Something Even Worse Than a Cul-de-Sac Subdivision

What a surprise. It turns out that from a New Urbanist perspective, there is something worse than the cul-de-sac subdivision that leaves all its inhabitants dependent on their cars.

It's the business park – utterly auto-dependent, completely disconnected from a local street grid, inwardly focused, and consisting largely of vast tracts of open – not to say public – space. "It's a traffic generating machine," Michael Freedman of Freedman, Tung, & Bottomley commented in Saturday afternoon's session "New Urbanism and the Workplace."

He and Ellen Greenberg of AICP and Dena Belzer of Strategic Economics talked through some of the issues around workplaces and why they haven't figured so prominently as housing in the New Urbanist discussion – and why they should.

Ellen Greenberg said, "My argument would be, we can't say that New Urbanism doesn't apply here."

Job sprawl is as important an issue as residential sprawl.

The workplace commute is the regular daily trip that drives the continuing calls for wider, faster highways, Greenberg said, "And it's the trip people complain about. They don't complain about how long it takes to get to visit their friends or get to the gym. They complain about the trip to work."

But workplaces don't figure prominently in the usual "transect" discussions. The transect tends to think of work as either office work, or rural cottage industry. But as Belzer made clear in her overview presentation, there's still a lot of "old economy" even in "new economy" cities like San Francisco, still a lot of workplaces that have special infrastructure demands that mean they need to be set off from residential neighborhoods and downtowns.

Still, Greenberg, Belzer, and Freedman presented three goals for workplaces according to the New Urbanist vision. They want to see workplaces that are place assets as well as real estate assets, that offer accessible and diverse employment opportunities, and that have sustainability.

With the huge building boom under way across the country right now, there are great opportunities to "get it right" in terms of workplace construction.

And as Freedman pointed out: Time was when farm laborers headed for the city in search of work, chasing employers, so to speak. Nowadays, employers are having to chase after employees, and they need to provide the kind of appealing, "centered" workplaces where desirable workers will want to spend their time.

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