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Thread: Methods to stop sprawl, and encourage urban growth?

  1. #26
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
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    Perhaps the easiest way to stop sprawl is to neuter the world population so that there is no need for new housing, or where it fails periodic neutron bombing so that it leaves the infrastructure intact.

    Has anyone ever considered that vertical spawl may not be any more efficient than horizontal sprawl. I.e. energy for elevators and pumping water to the 107th floor; uses more steel (can't frame even a small highrise in wood); and should each mega building also have its own schools, police, fire, and medical annex...
    "Future events such as these will affect you in the future."

  2. #27
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan 9 View post
    Perhaps the easiest way to stop sprawl is to neuter the world population so that there is no need for new housing, or where it fails periodic neutron bombing so that it leaves the infrastructure intact.

    Has anyone ever considered that vertical spawl may not be any more efficient than horizontal sprawl. I.e. energy for elevators and pumping water to the 107th floor; uses more steel (can't frame even a small highrise in wood); and should each mega building also have its own schools, police, fire, and medical annex...
    Now we're starting to think outside the box. My problem with the term "sprawl" is that it is an entirely value-laded term. Many people automatically attach negative connotations to such a term. A former professor of mine refused to use the term so that we students would not form opinions without careful thought and analysis.

    This comment about vertical/horizontal is quite intriguing. One of the main reasons that cities have historically grown taller rather than outward was that it made more sense in terms of transportation. That isn't the case anymore. Although rising oil prices may reduce the popularity of private autos, what happens if technology allows autos to run completely on alternative/renewable energies? The demand for private autos will rise exponentially, potentially creating even more demand for housing located further from employment centers?

    We can't have it both ways can we?

  3. #28
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan 9 View post
    Perhaps the easiest way to stop sprawl is to neuter the world population so that there is no need for new housing, or where it fails periodic neutron bombing so that it leaves the infrastructure intact.
    There are many places where sprawl has not been caused by population increase - Detroit is the most obvious example, but there are many others. Though neutering would make the "better schools" reasoning meaningless as well, hmmm...you may be on to something

    Has anyone ever considered that vertical spawl may not be any more efficient than horizontal sprawl. I.e. energy for elevators and pumping water to the 107th floor; uses more steel (can't frame even a small highrise in wood); and should each mega building also have its own schools, police, fire, and medical annex...
    There are many options in between single family detached home on a 1/2 acre and 107 floor highrise. The most efficient is undoubtedly somewhere in the middle.

  4. #29
    I'd personally say the most efficient is either European Cities or Greenwich VIllage and/or like most parts of Manhattan.

    But the most efficient doesn't always mean it's friendly or provides a good quality of life. Humans aren't robots, you can design something to be very efficient, but while it would be efficient, it could hurt humans.

  5. #30
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I saw a quote in Wired magazine last month that I'm mulling these days... it relates to this discussion and I want HeartlandCityboy to take note.

    It goes, "Planning and Engineering can only take human beings so far, at some point it is up to them"

    I will try to edit this when I go home and read the article again.
    @GigCityPlanner

  6. #31
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    I saw a quote in Wired magazine last month that I'm mulling these days... it relates to this discussion and I want HeartlandCityboy to take note.

    It goes, "Planning and Engineering can only take human beings so far, at some point it is up to them"
    Here is the word for word version.

    "Planners and engineers can only take a city so far. How people live in it will be the real determining factor." - Matt Jaroneski from energyrefusge.com
    @GigCityPlanner

  7. #32
    Cyburbian cdub's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    Although rising oil prices may reduce the popularity of private autos, what happens if technology allows autos to run completely on alternative/renewable energies? The demand for private autos will rise exponentially, potentially creating even more demand for housing located further from employment centers?

    We can't have it both ways can we?
    If this miracle, non-polluting, free technology comes to rid our addiction to oil and keep us motoring about, I think economics will eventually force people into a different mindset. Many municipalities are struggling to keep up with basic infrastructure without raising taxes. How will we support an interstate highway system and basic road network off of a gas tax that is nonexistent (since we won't have gas to tax) on top of the other infrastructure/ services already feeding off of the general budgets? Do you think people will be happy with user fees? If so, do you think that will alter people's priorities? If not, ask them what other services they'd prefer to have cut. Motoring as we know it is hopefully seeing the beginning of the end.

