The lack of Pedestrian culture in America

Discussion in 'The Observation Bar' started by Feng_Li, May 22, 2007.

  1. reetpleat

    reetpleat Call Me a Cab

    Messages:
    2,681
    Location:
    Seattle
    As a real estate agent, I have become interested in planning and urban development. There are a number of interesting issues.

    Many americans actually do prefer suburban car life and that is fine, but for those who would prefer to be able to walk a lot more, there are a number of problems. Many cities saw urban flight which abandoned the cities and made them places most people would not live by choice. Nos that the trend is back to certain urban centers, only the wealthy can afford to buy in the decent urban areas. I see it every day. Peopel call me up and say they want to be in an n city walkable neighborhood and I have to tell them they can not afford it, not even a condo.

    Most new development in the us does not really support it. Vancouver built a whole new huge neighborhood. They gave the developer a sweet deal on the condition that they put in a rail lines and no dwelling unit could be any further than four blocks from a stop. But in the Us, they think by building a condo with a coffee shop and tanning salon and a gap in the bottom is somehow going to revive the urban eneighborhood. Where are the green grocers, where are the grocery stores , and hardware stores, things people need.

    Some suburban communities are building shopping centers in walkable neighborhoods out in the burbs, but people still have to drive to work and there is no public transportation, except maybe buses which are slow and limited.

    Seattle put in a light rail line recentlyt which will open soon. It is good and a lot of density has sprung up along the line. But it is one line and costs a fortune.

    I miss the heck out of San Francisco. Tight dense neighborhoods with business districts, bu and light rail lines.
     
  2. GoldLeaf

    GoldLeaf A-List Customer

    Messages:
    412
    Location:
    Central NC
    Very well said, Reetpleat. Those are the issues that us planners are banging our heads trying to figure out. We think we write good ordinances that will create dense development and make nice Traditional Neighborhood Developments (TNDs). Then we see the ordinance in action, and the results aren't quite what was expected. It is so difficult to force developers to include the types of retail that would be useful. They usually build the structures and then rent to whom ever will pay.

    As in Vancouver, there have been other interesting new "towns" that have been developed from the huge tracts of abandoned land associated with closed military bases and airports. Pretty cool what can be done with enough money and a vision :)

    I would love to be able to live in a city's downtown, but unless I suddenly inherit a ton of money from a long lost rich relative, I don't think I will ever be able to afford it. The neighborhoods around the downtown area of Durham used to be run down and pretty bad. Slowly the houses are being bought by more well to do folks, fixed up, and then re-sold. It is getting harder and harder to find old neighborhoods that are affordable.

    The issues are so complex, it is hard to wrap the mind around them all!
     
  3. reetpleat

    reetpleat Call Me a Cab

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    Nice to have a pro's perspective.

    In Seattle, one problem is they tear down a block with ten to twenty small business and build one building with retail in the bottom. But they make two or three big retain spaces only affordable to a gap or cheesecake factory. THey should require the developer to create almst as many retal spaces as they remove.

    Also, we can create a neighborhood with a business district, but we still need ot drive to uor jobs and friends and stores we want to go to. It isn't like we have grown up in th same neighborhood, have friends jobs and everything we can afford in the same area. But it would help to at least be able to cut down on the driving some.
     
  4. Haversack

    Haversack One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,178
    Location:
    Clipperton Island
    I just got back from the UK,(Edinburgh in particular), and I am having to rethink the arguments against public tranist because of low density. Edinburgh is about 100 square miles and has a population of about 450,000. Compare this with San Francisco, (one of the USA's more transit-friendly cities), with 49 square miles and a bit over 700,000 in population. I used the bus system in Edinburgh exclusively and found it fast, frequent, and reliable. (Much more so than MUNI). Moreover, the same bus system, Lothian Buses, also reaches far out into the surrounding countryside with surprising frequency. That public transit could succesfully operate in areas less dense than Silicon Valley and in competition with private autos was surprising.

    One of the pedestrian-friendly trends I have noticed occuring over the past two years is the installation of sidewalks in Silicon Valley, (Mountain View, Sunnyvale), in the areas dominated by office parks and 45 mph streets. Because of new light rail lines servicing these areas, there is an increase in foot traffic. That this had to be done as a retrofit however, illustrates the infrastructure problem created by 60 years of accomodating the private automobile to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

    In the 1942 movie, _Star Spangled Rhythm_, Bob Hope jokes "What with rubber and gas rationing, the streetcars are getting crowded so that its fun again." Having multiple, redundant systems is important. The adage "Don't put all your eggs in one basket" comes to mind.

    Haversack.
     
  5. Viola

    Viola Call Me a Cab

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    2,469
    Location:
    NSW, AUS
    I've been growled at by particular fellow passengers, but never a driver. I always say "heyhowyadoin?" as I get on, and usually they smile and say hey. Occasionally I get a blank stare, but whatever.

