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  • MarinResident

    I live in a semi-rural area, with excellent walking. Urbanizing our neighborhood would make it awful to walk in. I've lived in the "urban" utopia and hated walking through the concrete channels. Bicyclists are afraid to ride in the crowded streets for fear of being hit by a car. Neighbors have no privacy, no peace and quiet, no way to have absolute quite in a natural setting. In my suburban neighborhood, bicyclists, dog walkers, and children are safe, welcome, and more plentiful than in my old urban setting. "Urban planning" in my neighborhood is known as a way for a small set of self-appointed people with control issues to dictate to others how they should live (in small boxes, cheek to jowl) while they themselves live in suburban homes. If want and like this kind of lifestyle, have at it. But, don't dictate to me how to live, use my tax dollars to work against me, then tell me I'm a racist/nimby/fascist/teabagger because I won't passively comply with YOUR idea of how I should live. Give me a suburban or semi-rural home any day, and keep the government off my back.

    • Frankie77

      I don't think this piece states anywhere that semi rural areas should be urbanised? There certainly are different definitions of 'urban planning' however I think the author here clearly states that his desire for urban planning is a return to focus on the people; and you seem to concur with this sentiment. A focus on the people offers a range of lifestyle options, which doesn't dictate how people live but rather accommodates the mixture. If you object to urban planning efforts in your neighbourhood I suggest making having constructive (not aggressive) interactions with these 'self-appointed people with control issues'. You might be pleasantly surprised :)

      A great piece, I thoroughly enjoyed and agree! It's so true, many cities have the theory in place, but not the political conviction/finances/whatever to follow through.

  • Andrea Traber

    Vancouver has the very best bike lanes I've ever seen or experienced. They have managed to give bikes and equal footing with cars; they are safe, have signals, are on many streets and even replace a driving lane in some cases. I certainly agree with Jeff, and I recognize that a somewhat deficient (from an enviro, climate change perspective) hybrid model is what we're looking for the near future. If we could get lanes like Vancouver in many major cities it could cause a sea change.

  • theadora89

    Great insights. I am actually reading Kevin Lynch's "Image of the City" right now and really think that so much what we interpret from our environment's is directly related to walking and really experience our town or city. Driving often puts on auto-pilot mode and we don't have time to really create an image of our habitat. Walkable neighborhoods enhance our understanding of your surroundings by allowing us to actively observe the structural, social, and environmental space within our line of vision.

  • Henrik Dahle

    Thank you for this. Indeed. I have a little project called www.rehabrd.com that's not quite launched (as I'm busy crowd funding for a book about a year climbing trees - http://bit.ly/1ap1Kus). Would appreciate your feedback or input! Will certainly link to your post when the time comes to give rehabrd some more energy.

  • Jenna Krewson

    Interesting angle, we recently moved to a more walkable/bike-friendly neighborhood to cut down on drive time and have more interesting dog walks, which almost immediately increased our quality of life. Would love to see these issues flourish within urban design. Can you share your source on the study about chemical release during indoor vs outdoor exercise? Bike culture!

  • ianjamesgordon

    I think this is more of a North American problem. You wouldn't find half of these problems in the vast majority of European cities. They came into being before the car. I am not saying its virtuous, but rather that 'path dependency' played a major part. In the US, earlier choices dictate which future choices are open to you. These earlier choices have not favored urban planning, given that the choices were made by General Motors, and were in many cases illegal. However oil scarcity is going to change the burbs. The only question is whether or not the burbs will be prepared for those changes or not.

    • MarinResident

      Very few of the European cities you speak so highly of were planned. They grew organically. Urban planning by a few self-appointed elites with a hyper-progressive agenda is not the solution. Good things like dog and hiking trails happen as a result of community input, consensus, and organic growth. The more "Urban Planned" an area is, the worse it is. Take for example any of the housing projects in New York, Boston, the Soviet Union. Who wants to live there?

