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Thread: Planners living in sprawl

  1. #26
    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    On further thought...

    For most of the 20th century, urban planning and architecture had a very strong anti urban bias. To name a few:

    Burgess and Park: neighborhoods and a lifecycle and inevitably decayed.

    Frank Lloyd Wiright: cities should empty out and everyone should live on one acre lots and grow the own food.

    Le Corbusier: let's bulldoze Paris

    Lewis Mumford: cities make people mentally ill.

    How bout all those urban renewal and highway planners?

    Read the first two pages of Jacob's book for more.



    Interestingly, the women of this era, Catherine Bauer, Jacobs, Edith Elmer Wood, were much more pro urban


    Well yes, because those were cities of the 19th and early 20th centuries they were describing. Places like New York, Philadelphia, etc. There's times when I ride the subway in New York now and I think to myself, 'God, this city makes people mentally ill.' I can only imagine what it was like 100 years ago when they didn't even have proper / modern sanitation and everybody lived in slums that would make the modern day South Bronx look like French Riveira.

  2. #27
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    There are lots of areas in between big city living and large lot sprawl. Where I live is "urban" compared to the small town I work in. However, it would risk being called "sprawl" by someone in a big city. In some cases the small town people mistrust me for coming from too urban an environment. My choices are to either drive solo everyday or move to a more sprawling environment.

    People of all professions live where they do for countless reasons. Planners don't need other planners judging where they live.
    Someone has to work for the far flung suburban towns and those planners aren't always going to reverse commute from the city.

  3. #28
    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop View post
    There are lots of areas in between big city living and large lot sprawl. Where I live is "urban" compared to the small town I work in. However, it would risk being called "sprawl" by someone in a big city. In some cases the small town people mistrust me for coming from too urban an environment. My choices are to either drive solo everyday or move to a more sprawling environment.

    People of all professions live where they do for countless reasons. Planners don't need other planners judging where they live.
    Someone has to work for the far flung suburban towns and those planners aren't always going to reverse commute from the city.

    Well, I know that what is taught in planning school is different from the actual experience of being a planner, but maybe the difference between the two is wider than I thought. I have often felt that the message I got from a lot of classes in planning school was not at all connected to reality - the message I got was basically that everyone should be practically forced to move to an urban environment or at least have their communities retrofitted to be more urban. I know that's bullshit. But in light of that, what is the role of the planner, if it's not to curtail something as pervasive and costly to society as suburban sprawl?

    Again, I wish people would read the actual posts. I am not judging anyone. Simply asking questions. The 20-something hipsters I went to school with annoy the crap out of me too, because they actually buy into what the idiot professors teach them. But my question is, since I wasn't taught much else about the purpose of planners besides the radical anti-sprawl, anti-suburban message of academics in planning, what IS the role of planners?

  4. #29
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    ...Again, I wish people would read the actual posts. I am not judging anyone. Simply asking questions. ..
    I don't think you are being judgmental, you're just brining up an intresting discussion. I was just reacting to those types of fundamentalist planners out there.

  5. #30
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    I think there is a perfect blended mix of environments that already exists today; streetcar suburbs. Lots were platted when people had cars so there are garages but lots are close-together enough to make walking fairly easy if you want to do that. Land uses tend to be mixed with retail on the corners and houses in the middle of blocks. For me this is ideal.
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  6. #31
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    And remember density doesn't equal downtown living, you can live in dense neighborhoods that are still sprawl. The densest neighborhood in Charleston SC (besides downtown Charleston) in terms of houses per sq. mile is actually 20 miles outside of the city in Summerville. However, I can tell you from experience that the dense neighborhood in Summerville is not very walkable and has no transit service.
    @GigCityPlanner

  7. #32
    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    I think there is a perfect blended mix of environments that already exists today; streetcar suburbs. Lots were platted when people had cars so there are garages but lots are close-together enough to make walking fairly easy if you want to do that. Land uses tend to be mixed with retail on the corners and houses in the middle of blocks. For me this is ideal.