    In terms of not using the word 'sprawl', how else would you describe our auto-dependent patterns of development? IMO, people who are abusing the term are those who label it to everything (see Robert Brueggeman).
    www.sitephocus.com ...get the picture

  8. #33
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HeartlandCityBoy View post
    I'd personally say the most efficient is either European Cities or Greenwich VIllage and/or like most parts of Manhattan.

    But the most efficient doesn't always mean it's friendly or provides a good quality of life. Humans aren't robots, you can design something to be very efficient, but while it would be efficient, it could hurt humans.
    I'll just throw this out for thought...Most European cities (with some exceptions Rome, Paris) were bombed into ruins in WWII. The economic situation for the average family after the war probably didn't include purchase of an automobile, so the 'new' city grew up more in accordance with turn of the century standards...walking, public transportation, etc. Now in the US, particularly in the west, autos were a part of many families financial plans and so we ended up with what folks call sprawl. So were European cities designed to be efficient? Personally I think it was just a result of the reality on the ground.

    On the other hand, behind the iron curtain and in some fairly well known 60-70's 'projects', huge residential buildings were miserable failures, which goes along with the second part of the quote...these buildings efficiently housed many people at undoubtedly an efficient cost, but with no quality of life. (I've heard people praise and scorn living in Manhattan as well)Soooo, how does one go about finding that balance between efficiency and quality of life? Should we as planners even try to find that balance or should we let the market (ie the people who actually live in these places) determine that for themselves?
    "Future events such as these will affect you in the future."

  9. #34
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan 9 View post
    I'll just throw this out for thought...Most European cities (with some exceptions Rome, Paris) were bombed into ruins in WWII. The economic situation for the average family after the war probably didn't include purchase of an automobile, so the 'new' city grew up more in accordance with turn of the century standards...walking, public transportation, etc. Now in the US, particularly in the west, autos were a part of many families financial plans and so we ended up with what folks call sprawl. So were European cities designed to be efficient? Personally I think it was just a result of the reality on the ground.
    Sorry this is such a long post. I've been adding to it over the past day and a half and never sent it. Sorry if it is too cumbersome to slog through...

    This is an interesting observation, Plan 9, but I think that even with many cities bombed out, the basic infrastructure of street grids, and even water and sewer lines meant that these cities rebuilt and repaired the footprint that previously existed. They did not replat the cities and rerun all the infrastructure. In this same sense, this is why so many European cities have, at their core, the Medieval street pattern of yore, even though most structures from that era have crumbled. The only example of widespread replatting in a European city I am aware of is London following the devastating fire of 1666 (though there may be more - I just don't know a lot about it).

    Still, your point about their structure being the result of a different transportation reality is right on. I think also that European countries are so small by comparison to the US that there is a greater collective concern over managing existing resources like open space, forests, and bodies of water. European culture (to generalize) is also more willing to feel positively about using collective resources (ie. taxes) for the common good (ie. public transport). They seem to see the connection more readily than we do in the US. I think some of this stems from the fact that when Europeans began coming to America, they were concerned with questioning, rebelling against and distancing themselves from aspects of European society. Thus, more concern with things like personal choice, private property rights and privacy (which have resulted in their extreme application as endless choices for toothpaste, the exercising of the right to maximize the exploitative potential of one's land, and loneliness and isolation). In many ways, America is for immigrants the opportunity to be free from tradition and social convention, a double-edged sword that both helps structure identity and restricts personal options. My personal opinion is that this reaction swung too far in the opposite direction - we fear establishing a new American culture with social norms and values that in any way infringe on one's abilities to do what they want.

    But to get to the forum's central question about how to curtail sprawl, I would agree that we do need first to define it. I think a good place to start is here: http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=30769 where a nice "official" definition is offered by big_g.

    I wanted to bring up two sprawl-control issues. One is the possibility that to effectively address these kind of rampantly inefficient land use trends, we may have to begin exercising planning standards and requirements at the state levels. This is important because, as I mentioned above, once you write onto the land, it is very very difficult to undo. 5 acre lot rural sprawl, for example, will be hard to chop up if the zoning does not allow it or people are not economically strapped to do so.