  • Aezure

    I agree, while the suburban design appears safe because it's pretty, uniform, and seemingly uneventful; looks can be completely deceiving, especially during adolescence. Teens, especially the ambitious ones, have all this energy and nowhere to direct it because of the lack of diversity, activity options and mobility; if you don't fit in at school or have unique interests, you're just out of luck. The crimes that happen in the 'burbs tend to be on the extreme side like the Newtown, Columbine, and Aurora shootings; on top of that, the cyber-bullying cases mainly happen in the suburbs as well. I personally think there's a correlation with these outcomes and the suburban design. First, the lack of mobility and options; second, the sheltered environment fails to give children and adolescents the character-building struggle that creates functional adults, in turn makes them indecisive basket-cases that cave under any sort of conflict.

    • MarinResident

      Really? Seriously?

      "the sheltered environment fails to give children and adolescents the character-building struggle that creates functional adults, in turn makes them indecisive basket-cases that cave under any sort of conflict. "

      That's complete horse hockey. Putting vulnerable, impressionable kids into a pressure cooker of crime, violence, prostitution, and drugs DOES NOT enhance their ability to function as adults. If it did, kids from the toughest neighborhoods such as Harlem, East LA, etc. would be consistently excellent students in school and well functioning adults.

      Instead, kids from the suburbs and semi-rural areas have the opportunity to be outside, play in the sun, walk through the forest, bicycle to and from school without fear of getting hit by a bus, and enjoy being a kid.

      "The crimes that happen in the 'burbs tend to be on the extreme side"

      The vast majority of all violent crime by youths is gang banging, drug crimes, and vengeance. It's not news if unless it's unusual. When some nice kid from a nice neighborhood snaps where violent crimes from youth almost never happen, it's news. When the kids are shooting up the area so much you can't tell which ones are the new bullet holes it's not news. Go take a simple look to find out how much violent crime is committed per capita by youths in the urban ideal you talk about vs in the semi-rural areas you mentioned, and you will find that you are very much mistaken. Leave psychology to the trained professionals.

    • Brenda Barnes

      Really great thoughts. Research could show whether your hypotheses are valid. They sure seem so.

      • MarinResident

        Actually, it's complete bunk. If it were real, there would be factual evidence to back it up, rather than hyper-progressive propaganda. Why isn't there such evidence? Because that evidence would disprove their case. I've looked into it, and believe me, they don't have a case that would stand up to even the most basic scrutiny. Be careful to separate out the effects of nice features in an urban setting, and the urban setting itself. The same nice features in a suburban setting would give you the same identical benefits.

    • catmando

      whoa exelent comment

  • Brenda Barnes

    Talk about sounding good on paper. Tumlin has no detail on implementation in any of his writings. The Emperor has no clothes.

    • James Dunseith

      Sorry Brenda, but what do you propose instead?

      • Brenda Barnes

        I think Tumlin is probably right. I'm part of the choir too, although as a real estate litigation lawyer (now retired), I am extremely good at stopping urban development. The reason I feel it is good and moral to do so at this time is most people promoting it are like Tumlin--all theory, no facts--thinking it is enough to say density is good in Europe so it will be good here, and sprawl is bad, which is just a straw man, when in fact traffic is just ridiculous here in Santa Monica, where he was pushing the idea of more density. Residents will pass initiatives against development as they just did in Encinitas, or they will vote out the whole council or bankrupt the city with litigation before they will stand for that. Especially in well-educated cities like Santa Monica.

        So what should be done instead is demonstrate with a successful model city how it actually works in the US with the infrastructure that is already here, which is based on the car. I think cities are doing it. Long Beach seems to be putting in a downtown transit center that is awesome and bike lanes separated from cars, so people can see biking is really practical and the downtown can liven up enough to make a lot of people want to live there. But you can''t just impose the idea on people and put in the density first before you've solved the problems. I think it is arrogant to call yourself a planner and expect people to take on faith what you say, no matter what it is. Solving planning problems is your job, not being a philosopher.

        • MarinResident

          Thank you!
          Also, it's arrogant (and illegal) for urban planners to try to solve income, work-force, racial, and other disparities by requiring others to live the way they dictate.

  • ianjamesgordon

    Was rather short on detail or examples. Also, explaining problems that are right up in one's face is a waste of my time. Explaining solutions would not waste my time.

    • James Dunseith

      Getting more people to buy into the fact that this is a problem is part of getting solutions off the ground. What may be an obvious problem to you is not yet so to a majority of people. It's probably true that Tumlin is preaching to the choir here, but as the choir, we should be figuring out how to get more people to hear us.