    On the one bus I had to take to connect with my subway to school, it got so I knew all of them by name and they'd ask how my siblings (who rode the same line) were.

    The only time I wished I had a different driver, it wasn't his fault; I was just scared of this one freak on the bus and I wished that I didn't have the incredibly ancient man driving so I could have said something. Mr. Elderly Driver would have tried to help but I was afraid he'd break a hip or have a heart attack or something.

    -Viola
     
  6. reetpleat

    reetpleat Call Me a Cab

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    Seattle
    I red an interesting article once. It said up until the thirties or so, much business wasconducted on the streets of any city. People met and ran into each other, peopl of all stripes, and many business deals and contacts initiated from this daily interaction.

    Sure is different today.

    I also thin that lack of daily interaction on the streets with people of different classes has made americans much more intolerant and closed minded. Not to mention afraid of anyone different from therm.
     
  7. GoldLeaf

    GoldLeaf A-List Customer

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    412
    Location:
    Central NC
    Heck, that is a good idea! Or at least something like 50-60%. The same number wouldn't go over well, but a percentage of the old total would probably be acceptable.

    The problem with any ordinance is getting the darn thing amended and adopted. Enough stiff public opposition can kill just about any planning amendment. And unfortunatly, the larger real estate brokers who are really into land development and the money can be very vocal and very powerful.

    An interesting idea, nonetheless! Too bad I work for the rural part of my county. No downtowns for me to work with. Maybe in my future!

    Haversack - interesting observation. I wonder how Edinburgh makes it work. It really is very expensive to run transit in low density areas. Hummm, would be interesting to know! I am not a transporation planner, and a lot of the issues in that area of planning can bore me to tears. However, this could be a good one!
     
  8. Miss_Bella_Hell

    Miss_Bella_Hell My Mail is Forwarded Here

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    3,961
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA

    I came in here planning to make this joke, but I see my work has already been done here.
     
  9. Quigley Brown

    Quigley Brown Call Me a Cab

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    2,745
    Location:
    Des Moines, Iowa
    I haven't owned a car in over six years. I live just four blocks from my downtown job and walk everyday. I do most every errand riding my bike. My town is not bike friendly either. I've been hit three times in the past two years. Funny thing...this past Friday was Bike To Work Day. Most people I met that morning at the special event's location were just doing it for the gimmick of it that day.[huh] I'm sure on Monday they were back in their cars.
     
  10. I have no problem with developing a city to be pedestrian friendly. What I have a problem with is introducing high density housing into an area where it doesn't fit in. They think people are going to use public transportation but they don't and end up clogging streets. The unintended consequence is more traffic, crowded schools and increased polution just to name a few things. What they end up doing is ghettoizing an area instead of making it better. Believe me, I have fought it here and seen what utter ignorance can cause. People will never stop having children and you cannot make them get out of their cars at any price. High density in an established area just equals ruination. :eusa_doh: :rage:

    Regards,

    J
     
  11. MrPumpernickel

    MrPumpernickel One of the Regulars

    Messages:
    111
    Location:
    Sweden
    That's a thing I had a really hard time getting my head around when I vacationed in the USA a few years ago. I went to Houston, TX and Ft Lauderdale, FL and I can't remember during those three weeks ever seeing a local bus, or much other signs of public transportation than empty bus stops. What I did notice were the hour long freeway congestions, the vast parking spaces which would take a small town to fill and the vast lack of pedestrians. Me not having a drivers licence had to be driven everywhere either by friends or by taxi, that was a culture shock if anything. Heck, even finding the Greyhound bus-station when going from Texas or Florida was a hassle, it was almost like the road network was designed to funnel people away from the station, not to facilitate people going to it.

    Here in Sweden I've never felt the need of owning a car, or even having a drivers licence. We have an excellent network of public transportations as well as pedestrian access both in large cities and small towns. Though, sadly I've noticed over the past ten years or so that we're becoming more and more like USA in that aspect, there are cutbacks on public transportation and people drive more and more, even short distances.

    I love my bicycle :)
     
  12. Atomic Glee

    Atomic Glee Practically Family

    Messages:
    628
    Location:
    Fort Worth, TX
    The problems are many. A lot of it is due to the fact that, with the suburban boom in postwar years, we forgot how to design villages, towns, and cities. We sprawl endlessly in single-use pods linked by winding roads, cul-de-sacs, and freeways, with absolutely no pedestrian-friendliness in the plan. We plant buildings behind massive, pedestrian-unfriendly parking lots. Current suburban design forces car usage for any trip, and makes transit ineffective.

    We have also forgotten that "density" and "single-family homes with yards" are not incompatible. "Urban" doesn't mean skyscrapers - it's more about the design and layout. Use street grids, not cul-de-sacs and collector roads. Build buildings on the street, and hide the parking behind them. Make buildings (apart from single-family homes, of course) mixed-use. It's OK to have commercial space, residential space, and civic space all on the same block or blocks. There are a lot of other examples, but you get the drift.