    The town I live in can best be described as a pre-war streetcar suburb (even though I don't think there ever was an acutal streetcar running through it). Most of the homes were built in the 1900s-1940s, but are well kept. There are a decent number of duplexes and small apartment buildings, but it's mostly single family detached homes, with varying amounts of separation between homes. On some blocks, the homes are only separated by a narrow space no more than 8 or 10 feet wide (even that might be generous). Needless to say, those homes don't have driveways and residents must park on the street. On other blocks, there is probably 20 feet of separation, perhaps a bit more. Certainly enough separation for a driveway. A grocery store, a convenience store, a barbershop, a bank, various shops and restaurants are all within a 10 minute walk (at most). But people in this area see it as suburban and not that dense at all. Well, compared to New York City, no it's not dense. Compared to your average American town (especially other suburbs) it's quite dense.

    So my point is, I agree with you stroskey. I think that my town has a density that is ideal. It's spread out enough that almost every home has a decent sized yard for kids to play in, but dense enough that walking and biking to non-residential uses are very possible. According to the 2010 Census, my town has a density of 7,728.1 people per square mile. So perhaps somewhere in the 7,000-8,000 people / sq. mi range is an ideal density?

  8. #33
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    Well yes, because those were cities of the 19th and early 20th centuries they were describing. Places like New York, Philadelphia, etc. There's times when I ride the subway in New York now and I think to myself, 'God, this city makes people mentally ill.' I can only imagine what it was like 100 years ago when they didn't even have proper / modern sanitation and everybody lived in slums that would make the modern day South Bronx look like French Riveira.
    On the other hand, in terms of shear numbers, NYC is unbelievably more crowded today than at any time in the past (even if you account for its annexation of surrounding areas):
    • 1890 1,515,301 people
    • 1900 3,437,202 people
    • 2011 8,244,910 people

    Check out the leap from 1890 to 1900 - 125 percent!. That kind of massive increase in urban populations may be part of what those planning and architecture folks were responding to. In many industrialized nations there was a huge shift from a majority rural to a majority urban population. I'm sure more than a few people thought this would spell the end of civilization as we know it. In 1900, US urban/rural split was 40/60. In 1990 it was 75/25. This is a very interesting cataloging of urban and rural splits by the census for the US 1900 to 1990.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  9. #34
    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    On the other hand, in terms of shear numbers, NYC is unbelievably more crowded today than at any time in the past (even if you account for its annexation of surrounding areas):
    • 1890 1,515,301 people
    • 1900 3,437,202 people
    • 2011 8,244,910 people

    Check out the leap from 1890 to 1900 - 125 percent!. That kind of massive increase in urban populations may be part of what those planning and architecture folks were responding to. In many industrialized nations there was a huge shift from a majority rural to a majority urban population. I'm sure more than a few people thought this would spell the end of civilization as we know it. In 1900, US urban/rural split was 40/60. In 1990 it was 75/25. This is a very interesting cataloging of urban and rural splits by the census for the US 1900 to 1990.

    Someone should write a book about this.

  10. #35
    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    On the other hand, in terms of shear numbers, NYC is unbelievably more crowded today than at any time in the past (even if you account for its annexation of surrounding areas):
    • 1890 1,515,301 people
    • 1900 3,437,202 people
    • 2011 8,244,910 people

    Check out the leap from 1890 to 1900 - 125 percent!. That kind of massive increase in urban populations may be part of what those planning and architecture folks were responding to. In many industrialized nations there was a huge shift from a majority rural to a majority urban population. I'm sure more than a few people thought this would spell the end of civilization as we know it. In 1900, US urban/rural split was 40/60. In 1990 it was 75/25. This is a very interesting cataloging of urban and rural splits by the census for the US 1900 to 1990.

