The urban landscape from A to Z
Pavement demolition: Earlier this year, I wrote about a Portland, Ore., group called Depave that helps neighbors band together to pulverize unused asphalt and create green space instead. Grab your sledgehammers, friends!
Quality of life: The way we build our streets has a huge impact on the quality of the lives we live in them. A generation ago, researcher Donald Appleyard found that people’s social lives and their sense of involvement with their communities was negatively impacted by automobile traffic. Things haven’t changed — except that there are a lot more cars now.
Ray LaHood: The Obama administration’s Secretary of Transportation has emerged as an unlikely advocate for all sorts of progressive urban policies, including “livability” (see under “L,” above. He’s been a pleasant surprise to those looking to reform the way our nation thinks about transportation (meaning, people who think we might need alternatives to cars and the roads
they drive on).
I talked with LaHood earlier this year and asked him what surprised him about his time at the DOT. Here’s what he told me: “I think people have always thought of the Department of Transportation as the department that builds roads and bridges. But you can do big things, and dream big dreams, and the president has really given us the opportunity to do that.”
Sprawl: It’s ugly, it makes us sick, and it eats forests and fields alive. What can we do with all the damn sprawl we’ve created? I talked with Galina Tachieva, author of The Sprawl Repair Manual, about why fixing this broken part of our country is so important — and how we might be able to get it done.
Transit-oriented development: More and more developers and planners are seeing transit-oriented development (TOD) as a boon to cities. Building homes near transit — and sometimes building modern transit systems from scratch — is a great way to revitalize neighborhoods and keep cars off the roads.
But a recent study showed that maybe TOD is too successful. The study suggested that new transit and associated development can gentrify neighborhoods, driving out the people who use it and bringing in people who are wealthy enough to own cars — and inclined to do so.
This isn’t to say that TOD is bad for cities or people who live in them. But as Yonah Freemark pointed out in Next American City, it’s something planners should take into account.
Urban agriculture: It may have looked like a trend at first, but urban ag is proving its staying power. People are raising chickens, keeping bees, and growing their own veggies within city limits — and they’re loving it. Check out our Feeding the City series for some shining examples.
Vehicle miles traveled: It’s becoming increasingly clear that the gas tax, as it stands today, can’t sustain our transportation infrastructure — especially with cars getting more fuel-efficient, and with the rise of hybrid and electric-powered vehicles. So some people are talking about a tax on Vehicle Miles Traveled, or VMT. There’s a lot of debate over whether it’s a fair way of pricing driving, and privacy concerns about the technology used to track distances. It’s not going to become reality anytime soon. But you’ll probably be hearing more about it — and if it ever does happen, it could change the way people think about driving.
Walkable neighborhoods: Like we said above under “Q,” your quality of life is deeply connected to the place you live. A recent study found that people in walkable neighborhoods have more “social capital,” in the form of connections with other people. They also reported being happier. Which means that California’s new governor, Jerry Brown, is moving into a good place.
X factor: Of course, in building better cities, there is an X factor that can’t be planned or built. And that X factor is …
You: The power of the individual to make a place better should never be underestimated. See my New Year’s resolutions for making your neighborhood a better place, and also the post in which you told us why you love the place you live.
Zipcar: It’s probably the best-known of the car-sharing services that are transforming the way many city-dwellers think about cars. The rise of car-sharing means that even if you occasionally want to get behind the wheel, you don’t have to deal with the hassles of ownership. Even city governments are getting with the program. Fewer cars on city streets=good.
Now you know your urban ABCs. Next time won’t you tell them to me?