Saturday, August 06, 2011
Travel Time And Smart Growth
"Smart growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates growth in compact walkable urban centers to avoid sprawl and advocates compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighborhood schools, complete streets, and mixed-use development with a range of housing choices. The term 'smart growth' is particularly used in North America. In Europe and particularly the UK, the terms 'Compact City' or 'urban intensification' have often been used to describe similar concepts, which have influenced Government planning policies in the UK, the Netherlands and several other European countries." from Wiki
According to wikipedia we live 11 miles from the Loop in downtown Chicago. I don't doubt that but it is stunning to think it would likely take an hour an a half to drive there.
I know politicians and suburban taxpayers in the 1980's consider many suburbs to be part of cities. Suburban taxpayers were so jealous of the difference in services, taxes and redtape between urban cores and the burbs they pressured politicians in many cities to create the notion of megacities. This way the suburbs could drive downtown and use the roads and services like sports buildings and pay the same taxes of people who used public transit living livng downtown.
Most people don't remember these details of urban changes. I've heard it said that we humans have political memories of six months. Politicians are served by including the needs of suburbanites by co-opting the needs of two distinct bodies of population... But this is a detrimental amalgamation for us right now.
I suspect this blending of forces will dissolve as gas prices continue to climb and/or until we invent a new personal vehicle that functions without gas.
Travel time has been the biggest adjustment for me. I have stayed in suburb design areas and knew that errands took longer bit I have been still surprised now having been immersed in such a suburb.
Look, I get suburbs...I mean I feel like I'm staying in a millionaires house. It's amazing to have so much room. Of course it's also ironic seeing as we have so much room and now...don't own anything. But aside from lifes strange ironies...when I get down the basement or go out in the back yard...I am overwhelmed by the feeling of space. I have this urge to fill the house with people, room mates, and fill the back yard with vertically-grown-food and barter it or sell it like a small market. No but really. The place is like a mansion to me. It's very very nice.
I imagine in the future not only will we have other inventions of personal vehicles...but the suburb designed neighbourhoods will belong only to the rich. Or perhaps we will see the suburbs seriously adopt public transit.
But for now...travel time is dictated by design. Although I have found a side way to go to the groery store...sticking to housed streets with tons of stop signs...driving every where else is insanely time consuming. The design of curving meandering streets and the non-negotiable need for a personal vehicle like a car has congested suburbs. Huge box shopping options demand huge parking lots where you can walk for several minutes just to get inside one side of a mall only to spend a couple hours going from store to store. And this activity in the past would have taken me 20 minutes.
In the last few decades industry and corporate offices have moved from urban cores to the suburbs so people are driving in areas twice a day that streets were never originally designed to hold so serve. The highway systems originally moved people from suburbs to downtown and the streets in the burbs were for recreational and occassional errands. Twice, three times a week...rather than the current daily commutes within suburbs.
I really love the feeling of walking around the backyard. I love sitting outside looking at Grandmas massive trees. The whole area has the most beautiful trees. (which this summer dozens have fallen during thunderstormms and knocked out overhead wiring and put blackouts for days in some hoods. Plus, the rechannelization of rivers, and the lack of riverside foliage has created massive floods ruining peoples basements and homes) It is wonderful to be able to go out in the garage or backyard and spray paint. Or have a cocktail in the evening outside on the grass. I get it. It is a fabulous opportunity. I just can't shake the feeling that all this space is potential for doing something practical rather than just aesthetic enjoyment of "nature".
The suburbs were originally where the poor lived. Since Persia and Rome, cities encouraged poor or lower income working people to live outside city limits. In North America various demographics have suburbs designed for them. Tax programs enabling lower income people to own property, and later to benefit middle classes, or support the white people who fled integrated urban cores after desegregation (If you don't believe me google "white flight" and "environmental racism")...the burbs have changed dynamics. In many cities recently , we have seen people with white skin migrate to urban centres. Change. Organic. And...they will likely change again. I can't imagine anyone in the future living here except the super rich.
I think it will be fairly interesting to see how the suburbs organically change in the next ten or twenty years. I also can imagine families pooling together to share these huge lots and houses. Perhaps in cities like Toronto where idiots like Mel Lastman outlawed basement apaprtments...we will see a rise of houses with building apartments in their suburban designed houses. Our neighbours here have converted a very small garage into a living space which they rent out.
These spaces once housed single men who we now see on the streets of urban cores living outside. These spaces also used to house single parents , and other poverty level residents. The future of the suburbs is going to be an interesting story. A story that unfolds by the people rather than by programs or government incentives. I suspect just the sheer cost of money and time will change the suburbs and who will live here in the future. It won't surprise me that people with a gift for vertical gardening will take over these houses and sell their food by riding their bikes, or taking trains with their food to urban cores and trade with food grown downtown as well.