New article asks does stopping sprawl meaning stopping growth?

Sprawl as seen from an airplane. Photo by Premshee Pillai, via Flickr creative commons.

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.

14 replies

  1. It seems like the reality of transit automation resistance after several decades of impasse has not sunk in. It doesn’t take a train or gates to cut down on labor- just robot drivers for cars and vans that can make driving your own car unaffordable in the time it takes to pay off existing car debt. Paying bus driver’s is the premise of ‘final mile’ hysterical propaganda that never had validity unless the density was less then one person per forty acres. Four or more families per acre? Transit can’t be beat for that- as long as you don’t do something demented like insist on antique steel wheels or subsidize parking or let people tramp around and around on the road for free to less then even just car-maker glee.

  2. These were the Tokyo 2020 Olympics promo video that helped the IOC choose Tokyo to host the 2020 Olympics that Paul C. mentioned:

    Look how close all the sporting venues are to the train stations and how cool their city is with everything nearby within walking distance!

    So you really think LA has a shot at 2024 after looking at this video? Yeah right, dream on. We still haven’t figured out how to connect trains to LAX yet and the subway to the sea is stalled thanks to NIMBYs.

    And we all know Japan will get things done right on time, the very first time. They know how to work together to get things done. We on the other hand, continue to fight among each other for selfish reasons.

    • Hey Kevin;

      Thank you for posting the link to the videos! I’m just finishing up a notes column about Measure R, potential project acceleration and the 2024 Summer Games. So this is very helpful.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  3. Transit Tider,

    But before spending the money locally, we’re also going to need to bring back REAL jobs like factories, manufacturing, and office type jobs back to LA and our country at the same time. Entrepreneurship also has to be supported so that people can become business owners too.

    Helping the local economy won’t have a profound effect if there are no high paying long term jobs and the only type of jobs that are available are working for Ralph’s, McDonald’s and Starbucks. And I don’t think majority of the people are in support of the idea of having burger flippers becoming unionized and making $15/hr.

    So in addition to higher density living, I say we also are going to need to start reducing taxes so real jobs come back to LA. Change our zoning laws so that these jobs are closer to where people live. Cut all the stupid bureaucratic red tape to opening a business so that young entrepreneurs are given a chance to create their own businesses without government getting in the way of everything. No more of these “you have to pay $500 for a county health permit, a fictitious name statement and obtain a business license” BS just to open up a kid’s lemonade stand.

    All of it has to work together. You can’t fix one part and expect it to solve everything. Need the jobs and businesses first, so that people can make the money, so that people can have the money to spend locally.

  4. If people don’t like LA becoming denser and want more open space, they can move to Arizona. Will help alot in freeing up real estate for the rest of us. But if you want to stay in LA where we have the nice weather and the convenience of everything near by, then get in with the times of living in the new LA life of living in a denser city.

    Tokyo is one of the densely populated cities in the world and they just won the 2020 Olympics. And LA is shooting for the 2024 Olympic bid. Do you think we’re going to win the Olympics right after Tokyo?

    It’s time LA starts to realize that we’re not living in a world of big houses, suburban life, cheap gas with cars clogging up the city and freeways and huge parking lots anymore. If LA is serious about 2024 Olympic bid, we need to start looking ourselves on how Tokyo was able to present itself as the 2020 Olympic host city despite being a densely populated city. My guess is that Tokyo won because of their excellent transit system and sporting venues that are all within walking distance. LA can learn a lot from Tokyo in that regard. What are we going to do? Make everyone take the bus or make everyone rent cars to Dodger Stadium, Great Western Forum, Staples Center, LA Memorial Coliseum spreadout throughout LA?

  5. Seems that 4.7 bn may not have factored in Internet commerce( netflix, itunes, ebay, amazon, discogs, and the like).The generation that enjoys density also loves having things shipped to them from other countries, or digital media with no physical components. In example, music; iTunes purchases may not benefit the local economy as much as this article claims in regards to keeping people local. While I do agree, and fit the articles demographic, I had to ask myself, how much of my money is actually spent locally, and a percentage less than what I assume the article aims at seems to be a nonfactor, when it may be a huge one. Great article none the less.

  6. Wait, when did “Dense” or “Density” become a bad word? News to me. Perhaps I’m young, but for me and all my friends in LA, we say the denser, the better. We would love to get everywhere by walking/bus/train/subway.

  7. Obviousman’s Disciple,

    So your solution is implementing a pathway to a defacto one-child policy or pay a hefty fine policy like Communist China? Sorry, I don’t want government to dictate how many kids I get to have. Gov’t has no business whatsoever on that matter.

    LA is getting denser, we need to build upwards. Young people don’t care about high density living. Only old people have problems with the idea because they hate change and they’re the ones cranky about it being anti-high density NIMBYs.

  8. Thanks for the correct link. You were referring to an article that was listed on today’s L.A. transportation headlines. I wasn’t sure it was the same one. I don’t think people want to drive on our high-speed, multilane freeways anymore unless they are empty as are the toll roads (133, 241) in Orange County, their emptiness making driving a pleasurable experience. Every time I drive up from San Diego home to Pasadena, I wonder who was the insane person who dreamed up our freeway system–definitely not a safe, relaxing way to travel. I drive to SD as I stop off in Rancho Santa Margarita on the way there or home. Rancho Santa Margarita is set up for walking and biking, but I seldom see anyone doing either.

  9. Higher density housing and high priced yuppie ‘ghettos’ near key public transit corridors is Not the answer.
    The law of supply and demand shows us that the most important action is strongly encouraging *small* families to reduce price inflation of all kinds. Americans only have themselves to blame – despite our natural resources and brainpower the nation’s population has Doubled in my lifetime!
    Stop the political correctness on both sides – practice meaningful Family Planning and support improved access to birth control options. For another incentive, add steep fees for parents with more than two children in the public K-12 school system.

  10. LA can revitalize itself by building more affordable condos that the middle class can actually afford, instead of using “market price” as an excuse and giving into NIMBY demands to stop denser development.

    Do you really think the middle class in LA who earn an average of $40,000-$50,000 a year can afford $400k and up homes nad $1 million+ condos that only the uber rich can afford? We’re going to need multi-generational 100 year mortgages just to pay them off!

    And yet over in Arizona, people can buy a nice spacious home for $200k.