    The reason for the massive leap in population is because in 1898, NYC annexed the four outer boroughs. Prior to 1898, NYC consisted of only Manhattan (and I don't even think it took up the whole island, but I could be wrong about that). Brooklyn was a major city in its own right. Queens, as I was surprised to find out recently, was mostly developed in the 20th century. In 1900, large parts of the borough were still farmland, as was Long Island. I don't know as much about the history of the Bronx or Staten Island, but I do know that all five boroughs were merged into a single, consolidated NYC municipal government in 1898, hence the reason for the population boom between 1890 and 1900.

    That being said, even if there are more people in NYC (especially Manhattan) now compared with 100-150 years ago, it's managed better. When you have modern sanitation, street sweeping, snow removal, water treatment, etc. facilities and services, you can crowd more people into a tight space and still make it work.

    P.S. Isn't it funny how people usually associate massive annexations that artificially inflate the population of a city with Sun Belt cities, when New York went forward with the granddaddy of annexations, the annexation to end all annexations, that literally turned it into five major cities all rolled up into one? What New York did in 1898 was not like what Charlotte, Nashville, Jacksonville, etc. have done - it is on a scale 100 times bigger than that.

  11. #36
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    The reason for the massive leap in population is because in 1898, NYC annexed the four outer boroughs. Prior to 1898, NYC consisted of only Manhattan (and I don't even think it took up the whole island, but I could be wrong about that). Brooklyn was a major city in its own right. Queens, as I was surprised to find out recently, was mostly developed in the 20th century. In 1900, large parts of the borough were still farmland, as was Long Island. I don't know as much about the history of the Bronx or Staten Island, but I do know that all five boroughs were merged into a single, consolidated NYC municipal government in 1898, hence the reason for the population boom between 1890 and 1900.
    Good point about the role of annexation in those numbers. I was mainly saying that I suspect a lot of that anti-urban Garden City fervor around the turn of the century was fostered by the increasing urbanization of our country which was definitely happening at a quickened pace at that time. Annexation was part of a larger thread of increasing migration to the cities and concerns about how to manage it. I grew up in what was one of the first era of suburbs outside of Philadelphia, established between 1880 and 1900. It had been farmland, then dairy farms, then parceled out in large lots and sold to wealthy Philadelphians as summer homes and later permanent homes. The house I grew up in was built in 1917 by an engineer working for a Philadelphia firm. He actually commuted by rail to the city. These folks were "fleeing" the crowded cities that had become crowded and loud with factories and migrants/immigrants (an early version of White Flight). For an interesting read on this, check out Dolores Hayden's book Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000. A very thorough analysis of trends in American suburbanization. It provides a lot of insight concerning why and how suburban development patterns developed the way they did during different eras and certainly informs the issue of sprawl.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  12. #37
    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Good point about the role of annexation in those numbers. I was mainly saying that I suspect a lot of that anti-urban Garden City fervor around the turn of the century was fostered by the increasing urbanization of our country which was definitely happening at a quickened pace at that time. Annexation was part of a larger thread of increasing migration to the cities and concerns about how to manage it. I grew up in what was one of the first era of suburbs outside of Philadelphia, established between 1880 and 1900. It had been farmland, then dairy farms, then parceled out in large lots and sold to wealthy Philadelphians as summer homes and later permanent homes. The house I grew up in was built in 1917 by an engineer working for a Philadelphia firm. He actually commuted by rail to the city. These folks were "fleeing" the crowded cities that had become crowded and loud with factories and migrants/immigrants (an early version of White Flight). For an interesting read on this, check out Dolores Hayden's book Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000. A very thorough analysis of trends in American suburbanization. It provides a lot of insight concerning why and how suburban development patterns developed the way they did during different eras and certainly informs the issue of sprawl.

    Yes, there was definitely a rapid urbanization in big American cities from 1880 until about 1930 or so. Chicago, New York, Philly, all of the big cities. But yeah, because cars weren't as prominent then as they are now, the "getaway" towns were still built with access to transit and houses somewhat close together. Just not too close, like in the tenements.

  13. #38
    Many older US cities peaked in population in 1950. Boston, St. Loius, Detroit, to name a few

    Others had peaks in population, declined for a while, then grew again, San Francisco and New York.

