MLewyn's blog

The lion can lie down with the lamb

There's been a lot of argument on a new urbanist listserv about DC's height limits. (In the interest of full disclosure I note that I'm doing some of the arguing!)  I think one of the concerns animating opponents of taller buildings is the fear of a high-rise monoculture. 

Coincidentally, I was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, just a block or two from the Empire State Building.  But in addition to that famous skyscraper, I saw a whole row of four-story buildings- evidence that the high-rise lion can lie down with the low-rise lamb.

Jane Jacobs on height

"I think the specific scheme of diversity zoning, or the specific combination of schemes, that an outstandingly successful city locality requires is likely to differ with the locality... A park being surrounded by intensive duplications of tall offices or apartments might well be zoned for lower buildings along its south side in particular, thus accomplishing two useful purposes at one stroke: preserving the park's supply of winter sun, and protecting indirectly , to some extent at least, its diversity of surrounding uses." (Death and Life, p. 253).

Who walks to transit and how much?

At CNU, I picked up a short article written by Lilah Besser and Andrew Dannenberg of the Center for Disease Control on walking to public transit. 

No Freedom For Me

The auto lobby likes to claim that automobile dependence means "freedom."  But this certainly did not reflect my experience last week.  I visited Atlanta (where my parents and siblings live) for a vacation, and lost my drivers' license a couple of days into the vacation.  Since my license is a New York license, I couldn't get it replaced while I was in Atlanta.  And because my parents live in one of the city's most automobile-dependent areas*, I couldn't get anywhere without getting rides from family members. 

Rebuilding urban Judaism

In most car-oriented American cities, Jews moved to the suburbs as rapidly as anyone else, if not more so.  As a result, most such cities lack a Jewish presence anywhere near downtown.  For example, until recently the most "urban" synagogues in Dallas and Kansas City were six or seven miles from downtown, and there is only one synagogue left within the Cleveland city limits (only a few blocks from said city limits).

High-Rises and New Urbanists: How to Attack Both

I realize that high-rises aren't perfect.  They may consume more energy than smaller buildings, and under the wrong circumstances, high-rises can coexist with bad urbanism (for example, a tall building in the middle of a suburban office park, or surrounded by ten-lane roads).  Having said that, I do think some criticisms of tall buildings go overboard.

How Much Density Is Enough? It Depends

Los Angeles has over 7000 people per square mile, yet doesn't have a reputation as a particularly walkable place.  By contrast, I was pretty happy living without a car in Carbondale, IL (a small college town with 2178 people per square mile).  How come?

against "sustainability" (the word, not the policy)

(cross-posted with my personal blog)


Literally (i.e. in normal, non-jargon English) “sustainable” means that it is capable of being sustained over time, whether it is good or bad.


But in environmentalist jargon, “sustainable” means “environmentally friendly” or “non-polluting.”  It seems to me that this jargon creates a completely unnecessary barrier between professional environmentalists/planners and the rest of humanity. 

How not to make public transit tourist-friendly

After CNU, I rode Tri-Rail and Miami-Dade transit to visit a friend in Miami Beach.  The Tri-Rail trip was fine; Miami-Dade transit, however, was more of an adventure.

Calthorpe on Chinese urbanism

Peter Calthorpe spoke this morning on Chinese urbanism- the good and the bad. From a new urbanist perspective, the good includes density and transportation: Chinese cities tend to be more compact than ours, and the government seeks to limit car use to a 20% modal share (i.e. 20 percent of all trips by car- still an increase over the current 12 percent share).

The bad: lots of streets that are too wide to comfortably cross, and lots of blocks that tend to be on the long side.