      • ianjamesgordon

        While that is certainly true, it would also be true that people are mostly deaf to the problems around us and only hard of hearing when it comes to solutions.:)

  • EricWeinstein

    Nicely put Jeffery. Sorry you're not here in Santa Monica anymore.

    Eric W

  • Sam

    Interesting article, I agree.
    I would love to see my city design toward being more bike-and-pedestrian-friendly. I am not a confident biker, as it is, but the way our streets are designed, and the aggressive way people drive, is more than enough to keep my bike in storage. So instead, I'm forced to walk along side busy streets, inhaling exhaust and construction dust.

    • MarinResident

      Thank you again. It's the the urbanization that's the solution, or the suburban/semi-rural that's the problem, it's the lack of natural, organic growth of the features that people want in their lives. Cramming people into high density housing just makes it worse, not better.

  • STeptl

    Overall, a poorly written and somewhat vacuous piece. While most your points stand, they do so because they have been repeated and reasonably argued for the umpteenth time since the 60's; otherwise, they'd be unsubstantiated fodder. I just wish conversations on urban design were more productive than "cars are bad, bikes are good" -- because, what does that really accomplish? We are well into the decline of the suburb as the preferred place to live. Why not talk about how cycling rates/culture can be improved instead? Or why inner-ring suburbs are being increasingly populated by the former inner-city poor?

    • Adele Peters

      Hi steptl, although this piece was limited to a short word count, I'd recommend checking out the author's excellent book on transportation (Sustainable Transportation Planning), which goes into detail about how to improve biking rates and other modes of transit, case studies, measures of success, and more. It's intended for urban planners and urban planning students, but well worth reading if you're interested in digging into specific solutions.

  • PetronellaT

    Great to see this conversation developing more and more at the responsibility of urban design. I am creating a model for sustainability consultancy that will predict the impacts on public health in terms of chronic disease (such as % increase in type II diabetes, obesity, cancers, etc that changes in land use has. So, if the land use mix is high (even distribution of residential, commercial, office and green space) then this will have positive affects on health and reduce the risk of these diseases.

    • MarinResident

      And how about some studies on the impact of cramming thousands of people into high density housing within a 1/4 mile of the freeway? All the issues you bring up are exacerbated by the aggressive over urbanization of semi-rural areas all over the country.

  • CommunityMatters

    We agree that better design is one element of what makes a community "successful". CommunityMatters is hosting a free conference call on the Secrets of Successful Communities with Ed McMahon, a leading thinker on community planning and design from the Urban Land Institute.

    If you'd like to join us or continue the conversation, check out our "do" on GOOD: http://www.good.is/posts/host-a-communitymatters-listening-party-on-the-secrets-of-successful-communities.

  • jsnow76

    While your points about current urban policies shaping future suburban development are valid, suburban development is nothing new. There has been suburban development since the 1830s and car suburbs since the beginning of the twentieth century, soon after the Model T came rolling off the assembly line in 1908. Ever since, it has been popular to complain about the ills of suburban living. While driving may not be sustainable, it is equally unsustainable to demolish older suburbs to build new communities. The challenge is to adapt existing suburbs, and everything that people like about them – home ownership outside of a city center in a quiet, safe neighborhood with some surrounding greenery and hopefully better schools – into an area that is more pedestrian and bike friendly.

  • ryan.kragerud

    Something important to note is: New Urbanist Neighborhoods are a relatively new creation. These neighborhoods began popping up on the fringes of urban, suburban and ex-urban neighborhoods, adjacent to non-walkable, sprawling, cul-de-sac ridden neighborhoods. Which has meant by-and-large walkable neighborhoods are only walkable within themselves.

    Typically the residents living adjacent to retro-urban neighborhoods opposed sidewalk and trail connections for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they didn't know, care or understand what mixed-use & mixed income meant.

    So besides big porches and walkable streets, what developed were essentially islands of awesome surrounded by oceans of minimum standards. What we in the planning field need to do is push for new methods of citizen involvement. Trail connections between neighborhoods to increases the walkability of non-new urbanist neighborhoods, but will only get us so far.

