The land use on the left moves about 250,000 people per day, all of them in cars. Land that is not paved for cars is utterly wasted: nobody would enjoy picnicking or living there, even if you were allowed.
The land use on the right moves 584,000 people day, about 500,000 of them on foot. (That’s more than double.) It takes up half the space, and the land around it is some of the most valuable in the world.
Do the regulations, guidelines and laws in your city encourage the development pattern on the left, or the development pattern on the right?
For reference - the cost of paint
- You get 1,600 linear feet per 5-gallon pail.
So that’s $0.21 a foot. A 33ft building frontage, which might have two or three lines for various purposes in front of it on its half of the street, is looking at a paint capex of about $20.
Clearly therefore the larger cost is going to be staff time: designing, stenciling, doing the painting. Which is why volunteer and tactical projects are so great. Just nice to be aware of the magnitudes involved.
A wealth-creating pattern of development
Municipalities must ensure their policies and regulations facilitate (i.e. make profitable) the land development patterns on the right.
Instead, most are set up to encourage the patterns on the left: parking minima, setbacks, use-separated zoning, LOS-first public spaces.
The result is that infrastructure liabilities far outweigh their tax base, they repel both capital and labor and end up broke. Not to mention the health and environmental consequences of car-dependency.
George Street, Edinburgh
Not a stroad by any means, but a wide (30m) street currently undergoing redesign, and at risk of suffering some common errors.
This is Google Earth’s view of the street today. Lovely wide sidewalks, central horizontal parking to narrow the street. I believe it’s parking plus two lanes on the left of this picture, and parking plus one travel on the right.
Here’s my Streetmix attempt at this:
Here’s the plan, from the official docs
There’s no scale, and no detail on the cycle lane, but the prose around the plan talks about a two-way cycle path, which made me shudder a bit.
Here’s what I think they’re planning:
The problem with on-street two-way cycle paths, as Vancouverites and Copenhagenizers know, is the intersections (junctions, in Brit-speak). They’re a confusing dangerous mess, and especially heinous for removing any possibility of nice safe dutch islands.
Here’s a possible two-way design for George Street:
Local bike advocates Spokes have chimed in, with a nice list of concerns about a flow-first mindset (over placemaking and local connectivity) in the design. This echoes Massengale and Dover’s critique of many complete street attempts.
National Rental Home Council
American Homes 4 Rent (AMH), a landlord with more than 21,000 homes founded by billionaire B. Wayne Hughes, announced a joint venture in September to buy distressed mortgages.
Hughes, who pioneered warehouses for Americans needing storage space, saw the opportunity to create a rental empire after the housing crash. Hughes brought together a group of executives from his company Public Storage to begin buying homes in early 2012.
At around the same time, Blackstone Group LP started Invitation Homes, a single-family landlord that has spent $8 billion on 43,000 homes.
Now these charming bankers in the foreclosure-to-rental business have clubbed together to start a lobbying group, er, trade association.
Their website doesn’t feature the snout-houses so beloved of subprime suburbia, but instead is decorated with the most colourful traditionalist architecture on well-manicured, seemingly pedestrian-friendly streets.
Streets like this one, featuring the famous Jellybean rowhouses of St John, Newfoundland, Canada:
As far as I know, the subprime crisis didn’t stretch that far north-east, but I could be wrong!
Can any readers identify the following familiar-looking sites? Ping me @ neil21 with your answers!
Update: a Strong Towns member makes the point I should have guessed. They’re stock photos.
All of the descriptions call them new-builds, but that could be as fake as the NRHC.
World Bank urges Canada to reform urban development
Canada could save $1.4tn in infrastructure spending over the next 15 years by increasing the population density of its cities, the World Bank said on Tuesday.
The bank’s managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati told a conference on urbanism in Ottawa that according to current trends Canada’s cities would spend $5.3tn on infrastructure over the next decade and a half but could save roughly a quarter of that by using a series of market reforms that would decrease urban sprawl.
Managing the inflow of millennials to cities is a big challenge for Canada, which has 10m more urban residents than a decade ago, as young people flood into cities in search of higher paying jobs. According to the bank, Canada’s major cities gain 100,000 new urban residents every month.
However, Canada’s cities have grown more outward rather than upward, and outside of downtown areas they are more characterised by thinly populated suburban sprawl. According to research published by the World Bank, Paris has 133 intersections per square km, Tokyo has 211, while newly built North Toronto has 14 and the Surrey suburb of Vancouver has 17.
Denser cities mean more efficient infrastructure with less spent on roads and connecting infrastructure to users.
The bank said city planners should focus on increasing the density of newer areas of cities by reforming the way land is taxed and sold, and by reducing artificial barriers to migration. If the western city of Edmonton (population 730,000) was the same density as the South Korean capital Seoul, according to Bert Hofman, the World Bank’s chief economist for Asia, “you could put in 4-5m more people”.
Yang Kaizhong a professor at Peking University criticised Canada’s current development pattern as “inefficient, uninclusive, unsustainable”, adding: “That’s because land use planning has been driven by the government. The government should have greater room to use economic means to drive urban design.”Currently 54 per cent of Canadians live in cities, and the government’s plan aims to lift that rate to 60 per cent by 2020.
A World of Neighbourhoods
Words like Neighbourhood, Street, Road, Town, City, Urban and Rural have been misused for so long by the development and engineering industries that they are almost devoid of meaning.
New Urbanists attempt to reclaim these words with more precise definitions. Many people balk at the unrealistic over-precision of these definitions, but I think they’re very useful clear archetypes: Platonic ideals against which real-world construction can be measured.
