In new urbanist circles, "cheap" is often a dirty word; for example, I recently noticed a reference to "cheap" suburbs in a blog. I find this objectionable for two reasons. First, in a nation where many regions suffer from insanely expensive housing projects, we should be striving for cheaper housing. To be fair, sometimes planners and architects use "cheap" as a synonym for "badly designed"- but this is imprecise. If we want to say something is badly designed, we should say exactly that.
Numerous studies (such as the one referenced here) have suggested that there is some connection between sprawl and obesity, because residents of sprawl walk less and are thus more likely to weigh more.
One common argument against tall buildings is that they block out light, creating shadows that block the sun. But as I was walking down Avenue of the Americas (one of Midtown Manhattan's most skyscraper-oriented streets) I saw plenty of sun- just not on my side of the street. What was going on?
Howard Blackson's latest post on the Placemakers blog clarifies the concept of "mixed use." A narrow definition of mixed use limits the term to mixed-use buildings: for example, buildings partially devoted to housing and partially devoted to other uses.
But Blackson points out that a walkable mixed-use neighborhood can include purely residential buildings or even purely residential blocks, as long as those blocks are within walking distance of commercial places.
As I was looking through my Twitter feed last night, I noticed an article on Canada's "elevator suburbs"- suburban streets (often, but not always, in low-income areas) filled with mid-and high-rise apartment buildings and shops, with lower-density housing on side streets. How do these places stack up (pun intended) from an urbanist perspective?
A few days ago, I came to Atlanta to spend the Jewish holiday of Passover with my family, a holiday commemorating the deparature of Hebrew slaves (also known as "the Exodus") from Egypt about 3300 years ago.
At one level, this liberation was about freedom- and so is new urbanism. Just as the Exodus liberated the Hebrews from Egyptian kings, new urbanism seeks to liberate Americans from the four-wheeled kingdom of automobile-dependent sprawl.
Hazel Borys's recent post on joggable suburbs reminds me of something I had meant to blog about during Oscar time: a movie that gives us a fairly good role model of walkable suburbia: The Silver Linings Playbook.
Richard Florida has responded to Joel Kotkin's attack on "creative class" centered policies. Kotkin doesn't really deny Florida's point that places with high-skilled workers have higher wages, but says that wage gains in high-skill cities are outweighed by high housing costs. Florida agrees.
Joel Kotkin tried to take down Richard Florida today, arguing that trusting the "creative class of the skilled, educated and hip...to remake American cities" is "pernicious." Mr. Florida can speak for himself, but I do have a few thoughts about the article.
1. Can Both Ideas Be True?
I recently saw a listserv post with the headline "the costs of automobilism." The phrase "automobilism" makes automobile dependence seem like an alien ism, a sinister ideology like communism or fascism.
By contrast, sprawl lobby types prefer the term "auto-mobility." By associating driving with mobility, they suggest that cars equal freedom and opportunity. After all, who would be against being mobile (or at least having the opportunity to be mobile)?