    Additionally, too many regional plans are not enforcible and so while three of 5 major local municipalities might opt in to a "smart growth" plan, 2 may not and we end up with leap frog development and continued inefficient use of the landscape. Oregon has done this and a few other states used to, but have backed off over time. In the case of Oregon, the URB is required at the state level, so municipalities must comply. I realize many have issues with the Portland example, but I personally think it is a strong example of a state level intervention to preserve prime farmland and open space. And let us not forget that the preservation of farmland to support local municipalities used to be a national priority after WWII and that this is the source of farm subsidies - that it was better to pay farmers to maintain land as farmland rather than let them sell it off for development and reduce the stability of local food supply.

    The second sprawl-related issue is the emerging potential for existing, sprawling places to develop into more dense and more "local" places (by injecting walkable retail areas with convenient, non-automotive access). We see this happening in many older suburbs around the nation as the "first ring" is now enjoying something of a renaissance. All is not necessarily lost for what has already been built and if these retrofitted models work well, they can become required elements of future development. One of the problems I have seen here in the Albuquerque area, for example, is that the subdivision regulations of the 1980s actually required subdivisions to omit retail within the superblock grid (those were to be situated along the large arterials that surround each superblock) and to create "loops and lollipop" style street patterns that insulated these residential areas from the large arterials. The result today is that traffic is a mess because so few roads feed into the arterials (and there is no other way to traverse several superblocks) and there is no local retail - people absolutely must drive to get their supplies. Sure, the residential areas are "safe" from lots of traffic and "walkable" in that they have sidewalks, but its all recreational - there aren't many places to walk to.

    Ensuring a more connective street pattern that integrates with surrounding areas and requiring the establishment of walkable business areas to serve a specified radius would go a long way toward building communities that function well. Combined with state level requirements and restrictions on where new development can and can't happen (as draconian as this may sound) seem like sound options to curtail sprawl to me and where we may be headed in the wake of the pending lawsuits against municipalities regarding the negative impacts of sprawl (th State of California vs. San Bernadino County, for example)

    This is a topic of great interest to me and I recently published an article with Stephen Wheeler (now at UC Davis) examining the historical development of Albuquerque and its emergence as a "regional city." In it, we identify a number of historical and present-day street pattern typologies and show which forms of development make for the least efficient use of land and inhibit connectivity with surrounding street networks. Its called: "The Rise of the Regional City: Spatial Development and the Albuquerque Metropolitan Area," but unfortunately it is not available for free online. This is the link to the New Mexico historical Review, where it was published, though: http://www.unm.edu/~nmhr/recent.html I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, we actually do not suggest methods to curtail sprawl, but simply identify past and current development trends, breaking it down in such a way that municipalities can respond with policy to create a more desirable outcome.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  10. #35
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan 9 View post
    Soooo, how does one go about finding that balance between efficiency and quality of life? Should we as planners even try to find that balance or should we let the market (ie the people who actually live in these places) determine that for themselves?
    Certainly good questions, but considering buildings and physical infrastructure last for decades (if not centuries) we should be looking at efficiency and quality of life questions differently - in other words, we're not talking about a dishwasher here. Decisions about how we build today will affect our grandchildren's children. The market has no ability to factor in many quality of life issues of FUTURE generations, which are caused by actions of the current generation.

    And, regarding the market, most of us know what a HUGE impact land use laws and zoning have on the market. Most of what goes into planning directly influences or constricts the market. It's not simply consumers dictating what is built and where. For example, a simple zoning change can result in land being worth MILLIONS more PER ACRE, and can dictate exactly what is, and more importantly, what isn't built there. In many places, it's impossible to build anything except the typical suburban-style development. To say this is the market working is ridiculous - it's akin to a convenience store owner being told he can't sell Pepsi, removing all the Pepsi from his store, and then a month later pronouncing, "Sales of Coke have increased 30% in the last month and no one is buying Pepsi. Clearly, the market only wants Coke."

    In many places (not all), the market works like this - developers build what they are allowed to build and are comfortable building and people buy what developers are building. That doesn't necessarily mean that the market is building everything that people want. Again using Coke and Pepsi, if you walk into a restaurant and ask the waiter for a Coke and he tells you they only have Pepsi, how often do you just say "Ok then, I'll take a Pepsi"?

  11. #36
    How many here are against sprawl and want it to stop, and how many aren't against it?