    Others have never stopped growing. Many because of annexation (Houston and Phoenix), but others because of ongoing densification (Los Angeles and San Jose since 1980 or so).

  14. #39

    Sometimes it's the opposite

    In the spatial realm, sometimes I see the opposite of what has been mainly discussed in this thread; planners commuting great distances from the dense central city out to their suburban job. The Portland area is weird (unique is the nice way to put it) and it seems that many people under about 40 will only live in a hip central neighborhood, even if their job is 20+ miles away and they have worked at said job for some time. I understand that there are elements of their neighborhoods that they like, but I am currently working as a temp in a suburban county planning office and it's funny to hear a couple of the people lament their hour long or greater commutes from Portland. In fact, on many of the corridors, the reverse commute is actually worse than the regular commute.

    What I am getting at, and what underscores other people's comments is that sometimes it does make sense to live in what appears to be a sprawling suburb if you happen to have a stable job at an office or local government that's situated there.

  15. #40
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by warderjack View post
    In the spatial realm, sometimes I see the opposite of what has been mainly discussed in this thread; planners commuting great distances from the dense central city out to their suburban job. The Portland area is weird (unique is the nice way to put it) and it seems that many people under about 40 will only live in a hip central neighborhood, even if their job is 20+ miles away and they have worked at said job for some time. I understand that there are elements of their neighborhoods that they like, but I am currently working as a temp in a suburban county planning office and it's funny to hear a couple of the people lament their hour long or greater commutes from Portland. In fact, on many of the corridors, the reverse commute is actually worse than the regular commute.
    That's what I did when I lived/worked in the Cleveland area - lived in an older inner ring (1920s-1950s), suburb, and outcommuted 27 miles to a distant industrial satellite city. Taking public transportation to work would have involved three or four transfers and 2 1/2 hours at the least. My neighborhood wasn't hip, but it was walkable and centrally located. If I lived where I worked, I'd be physically and socailly isolated; a blue collar town separated from Cleveland by hundreds of square miles of relatively affluent, low density post-war suburbia,
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  16. #41
    Cyburbian developmentguru's avatar
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    Wow, great discussion! We were talking about this in our office a few days ago; this, and the fact that such a huge percentage of our city employees live outside the city limits.

    That said, I traded in my truck for a small hybrid sedan, live in a one-bedroom apartment in the center of the city, and walk everywhere I can. That doesn't make me better than other planners, or even a better planner - I'm single with no kids, so I can make those choices very easily.

    Don't forget the fact that planners are generally not a well-paid bunch, and income certainly influences commutes, living units, density levels, and neighborhood choice. So, another relevant question would be this: what are the underlying factors that tend to make it so difficult - or appear to discourage - living in a way that doesn't help sprawl continue to thrive? And what can we as planners do about that?

    Let's start by bumping up everybody's pay.
    "In our profession, a plan that everyone dislikes for different reasons is a success. A plan everyone dislikes for the same reason is a failure. And a plan that everyone likes for the same reason is an act of God." - Richard Carson

  17. #42
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    In my past positions I was able to find employment and living within a 5 minutes of each other. In one position, I was a 5 minute walk. Sadly, my most recent position puts me into auto commuting about 15 minutes. I'm taking a new position in November and my commute will double to 30-35 minutes against traffic (thankfully).

    I desire a high-quality, urban neighborhood but the "with good schools" part keeps pushing in my into drive-to-work land.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  18. #43
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boiker View post
    I desire a high-quality, urban neighborhood but the "with good schools" part keeps pushing in my into drive-to-work land.
    That's why we're out here in Blandville McSuburbia, albeit not too far from a light rail stop. One day...
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  19. #44
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    I live in a somewhat walkable area about 3 miles from work (and I design sprawl for a living!!).

    Why do planners live in sprawl?

    Because compact development in many areas is not cheap and most planners don't make a ton of money to live in flashy digs.

    Why do I design sprawl?

