Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Getting a Grip on Sprawl

In an endless debate, local governments are increasingly encouraging or even requiring LEED certification in new high-density development, which is nice, but most continue to require generous minimum parking supply, which contradicts their goals, as this article points out. "Smart Growth" as a cornerstone of anti-sprawl measures doesn't work. Here's a site called "Dumb Growth" that goes into it in detail.

First of all, this means that density isn't cutting down on traffic or emissions; it's the pattern of sprawl built into city and regional codes and also the contingent highway grid in California. It's also based upon an unsustainable model of growth for its own sake, as is taking place in all regions of the US.

The older communities in Los Angeles and Pasadena area are pre-war planning models, which is why they work (township grid) that evolved prior to the highways. After that, we got the Orange County model of development, where many folks ran off to in 1970 when the court-ordered bussing hit. Perfect storm. But it relieved the development pressure in the Pasadena area until about 1980. Then Old Town became the model for slow-growth, with GMI implemented in 1990 to stop growth. The new General Plan adopted in 1992 assigned growth into specific plan areas with design guidelines (the Grey Book). Got condos packed in there anyway, overloading the existing street grid with traffic, even with lower parking ratios in the new developments. Now Pasadena has traffic gridlock, pollution, over development and very unhappy residents who are beginning to leave the community.

Here's a very relevant comment from a planner to an article called "Sprawling Misconceptions":

I find it funny when conservatives defend sprawl, since there is very little that is market-driven about it, except that it is easier to do nowadays. Not only is sprawl mandated, but it has been mandated for about 50 years in most of the country. Long enough that it is ingrained into our developing and financing structures.

Starting in the 1950’s the federal govt issued guidelines that showed how to incorporate cul-de-sacs and very long streets to pack more houses onto a site, discourage pedestrian use, and limit access to neighborhoods from large highways only. Separation of uses was considered an obvious virtue, and the guidelines deliberately prescribed one type of residential development only. These were fairly quickly incorporated into requirements all over the country.
This is not even remotely controversial. Anyone studying planning today learns about it and reads the original documents.

It’s amazing how many people think the market determined the look of this country–it did not. As a great example, look at Williamsburg. Now turned into a colonial museum, there are many people who would pay top dollar for a home in a location like that, but developers can’t sell it to them: it would be literally illegal to recreate the same layout in almost every part of this country. So, instead, we Americans visit, walk around, and marvel at it, wondering why we don’t make places like that anymore.

Houston is often listed as a city that shows that sprawl is inevitable. In reality, Houston mainly just doesn’t like the word “zoning,” and uses all of the other land-use regulation tools that other large cities do, especially those that dictate how things are organized into sprawl patterns.