Saturday, March 18, 2006

New Urbanism

I recently took a tour of Smyrna, Georgia's "Village Green," a beautiful redevelopment that revitalized its downtown area. Anchored by a community center and library, it is gives the people of the city a place to come together. It boasts a mix of retail and townhomes and is surrounded by single family dwellings that have rear-alley access so that the front porches are a quick walk away from the Village. The sidewalks link the regional bike trails to the area as well. The developers get a premium for these locations and the tax revenue generated lowered the taxes city-wide.

So why isn't this happening everywhere? David Roberts at Gristmill posed this question and got many reasons in response. Here's a brief taste of the comments:

"Another reason for the lack of new urbanism or new models of housing is money. Big projects require loans and other financial instruments, and the people who control the money are quite risk averse. They know how to calculate the probable return on investment for today's sprawling developments; they know what kinds of risks are involved. But with New Urbanism, they don't know, and therefore won't provide the funding."

"It's a phenomenon of our 'growth culture' - if we aren't growing, we are failing. While this isn't true, it's an American axiom. And until we chill out and realize that growth is often unwise or even bad for the local populace, little will change. And in the end, it's we Americans who have to stand up to local elected officials and developers and others and simply say 'ENOUGH!'"

"One word: zoning. Local governments create incredibly repressive zoning laws that restrict the size and shape of buildings, depending on how the property is zoned. If anyone hasn't come across this before, a typical town is divided into commercial, residential, manufacturing, and mixed-use zones, which are then subdivided into two or more categories."

"municipal codes...Red-Development costs...Organization and cooperation...The nature of sprawl..Trend towards bigger corporations..."
Sine.Qua.Non cross posted her response on her blog here.
"As an urban planner and designer, I have worked for the past 20 out of 29 years to make a difference in curtailing the physical growth of cities. It is difficult. Additionally, an earlier commenter is correct, in that early zoning laws created in the 1960s are still in use today. The separate uses, create walls between people and communities, and created the NIMBY syndrome among other horrors. We can also thank the real estate field for passing on the bad information relative to land values, perpetuating myths to the NIMBY. As for developers and builders. Most of them are not very creative. They do what the see and all they see is separation and single-family homes on tract lots."

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