    I was laid off two other planning jobs (and a third non-planning job) in the past 3 1/2 years. I go where the work is and right now I'm swamped. You do the math.
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  20. #45
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Bumping this old thread, because I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I'm starting to resign myself to the possibility of buying a house in the sprawl. The majority of housing close to work in my price range -- and that range peaks above the average cost of a house in the city -- is functionally obsolete.



    Quote Originally posted by Pedestrian Error View post
    Why get into identity politics and insult an entire gender? I think the issue you're getting at is that planners - a slight majority of whom are female - often marry people who are less concerned about land use/transportation/sustainability issues than they are and then compromise on a housing location. I've known plenty of women who moved to the suburbs and lamented the lack of walkability but explained the decision in terms of "my husband insisted we had to move to the county after our kids were born."
    There's no shortage of press about how Millennials, and Generation Xers to a somewhat lesser extent, prefer living in denser, more urban environments. However, I haven't seen anything about how this trend might break down by gender. I can say that based on my experience, women around my age (Generation Xers), overwhelmingly prefer living in conventional suburbs or rural areas. There's a sentiment that low density suburbs are a better environment for raising a child. I don't understand why urban form would make a difference in childhood development, but it's a commonly held belief. Suburbs are also perceived as safer.

    I personally could never love the type of person who wanted to live a sprawl lifestyle, much less raise children in sprawl.
    Around where I live, many people still romanticize a "back to the land" lifestyle. That's my dealbreaker. It's not so much rural living, but rather their belief that it's somehow more "sustainable" than urban living. Solar panels, earth-friendly building materials, permaculture gardens, composting toilets, and goats don't make up for the fact that they're occupying far more land than they need to, in a location that is much farther away from work, services, and third places.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  21. #46
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Bumping this old thread, because I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I'm starting to resign myself to the possibility of buying a house in the sprawl. The majority of housing close to work in my price range -- and that range peaks above the average cost of a house in the city -- is functionally obsolete.



    There's no shortage of press about how Millennials, and Generation Xers to a somewhat lesser extent, prefer living in denser, more urban environments. However, I haven't seen anything about how this trend might break down by gender. I can say that based on my experience, women around my age (Generation Xers), overwhelmingly prefer living in conventional suburbs or rural areas. There's a sentiment that low density suburbs are a better environment for raising a child. I don't understand why urban form would make a difference in childhood development, but it's a commonly held belief. Suburbs are also perceived as safer.



    Around where I live, many people still romanticize a "back to the land" lifestyle. That's my dealbreaker. It's not so much rural living, but rather their belief that it's somehow more "sustainable" than urban living. Solar panels, earth-friendly building materials, permaculture gardens, composting toilets, and goats don't make up for the fact that they're occupying far more land than they need to, in a location that is much farther away from work, services, and third places.
    An increasing source of sprawl I'm seeing is that most cities with desirable, dense urban neighborhoods are becoming too gentrified to support middle-class families. Cities like LA, Seattle, NYC, DC, Boston, SF each suffer heavily from this problem with Portland, OR and Chicago, IL following close behind them. I live in New York City now, and based on my young Millennial friends who now inhabit these cities (and love it!) will find themselves on the suburban periphery or in smaller-tier cities by the time their kids are of child-rearing age. This tends to be true whether out of choice (better schools!) or necessity (families being priced out). Exceptions to the rule - those most likely to remain in cities long-term - seem to be childless couples/DINKs, gay and lesbian couples, and wealthy families who can afford both larger apartments and private schools.

    Example: if you're a married 27-year-old lawyer living on New York's Upper West Side (or a similarly fashionable urban neighborhood where average rent is $2,500 for a 1-bd), you're unlikely to remain there when you have children unless: 1) you receive a huge increase in household income; 2) you inherit family money; or 3) you luck out in getting into a rent-stabilized apartment or other affordable housing program.

