Sprawl as seen from an airplane. Photo by Premshee Pillai, via Flickr creative commons.
A super interesting opinion piece by Gerhard W. Mayer about sprawl, transit and development in Southern California was posted to the Architects Newspaper website.
The thrust of the piece: sprawl isn’t a reason for our region to stop growing. If anything, it’s the exact reason we should continue to grow but in a denser fashion — to create more jobs, more jobs near transit and to give transit the riders it needs to survive and thrive.
The three key paragraphs:
These issues are connected. Popular lore is that we have gotten too big, too dense. NIMBY groups blame growth for most of our woes. But by protesting growth they are also cutting off the funds that have kept us going thus far; and NIMBY activist’s resolve is putting the fear of God into our politicians if they just think about new development.
Building public transit into a city with an automotive DNA is not nearly enough. Public transit needs ridership to sustain itself. In our car-based city, people are living too far apart from each other to make it possible for enough of us to walk to transit. Once we are in a car, not enough of us get out to switch over to trains. Metro calls this the first mile, last mile problem. There are lots of smart people working on this problem, but the only way to fully resolve it is not to limp along with the city we have, but build the city we need.
The right answer is density, even if “density” is the least popular word in post-war suburban America. We often throw the word out as a verbal firebomb against new development. However, the right density is really our solution. Not everywhere of course, only within walking distance of a transit station. To offset building concentrations, we can become less dense in between transit lines to the point where we can create new open space. Yes, a better, denser, and more sustainable city can also mean less dense areas and more parks! If we succeeded in creating a balance between higher density along public transit lines and new open space in other areas of the city, we’d once again create a model for the world to admire and imitate.
I highly recommend giving the entire article a look. If you’re reading The Source, it’s likely that you’re interested in this exact kind of thing and disputes about density remain a near constant in our area.
My three cents: Even with the expense of driving, I don’t think many people in our area are prepared to give up having a car. They’re too convenient and/or necessary for many people despite the hassles.
I do think, however, many people would love to drive less to save money on gas and depreciation of their expensive vehicles. I also think many people crave living in the kind of nice, walkable, bikable, transit-able (new word!) communities that Gerhard discusses in his article.
I also think Gerhard hits a home run on the article’s most important point: using sprawl as an excuse to shut down economic growth is a really bad idea that will harm our region far more than it helps it.