New Urbanism Rising - Part 2
By Bill Moore
One of the objections of critics of new urbanism is the density of population. They reject the notion of being "crammed" together so closely. But New Urbanism advocate Andy Kunz counters with his own argument in favor of higher community densities. [Newurbanism.Org].
He points out that in his own community of South Beach, Florida the density if approximately 35 units to the acre. By contrast, in suburban Miami, the density of housing is closer to 6 units per acre.
"The funny thing about it is, if I go out to suburban Miami. . . I will deal with more traffic and more headaches ... [where there is] very low density than I will here in South Beach where I can just walk to blocks and get what I need, or ride on my bike."
"What makes a place feel crowded is traffic jams," Kunz contends, "not the number of people walking down the street or sidewalk." He argues that, "when everything is spread out, you have drive for every little thing." Low density housing strategies only aggravate traffic congestion. It doesn't alleviate it.
Kunz believes that people develop closer relationships in new urbanism-type environments because everyone tends to walk to their destinations, which encourages relationship building. He contrasts this with the typical suburban situation where people only pass each other in their cars.
"It gives you not a single opportunity to talk. A lot of times you may not even know who your neighbors are because you never see them. Even some of the nicest master planned, suburban communities; they're like ghost towns. You can sit in the middle of the street and not even see a car for twenty minutes. "
Kunz points to communities like Celebration where by design, the lots are smaller the houses closer together and nearer the street. Building codes in Celebration require front porches, with the garage located in the back of the house, accessible by an alleyway. This encourages people to walk and visit.
However, Kunz adds, community planners and builders can't just borrow pieces of new urbanism and expect it to work. Just putting porches on homes won't encourage interaction if people still have to drive everywhere for the smallest little item.
"If you don't incorporate all the pieces, it doesn't work. It actually fails worse . . . You've got to incorporate all the ingredients for any of them to work."
Kunz estimates that the average American family makes something on the order of 15 trips a day, most of them by car. This includes driving to work, going out to lunch, running errands after work, going out for entertainment, shuttling children to school or soccer practice. Multiple this by the number of homes in a master planned community like Anthem in suburban Las Vegas, which has only one major entrance into and out of the community, and you have a prescription for suburban gridlock.
What Role EVs?
Obviously, in the view of New Urban planners, the fewer the cars and trucks, the better. So we asked Andy Kunz what role - - if any - - should EVs play in new urban communities
He replied, "Electric vehicles will play a large role." He sad that in "truly walk-able" communities, EVs like electric scooters and bicycles would make a lot of sense. He sees quite a few electric scooterboards in use in his own community of South Beach. Electric cars would still have to find a place to park, so there might be a smaller role for them, just as there would be for their gasoline cousins.
In places like Celebration, where there are already large numbers of electric-powered vehicles including golf carts and neighborhood-class electric vehicles, EVs make a lot of sense. They are smaller, which means they take up less space and are ideal for short trips to the grocery store.
Kunz thinks electric, light-rail trains will play an increasingly important role in new urban planning, along with high-speed rail systems.
"[These] will drastically change ... America, because then if you connect from a walk-able community with train systems you can really get rid of your car."
In Kunz's view Portland, Oregon leads the nation in this respect. He said the city has created high-density, walk-able communities at every rail stop along its light-rail system. "It is probably the best in the country for unifying land use with transportation policy."
A National Movement
New Urbanism is gaining popularity, Kunz told EV World. Communities all across America are studying it and looking for ways to implement it, though sometimes under the name of "Smart Growth."
"It's really gone big, probably just in the last four or five years."
In his mind, the biggest advantage of new urbanism from the average suburbanite's perspective is no longer having to deal with the aggravations of traffic congestion.
"I think that's probably the most aggravating, most frustrating part of modern life for everyone, and there is nothing you can do about it."
He also thinks that high density urban communities, with neighborhood shops and cafes are an "illuminating, enjoyable experience."
One of the most important public policies that needs adopting in order to encourage New Urbanism is what Kunz calls TND codes, or traditional neighborhood development codes. These require the introduction of mixed use buildings set close to the street. Any parking is behind the building or off premise.
He observed that many communities mandate that developers incorporate a certain amount of parking space for each square foot of building space. This creates your typical suburban shopping mall where most of the land is paved over in parking lots since it costs less to pave over ground than to build a parking building. "You end up with a piece of property where three-quarters of it is parking lot, by code."
The next change he's like to see is for the government to change its transportation policy. He thinks every time the government builds another six lane road, it just encourages more driving. He says this creates a "chain reaction" of more vehicles, more parking lots, businesses and communities spread further apart in a vicious cycle that consumes resources and "prevents the development of walk-able places."
What Can We Do?
Kunz thinks that the most dramatic thing each of us could do, if we wanted to promote new urbanism, is to move into an urban area. "See how it changes your life and then tell everyone you know the same thing."
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