, if the public was as aware of the fact as I am, would call for the cut back to every planning department in this country.

    Developers don't have to be good people and planners don't have the right to decide who is a good person or not.

    Do you work as a planner for free or is your profit motive somhow more "moral" because you thnk you are "doning-the-right-thing" and a developer isn't?
    Who, exactly, is forcing you to buy a house in a development with a sidewalk? Forcing you to do that, indeed, would be an infringement on your civil liberties.

    However, most people choose to live in developments because they get public utilities (water, sewer, natural gas, electric, cable, etc), paved roads, street lights, etc at the street. Sidewalks should be included as part of all residential development design as a safety measure to keep pedestrians off the streets. If you don't want them, then buy a lot on a country road, put in your own well and septic, pay to run the electric lines up the road if they aren't already there, hook up a satellite dish, use propane/electric/oil to heat/cool your home, etc.

    As for this,
    I wouldn't let my kids play in the front yard now for fear that some pervert doing his own thing would snatch them up. I sure don't want to give criminals an invitation by providing good access.
    it is clearly the most bogus argument ever made against sidewalks. In case you are living in a cave and are unaware of this, virtually all non-custodial kidnappings of children from their homes or yards involve motor vehicles, and the vast majority of non-custodial child kidnappings of children on their way to/from schools or other places also involve motor vehicles. By forcing children to walk in the street you not only put them at risk of being hit by cars, you also put them closer to predators.

    While I question whether "the market" really supports the so-called "new urbanism", I certainly do think that home buyers who have children or who walk their dogs or who walk/run for exercise would prefer sidewalks in their developments because of safety concerns. I also think that most safety-conscious drivers would also welcome them since nobody wants to hit a pedestrian, especially a child. It's not "the market" that decided not to put in sidewalks. It was cost-cutting developers who weren't forced by zoning laws to put them in.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DaddyYo View post
    Why are market forces to be blamed? Market forces are the result of the citizenry's demanding a product to the point that someone provides them with that product.
    That was my point! When suburbanization 1st occured and thus the developmental template for suburbanization was created, there was no desire to have sidewalks constructed. Now, people in those same neighborhoods are demanding sidewalks and in most places, governments are trying to figure out how to retrofit the built environment and drum up the necessary resources to add them.
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan-it View post
    I agreed with what you were saying until you decided to throw an ageist comment in there. Please be respectful on these boards. You may learn a thing or two when you talk to these "planners that should just retire".
    Point taken on age. But my question still stands. There are a LOT of planners/planning agencies around the country in communities large, medium and small who are operating on old, outdated planning models. These models seem to be entrenched.

    Why is that?

    What will it take to change these planners'/planning departments' mindsets?

    It's all well and good to blame the market, NIMBY's, developers, etc. (and they do play a part ... I could go on). But the planning profession holds the keys IMO to change. To simply deny that and gloss over it is cowardly, and, to be honest, a big part of the problem.

    Quote Originally posted by DaddyYo View post
    The idea that planners provide something to people who are not asking for their help and get their help without asking for it is the kind of arrogance that, if the public was as aware of the fact as I am, would call for the cut back to every planning department in this country.
    Zoning and land use planning laws are a reflection of what people were asking for in the first place, and changes are a reflection of what they want now.

    The body politic changes it's mind all the time. Look no further than the pendulum swings in politics. The same can be said for changes or proposed changes in zoning and land use.
    Last edited by mendelman; 03 Apr 2008 at 12:20 PM.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Julia XA View post
    Point taken on age. But my question still stands. There are a LOT of planners/planning agencies around the country in communities large, medium and small who are operating on old, outdated planning models. These models seem to be entrenched.

    Why is that?
    In many cases throughout the country, it is the elected officials that decide policy and we planners implement it. Planners do help in creating policy, but we are not the decision makers. That is done by the people's elected representation. If you want to scrap the system, you have to convince the Mayor and Council (or whatever type of representative government you have) to do.
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    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan-it View post
    In many cases throughout the country, it is the elected officials that decide policy and we planners implement it. Planners do help in creating policy, but we are not the decision makers. That is done by the people's elected representation. If you want to scrap the system, you have to convince the Mayor and Council (or whatever type of representative government you have) to do.
    Or worse yet, policy is determined through the ballot box with ballot initiatives.

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    Quote Originally posted by Plan-it View post
    In many cases throughout the country, it is the elected officials that decide policy and we planners implement it. Planners do help in creating policy, but we are not the decision makers. That is done by the people's elected representation. If you want to scrap the system, you have to convince the Mayor and Council (or whatever type of representative government you have) to do.
    OK, if that's the case, then we're back to John Q Public (or 'the market") being the impetus for change ... and he has to be convinced enough to vote for different decision makers who will then instruct the planners what to implement.

    How might this happen (public asking for new officials with new zoning and land use policies)?

    Do planners simply wait for enough people to start asking for change ... for a critical mass to vote for new elected officials who will decide new policy for the plannter to then emplement?

    You might be right, but that explanation seems to put the profession of planning into a very passive role.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally posted by Julia XA View post
    There are a LOT of planners/planning agencies around the country in communities large, medium and small who are operating on old, outdated planning models. These models seem to be entrenched.

    Why is that?
    Who says that any of the departments are any of the things you describe? If there hasn't been any "change" (as if change for it's own sake is anythnig to be desired) then it is because the public has voted for those representatives who will keep things as they are.

    What it will take to change the Planners is the public voting for the Mayors who can convince them that the government should dictate how they live their lives.

    The planning profession does not hold the key. Planners are civil servants and (should) do as the public tells them to do to protect property values.

    That is all planning should do.

    Quote Originally posted by Julia XA View post
    OK, if that's the case, then we're back to John Q Public (or 'the market") being the impetus for change ... and he has to be convinced enough to vote for different decision makers who will then instruct the planners what to implement.
    Why does the public have to be convinced to see things the palnners way. I think it should be the other way around.

    The planning professional should have a passive role. Planners work for the public not the other way around.

    And what is all of this "change" business? Change is not a good thing in itself. It seems to me that every time the term is used that the real meaning in the context is really "revolution". Are you calling for a "Changeolution" in the way planning and zoning policy is decided?

    Are you convinced that Planners should have control of private property to make decisions that promote the Changeolution?
    Last edited by Maister; 03 Apr 2008 at 2:58 PM. Reason: sequential posts

  24. #24
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DaddyYo View post
    Are you convinced that Planners should have control of private property to make decisions that promote the Changeolution?
    Zoning exists for several reasons - one reason is to control what can be built/used/done/whatever with a property, another is to control what cannot be built/used/done/whatever with a property.

    You seem to be convinced that planners should not be able to dictate any decisions regarding private property. Is that the case?

  25. #25
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I feel that this is going to be an US vs. THEM argument and I really didn't want it to get that way. I would guess that DaddyYo is the type of person who feels that eminent domain is the worst thing on the face of the Earth. I can understand your position. But you are getting far off the topic of walkability in communities.

    I find it interesting how walkability moved to protection of private property and such....but I digress. If we can move past your beliefs of what planners should and shouldn't do, we can continue on this conversation.

    So back on topic. I agree completely with LindaD:

    Sidewalks should be included as part of all residential development design as a safety measure to keep pedestrians off the streets.
    Although I think that they should be part of development because they serve a public good. I also believe that communities have the right to require bike lanes. Should these be financed by the developers.... not always. But I think that for an article to claim that developers are trying to do such great things and planner's are holding them back by such silly zoning laws... is not only absurd but just plain wrong.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

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