Congress recently passed a two-year transportation funding bill, to less-than-glowing reviews from environmentalist-oriented transportation lobbies.
According to some media commentary, any form of civic improvement (such as, say, light rail) is dangerous because it might lead to something called gentrification (i.e. middle-class people moving back into cities) which allegedly leads to displacement (i.e. poorer people being priced out of an area by rising rents).
A recent video on the Reason Magazine website criticized Washington, DC's bikeshare program, on the ground that the program's primary beneficiaries are well-off whites.
After participating in the PRO-URB listserv while following the Republican primaries, it occurs to me that there's some similarity between the Republican Party's problems with its more extreme activist wing and the relationship between the new urbanist/smart growth movements and environmentalists.
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.
"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).
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.
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.
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).
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.