Thursday, September 08, 2005

Why cars and walkable communities can peacefully co-exist

This short essay talks about the effect of the internet and telecommuting on the future of smart growth and communities.
One of the more interesting paradoxes -- particularly for regions struggling to divine "smart growth" solutions -- is that the more we live and work in cyberspace, the more important real place becomes. While this notion runs counter to much of today's popular literature, we are already seeing the knowledge worker and high-tech, knowledge-sensitive industries migrating to highly livable communities. They are places with mountains or lakes, open spaces, clean air and water, and -- as in the case of Portland, Ore., and other communities that have established urban-growth boundaries -- less reliance on the automobile as the primary mode of transportation.

While agree on the desire for "better places" and peoples' growing focus on neighborhood and community aesthetics as they become affluent, I disagree on that being translated into an anti-car philosophy, which is simply unrealistic in modern society.

I think walkable communities and the car are completely compatible, precisely because their scales are so dramatically different from each other: walking is a 3mph activity, while driving is typically between 30 and 70mph. There is no reason we can't have a metro area with dozens or even hundreds of pedestrian scale "town centers" all connected by a high-speed freeway grid (not running through the middle of the town center, of course). Just because the 8-lane freeway of 610 passes by the city of Bellaire doesn't mean the Bellaire town center can't be made very pedestrian and bike-friendly. This gives the citizens of Bellaire their aesthetically-pleasing small town while still connecting them to the business and career opportunities of a big city, along with the access to restaurants, museums, performing arts, and other big city infrastructure like major hub airports and professional sports. It's a practical compromise of the best of both worlds.


At 7:18 AM, September 09, 2005, Blogger John Whiteside said...

I think you're absoloutely right. But this is exactly the idea behind a lot of the new smart growth development in suburbs of major cities (I'm thinking of some of the development around DC specifically.)

A friend who is an architect who was involved in some of the new urbanist development in Dallas (things like Mockingbird Station) put it quite simply: he had no illusions that they'd make Dallas a car free town; the goal was to create enough spaces where cars weren't needed so that people could make fewer car trips and so that a family could choose to own fewer than one car per family member, which is a big cost savings to them. (For example, breadwinner hops on the train downtown to work leaving car for homemaker to run errands and pick up kids, etc.)

At 9:08 AM, September 09, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I absolutely agree, John, esp. that part about good commuter transit allowing a family to have less money tied up in cars. But I think, to be realistic in these multi-polar cities, that commuter transit probably needs to be point-to-point express HOV/HOT bus service.


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