  12. #37
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HeartlandCityBoy View post
    How many here are against sprawl and want it to stop, and how many aren't against it?
    It's a lot more complicated than that, HCB. I'm not "against" or "for" sprawl. I live an urban lifestyle, but I "get" the people who don't want the same lifestyle as me, and I understand most of their reasons (though I must say that many of the reasons are not because of physical development patterns, but more socioeconomic patterns and trends that are associated with physical development patterns - the largest two issues being crime and schools). I'm for making the playing field more level and allowing choices for people, as well as being for better design and sustainability in both urban and suburban developments.

  13. #38
    It is for and against, you cannot have sprawl under any circumstances.

    Moderator note:
    HCB, you've been politely warned a few times now.



    Time for a timeout.

    User suspended for 3 days for being a "one trick pony."
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 10 Aug 2007 at 9:33 PM.

  14. #39
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HeartlandCityBoy View post
    It is for and against, you cannot have sprawl under any circumstances.
    That is a bit harsh perhaps no? Dealing in absolutes is a tough way to go. People like their suburbs.

  15. #40
    No it isn't harsh considering just about everything about sprawl is bad.

  16. #41
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HeartlandCityBoy View post
    No it isn't harsh considering just about everything about sprawl is bad.
    You really don't get it, do you? It's a matter of choice.


    Oops...guess you got in now.
    Annoyingly insensitive

  17. #42
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HeartlandCityBoy View post
    No it isn't harsh considering just about everything about sprawl is bad.
    I suspect you are in college somewhere getting brainwashed in the ivory tower.
    I was a bit like you at one time where I thought I could take on the world and why the heck would anyone want to live in the suburbs,
    but honestly there are people out there who DO want lots of land and everything big and love their car.

    When your suspension is lifted you need to make your posts more substantive and stop the one liners.
    You say it's "bad" but give examples or give remedies... I like your fire but you just need to control it a little more.
    @GigCityPlanner

  18. #43
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HeartlandCityBoy View post
    It is for and against, you cannot have sprawl under any circumstances.
    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush [HeartlandCityBoy] said Tuesday that there was no room for neutrality in the war against terrorism [sprawl].
    I would echo Tide's comments. A very significant though often under-emphasized aspect of planning is rhetoric. How information is presented, how discussion is stimulated and the manner by which dialogue is managed has a huge impact on how people think about things. Creating diametric opposition does little but entrench those that do not entirely agree, even if they don't outright oppose your view. People need to feel validated in their opinions, they need to feel they have been heard and they need to feel that they are part of decision making. Telling people they are wrong to value what they do is usually not effective. Asking what they value and then having constructive discussion about why they feel that way and how things might be different is much more impactful.

    In this sense, it would be useful to stimulate discussion on what it is about suburban style development that people value as a starting point for discussion and ultimately changing the culture toward a more efficient land use approach (which is, at a deeper level, a cultural value - but culture can and does change). Engage people, Dogmatism and pedantics are not very useful tools in changing minds. Strategies that promote empowerment, action, and validate people's opinions are.

    I hope you come back to join the discussion.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  19. #44
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
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    Ok, here is why I live in the burbs. I live in a 3k sq ft 1-story house on a 1-acre lot. (I also drive a full size SUV, but that is another thread...)

    Here is what I like about it:

    I can have a big enough house
    My big enough house can be one story...no stairs
    My kids have enough room to play in the yard
    I don't often hear my neighbor's kids running around in their yard
    My dog has enough room to run around
    I don't hear my neighbor's dog running around
    I don't hear my neighbor's TV/stereo (and don't have to worry about them hearing mine, well, most of the time )
    I don't hear my neighbor's arguments
    I only see my neighbors when I want to see them (ie visit them) (Now if only I could figure out how to stop the aroma of BBQ when I'm starving and only have tuna fish to eat)
    We don't have street lights so I can actually see the stars
    We don't get any door to door salesmen (unfortunately no trick or treaters either)
    My lot has landscaped areas and natural areas
    It is sooo quiet after a noisy day at the office - no sirens, gunshots, traffic noise, police helicopters etc

    I've lived in urbanish areas too, and don't care for them for the opposite of all the above. The only things in their favor is that you can get delivery pizza and it doesn't take 35 minutes to go to the store/movies/shops etc. At least in my opinion.

    BTW I consider anything less than a 45 minute commute each way as an easy commute.
    "Future events such as these will affect you in the future."

  20. #45
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    There's no point in posting back and forth our likes and dislikes of urban or suburban living - most of what I like about where I live others would dislike - and vice versa. I would never live somewhere with a 45 minute commute, you would probably dislike many of things in my neighborhood. I get that.