    My girlfriend, for example, lives in an old '20s neighborhood just south of downtown Fort Worth (I live in downtown, which is pretty well urban and walkable by default since downtown Fort Worth has been so fantastically revitalized). The vast majority of housing in her neighborhood is single-family homes, with some scattered small apartment buildings, schools, and churches, intermixed with streets lined by small (one-to-four story) commercial buildings every few blocks. Because it was designed by traditional neighborhood design standards, it's fantastically walkable and urban, despite being comprised almost entirely of single-family homes. People don't understand that "density" doesn't mean cramming everybody into apartment complexes or skyscrapers.

    I'm a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a group that promotes classical traditional neighborhood design for the modern age. We work to build villages, towns, and cities the way they used to be built. There's a lot of cool info on the CNU's site, at http://www.cnu.org . While I doubt that current suburban design will ever go away in my lifetime, I do what I can to promote alternatives for the not insignificant numbers of people who would prefer to not be tied to a car.
     
  13. The problem is that when you design such an area, you assume everyone will think the same. They don't and there is the rub. They cram houses into areas that are near nothing here. Its just high density for high density sake. One instance is behind our town's corporation yard. Five houses share one driveway and get to listen to the noise from the corporation yard which is really near nothing. They have no backyards to speak of so the children have to cross busy streets and industrial areas to go to school or even to go to a park which is not exactly around the corner.
    This haphazzard development here is the result of Redevelopment's requirement that 20% of their budget be spent on low income housing. So they just put it anywhere they think they can stick it without having the public want to lynch them. Its getting to the point now that the people are getting tired of it here.
    Another case is next to a freeway where they decided to build high density housing. Pure genious when you consider these people have to have cars and they don't have anywhere to park them.
    Don't even get me started on the fake Disneyland Historical downtown that they want to create by putting in old Victorians from somewhere. :rolleyes: :eusa_doh:
    Choosing to live in a pedestrain friendly neighborhood is fine but when they try to force you into it it ain't too snazzy. :rage:
     
  14. reetpleat

    reetpleat Call Me a Cab

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    2,681
    Location:
    Seattle
    While I agree that there is a problem, it isn't just a desire to make high density at random. The reason they are doing it therei s they ahve ot do it somewhere. What they need is more high density close in so it does not clog the roads. I agree high density in the outerlying areas just clogs the roads.

    But remember, there are a lot of people in a lot of areas and they have to go somewhere. High density is often just filling the need so housing does not become so expensive and scarce that you end up with the poor and middle class unable to afford to live anywhere but maybe three hours away.
     
  15. reetpleat

    reetpleat Call Me a Cab

    Messages:
    2,681
    Location:
    Seattle
    San Francisco has very high density for the west coast, but is my favorite city anywhere. Talk about great quality of life.

    Instead of requiring five foot setbacks between buildings, every shares a wall, has a small back and front yard maybe. There is a driveway, a garage that accesses the back yard and two or theree stories above. Works great.
     
  16. You earn where you live. Simple. I paid for my house where it is with my own money. Now I have to pay for someone else's. UH, no thanks.
    I don't need my neighborhood downgraded to accomodate others so it can be ghettoized. That doesn't make sense. Then I would just have to move. Everyone has to live crammed together whether they like it or not?
    I live in the suburbs because I wanted to get away from the city. It just seems to follow us out to the outlying areas. :eusa_doh:

    Regards,

    J
     
  17. And that is your choice. As long as I don't have to live there, then I am happy beyond belief. :D
     
  18. SaraBell

    SaraBell Familiar Face

    Messages:
    76
    Location:
    California
    I don't own a car, I take the bus, ride my bike, or walk anywhere I need to go...it takes me an hour to get to school that way, but I still love it:)
     
  19. An hour?! :eek: How far away do you live from school?

    Regards,

    J
     
  20. ferryengr

    ferryengr One of the Regulars

    Messages:
    111
    Location:
    Tucson, AZ USA
    I work with a number of governmental agencies on their plans for improving public transportation including those working on expanding the ferry system in the San Francisco Bay Area. As mentioned in the thread above and elsewhere, there are lots of good ideas thrown on the table by planners and architects - the new urbanists, etc. Ideas on how to "re-invent" our cities so they are less dependent on the automobile.

    Everywhere I go, however, the process has become so cumbersome so as to make implementation of these ideas almost impossible. Under the well-meaning guise of protecting the environment and protecting the community, so much process has been established that it is virtually impossible to ever find yourself at the end of the approval process. There are so many boards and committees to secure understanding and agreement with, it is overwhelming. Its almost a miracle if anything ever gets done.
     

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