    Design can only happen when we create the political will to change. When I talk to planning students they usually ask me what's the number one thing you'd recommend to people entering the Urban Design and City Planning field - honestly, i say "Be OK with disappointment".

    Developers, architects and urban designers will propose the most gorgeous developments but, what gets built...... is another thing entirely. Political figures are ALWAYS wooed by pretty pictures. An Urban Planner has to see through that, and, like the author, realize your local land use regulations are built on minimum standards, that, are often, 10 - 25 years out of date with today's consumer.

    We need to update our land use codes to incorporate better connectivity, but that will only happen if we want it to happen. Are you willing to devote tens of hours of unpaid community volunteerism on City boards and planning processes to change this? Most modern families don't have that kind of time. Developers do.

    Lets figure out a better way to engage the public in planning policy and the other stuff will follow. Eventually.....

    Ryan Kragerud, AICP
    President - Bicycle Longmont

  • Sharon Kelly

    Yes, I live in the 'burbs and I definitely agree with the author. Most suburban locales build, build, build and build some more. And not all the development is for the best either. I have seen a KFC, Burger King, 5 Guys and a Little Ceasar crop up within the last 2 1/2 years. Now, a Tim Hortons (like 1 in the same suburb wasn't enough - it's only 1 mile away!!) I am contemplating moving back to the city and I would do it sooner if I could find a pocket in the city where crime wasn't so rampant. But I am finding ways to get my outdoor exercise. Yes, I shop in the 'burbs (as well as the city too), but I make sure to get my excercise by parking as far as I can from the store's entrance or walking to a shop if it feasible and if I don't get run over by those irate suburban drivers!

  • simplepath

    sHere's a challenge. I live in a densely populated suburb of Boston where you can walk to supermarket and pay 30 to 40% more for food. Problem being, I busted my ankle walking and now I can't get there. Even if I could, I couldn't walk around the supermarket. I have to spend all of my on foot time just getting to and from work and there's no margin for anything else.

    My neighbors and I all have the same attitude. We don't want to know anything, here anything, see anything or do anything with any of the people we live near. You can't make us socialize for any amount of money in the world.

    Bicycle riding is hazardous because all of these idiots walking in front of me as I ride down the road. At least the vast majority of cars obey traffic laws.

    Give me old suburbia like Eastern Massachusetts over "new style" urban living. You have trees, you have wildlife,, it's pleasant cycling and you're not always being pushed to spending your money in some cool restaurant or hip shop.

    I think that's what bothers me the most about nouveau urban design. It's not a place to live as much as a way to aggregate consumers and deliver them to retail outlets

  • Chris Andrews

    As a former cruising carless boater I've had real life experience in walking, biking, busing and begging rides to survive. It is literally another world to navigate; much harder and far healthier.

  • Isobel

    Design as solution to the hell of suburbia, now its just time to get the government on board and overhaul the situation.

  • jm72888

    Great article. I love public/city planning, so interesting.

  • Wendy Tan

    Great read! My view would be that this state of denial/irrationality is because we're blinded by the need to engineer and measure solutions so that they can be fiscally sound. Well...until the economists/technocrats can calculate the externalities of unhappiness and lack of social well-being in a humane way...we will always come back to this impasse. Our policies and governance have been reduced to the non-human factors in order to be accountable. It's only logical that the outcomes they produce will negate the human perspective.

  • vibesman

    Stylistic and informational debunking of a modern debacle. Cars and wide cement roads are the problem. Community and commonwealth(perhaps a nifty public transit) are the keys to abundance, synchronicity and a much needed scale-down of our sprawl schematics brewed up by big money investors and g-men!

  • John Wynn

    A thoroughly enjoyable, informative read...I like your style.

  • elwin15208

    I really enjoyed this piece right up until the very last sentence. Surely you do not mean to say that bad design decisions can rescue us from sprawl?

    • Adele Peters

      Thanks for catching that editing error! I've made the fix. :)

      • elwin15208

        Glad to help clarify the world, one sentence at a time :)

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        It's amazing that Los Angeles hasn't really revised design plans of the city's layout since the '40s. I heard that on NPR while driving, so I may be wrong. But, it's exciting that they're starting to build more metro stops.