A common source of confusion in public urbanism discussions comes from one interlocutor using these terms as shorthand for their precise definition, and another interlocutor using (or understanding) them as ambiguous, nebulous words with very wide and flexible definitions.
So, in the interest of clarity, here is how I think about the world, and the words I use to describe it.
Urban / Rural
With reference to the urban transect below, urban areas are those containing contexts (‘outdoor room types’) T3 and up. Natural T1 means land almost untouched by man: desert, forest, mountaintop, plains. T2 is the rural transect, and is mostly farmed.
Note that the word ‘urban’ may therefore refer to everything from the smallest hamlet up to a buzzing metropolis. The word ‘urban’ doesn’t signify decay, crime, noise, pollution, a large/high population, or styles of music or clothing.
The ‘sub-urban’ label for T3 often confuses people, since it sounds like sprawl. I find it useful to picture the arrangement of single-family houses in Vancouver’s Kitsilano or Mount Pleasant:
Street / Road
The urban-rural boundary also defines the street-road boundary. In the rural context, roads cut through the landscape, offering high-speed connection between urban areas.
In the urban context, streets are the space between buildings, the outdoor rooms formed by the placement of active semi-public frontages for pleasant enclosure. Roads do not belong in the urban context, just as streets are by definition absent from the rural context.
The urban-rural boundary (and street-road distinction) also makes it easy to see who should pay to maintain each thoroughfare type. Inter-urban roads may be tolled (or, in the case of rail-roads, ticketed) i.e. they are maintained by those who travel along them. Intra-urban streets may be maintained by taxes on surrounding landowners (property tax) who benefit from their access and placemaking. This is precisely how such infrastructure was maintained historically, and is the only transparent, democratically accountable way to do it.
Clarence Perry defined the neighbourhood size based upon a five-minute walking radius. All daily needs may be met within a neighbourhood: it should be technically feasible to live your entire life without leaving the neighbourhood, although in reality only children or the old will do this most of the time. A neighbourhood has a centre, typically a town square, where economic and social activity is focused.
What Perry got wrong was putting the major thoroughfares on the edge. Instead the neighbourhood ‘main street’ (or ‘high street’) should cut through the middle of the neighbourhood, to connect to the transit stop at the neighbourhood centre. This is a simple matter of geometry: in order to survive and prosper, the commercial activity must be both ‘on the way' and clustered. In larger cities, these will be great streets, grand (transit) boulevards and avenues.
Chip Kaufman discussed similar ideas recently on Steve Mouzon’s blog, and the recommended greenfield design process in the Appendix to the SmartCode (also outlined with diagrams in the Appendix to the Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative) follows a similar outline, connecting neighbourhood centres with major thoroughfares.
The founding neighborhood of Seaside, FL is a neighbourhood cut in half.
A neighbourhood should contain a minimum of three transect zones, typically T3 to T5. The more diversity of form in the neighbourhood the better (while respecting the need for each street or square to create a cohesive room, and each building to respect its neighbours).
Village, Town, City
All urban settlements are clusters of neighbourhoods. Urban growth proceeds either by
- intensification within a neighbourhood (building out plots to their full t-zone, or upzoning from T3 to T4 to T5) or
- the seeding of a new neighbourhood, with its centre at least 10-minutes’ walk away from the next one.
In terms of maturation within a neighbourhood, Steve Mouzon has provided an excellent narrative with the town of Sky in Florida.
Rules are Made to be Broken
There are many places that work that don’t follow this pattern. There are places that don’t work, that do follow it. However all else equal, I would claim that a human settlement that follows this pattern will be more sustainably healthy, wealthy and happy than one that doesn’t. If you’re a small town concerned about jobs and population growth, it’s worth checking whether your laws and regulations encourage this development pattern, or a different one, such as car-first sprawl.
Trying out a different format. My urbanist’s dictionary.
Square: Space enclosed by buildings. The direct descendant of campsites and wagons in the round.
Street: An elongated square. Place, not flow, is the priority.
Great Street: At least 30m wide and 200m long, with special design attention. May be a transit boulevard, a multi-way boulevard, a rambla, a well-designed complete street. A tree line defines space, much as the building line does in normal streets.
Road: The connection between two places. Flow, not place is the priority. Direct descendant of roman roads, and rail-roads.
Rural: Organised nature. A landscape dominated by living things, but arranged for efficient human use.
Urban: The human habitat, Dominated by non-living natural matter like stone and wood. The placement of rocks and wood defines public and private space, provides enclosure, shelter etc.
Not enough to call it a trend, but a nice pair of recent stories:
- West Van’s ‘stroad’ could be destroying businesses: traffic engineer
- Metro Vancouver “stroads” bad for commuters and business
The only other google hits I get for ‘vancouver stroad’ are yours truly, including this viaduct piece from a year ago in Spacing:
For a photo tour of Metro Vancouver stroads featured here, see earlier posts.
Two great diagrams from Strong Towns
I think they’re neatly self-explanatory, but go read more about them here.
A flawed system of municipal finance is driving debt
“A flawed system of municipal finance is driving debt, corruption and dissent, while unsustainable urban planning has yielded polluted cities that are destroying the ecosystem. Yet, the nation’s future requires continued urbanization which, absent a new approach, will only make the problems worse.”
US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, December 2012 in the New York Times. Incredibly, he wasn’t talking about the USA.
(Quoted in this equally blinkered KPMG piece by a former Canadian politician.)