    But most of the things on your list are only possible in some suburban areas in the US. An acre lot in the metro areas of California, Nevada, most of the Northeast, and much of the rest of the West? Are you a multi-millionaire? Most people living in the areas I mentioned (which accounts for at least a quarter of the population of the US, probably more) don't have the choice between urban living and an acre 45 minutes or less from the urban core. Most of these people, even in a suburban house, are not going to have a big lawn (if one at all, sometimes more of a patio), are not going to have a single story, are going to see their neighbors, are going to have streetlights, are going to hear sirens, etc, etc. they may not have door to door salesmen, but I haven't had one of those in my time in San Francisco (I think they're on their last legs).

    What do we do about those areas? Build the neighborhoods with the same design as neighborhoods in Atlanta or Houston where land is cheaper and more space can be set aside for the pleasures and amenities that you mention? What ends up happening most of the time is that we get a neighborhood with densities close to urban levels (or at least the levels of old streetcar suburbs), only without any of the amenities. It's just cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac of nondescript garage doors.

    Those types of neighborhoods are the types of sprawl that I want to improve.

  21. #46
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    Ok, here is why I live in the burbs. I live in a 3k sq ft 1-story house on a 1-acre lot. (I also drive a full size SUV, but that is another thread...)
    How do you think you would take it if that were no longer a living option for you, say if gas got so expensive that it was no longer practical, or if you had an accident that limited your work options and you had to take a large cut in pay? Would you adapt easily to some other living arrangement?
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  22. #47
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    How do you think you would take it if that were no longer a living option for you, say if gas got so expensive that it was no longer practical, or if you had an accident that limited your work options and you had to take a large cut in pay? Would you adapt easily to some other living arrangement?
    Surely people are capable of making those changes if forced to. Easily likely no. An interesting point though. At what point do you think the price of gasoline will make auto transportation impractical? Do you think it would actually happen or would we find another fuel source to keep autos going? If we actually had to give up cars in the future, how will existing auto dependent cities redevelop their transportation network?

  23. #48
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ludes98 View post
    Surely people are capable of making those changes if forced to. Easily likely no. An interesting point though. At what point do you think the price of gasoline will make auto transportation impractical? Do you think it would actually happen or would we find another fuel source to keep autos going? If we actually had to give up cars in the future, how will existing auto dependent cities redevelop their transportation network?
    I do not see the USA giving up cars in the future. It is just not an option in much of America. I live in a state with very little mass transit. Cities are far apart, separated by rural, empty land. Much the same is true of the Dakotas, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington state, etc. Additionally, our weather makes biking impractical for all but the most devoted people during the winter and shoulder seasons.

    The people will not change so much as the technology will. More hybrid and electric cars. More fuel efficient designs for vehicles. Maybe more motor scooters.

    I sure need my car. I can't carry a 14-foot canoe on a moped.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  24. #49
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    Do you think it would actually happen or would we find another fuel source to keep autos going?
    Well, I just finished reading The Long Emergency by Kunstler, so I'm not so sanguine about it right now. A lot of you are probably familiar with the book, but for those who aren't, he posits that living patterns in the US will become a lot more local and that spread-out development patterns will become a thing of the past. Large areas of the country will lose their value and become uninhabitable. People will need to live close to their workplaces and close to where their food is produced. He thinks this will cause a great deal of stress and societal upheaval, with many refusing to accept it. He makes the case that oil has been the base for much of the technological progress of the last century and that removal of it is essentially like taking out the base of the food chain, for an ecological metaphor. When you take out the base of the food chain, the ecology collapses. In the interim, I think people will drive more fuel-efficient vehicles and scooters, as otterpop suggests. If nuclear power is developed more, electric vehicles may become more of an option. More efficient vehicle options will prolong the downward slide of the peak oil curve. I think a lot of peole are still in denial about it and will remain so for some time. I would really love for someone to convince me that the future will not present such difficulty and strife.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  25. #50
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Question for HCB:

    If your city had a massive fire, or catastrophe like a hurricane that wiped out a section of your inner city and you could rebuild in any format (assuming the original land owners would support your design - say like granting development rights that could be sold) (or using constitutional eminent domain) would you reconstruct it the way it was, or would you introduce some green space and cul-de-sac areas for quality of life in this one area?

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