  22. #47
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I think everyone nailed the cause of sprawl, KIDS! First they grow up and need more housing, then those couples that love their downtown, walkable, apartment end up with kids and decide they need to kick the kid out of the house and now need a yard to do that. That plus the schools in downtown areas seem to be lower quality than suburban schools. I think as long as there are kids there will be sprawl. Good luck solving the problem.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  23. #48
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    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    I think everyone nailed the cause of sprawl, KIDS! First they grow up and need more housing, then those couples that love their downtown, walkable, apartment end up with kids and decide they need to kick the kid out of the house and now need a yard to do that. That plus the schools in downtown areas seem to be lower quality than suburban schools. I think as long as there are kids there will be sprawl. Good luck solving the problem.
    Living in a dual-income (and therefore dual place of work) household with a kid complicates everything. The location you live might need to be a three-way compromise between two employers and a school.

    We are lucky that Ms. Motel and I each live within about a 10 minute drive to our offices, which I bike most of the year and which I can use the bus to get to. BUT- preschool is way out of the way, 20-25 minutes each way some days and not "on the way" to either workplace. And if I am going to be of any help with the kid, I have to lug that car with me to and from work. (It's an SUV, BTW, but it's a small one and it's 14 years old. Mileage-wise, it gets about 5,000 a year put on, which is nice).

    Our neighborhood is basically postwar, with houses ranging from brand-new and 500k down to 1947-era and 200k. Almost all are single family, and lots are all from 12,000 to 30,000 square feet. We have sidewalks, can walk to restaurants, grocery stores, hardware store, etc.. It's pretty good, but there are trade-offs. I have had my car "gone through" by would-be thieves a couple of times. Some of the houses are rentals with owners who have been none too particular about their tenants, bringing a transient and generally bad element into the neighborhood. Car-free is great, but guess who else is generally car free, and likes walkable environments with good transit? Homeless people. The people who go to the methadone clinic down the street. The walk past my door pretty frequently. Sometimes at night and sometimes they are loud or disorderly. You can buy your way out of a lot of that in a car-oriented suburban development.

  24. #49
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Faust_Motel View post

    Our neighborhood is basically postwar, with houses ranging from brand-new and 500k down to 1947-era and 200k. Almost all are single family, and lots are all from 12,000 to 30,000 square feet. We have sidewalks, can walk to restaurants, grocery stores, hardware store, etc.. It's pretty good, but there are trade-offs. I have had my car "gone through" by would-be thieves a couple of times. Some of the houses are rentals with owners who have been none too particular about their tenants, bringing a transient and generally bad element into the neighborhood. Car-free is great, but guess who else is generally car free, and likes walkable environments with good transit? Homeless people. The people who go to the methadone clinic down the street. The walk past my door pretty frequently. Sometimes at night and sometimes they are loud or disorderly. You can buy your way out of a lot of that in a car-oriented suburban development.
    I feel the way you do frequently. At the end of the day, you go to work at a job in which you seek to promote urban revitalization, affordable housing, sustainable development, etc. then come home to your urban apartment to find yourself living in proximity to - to put it bluntly - lowlives. It wears you out when you have to go to work bleary eyed after your neighbors (who are all on top of you since you live in a dense, mixed use area like a good planner type) disrupt your sleep with noise, or when you come home from a late night board meeting in which you're trying to sell the powers that be on a project in line with your principles, only to find yourself circling for a parking spot at 11pm. I've also had my car rifled through by various denizens of the night. For all its good qualities, urban life can be exhausting, and I can see why planners might want to opt out of 'practicing what they preach', so to speak.

  25. #50
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I always figure sprawl is a matter of life stages in part. There will always be people who prefer city, suburb, or rural life, but your personal situation in life, at least for me, drives where you live. When you have a family you look for parks, good schools, and things your kids want (again kids are at fault for sprawl). If you can find me a downtown with all those things and reasonably affordable housing costs (that's a no brainer) I'd love to live in town. Sadly even in my small town I have to live out on the edge, not that it's to far from downtown. It just comes out so often that suburbs have what so many of us want in life unless you're single, no kids, or empty nesters. For me, I like to think what we as planners can do to make suburbs more walkable. You might not be able to get every downtown amenity, but you should be able to walk to school or maybe a grocery store. If nothing else send you kid to the store for some milk.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

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