Forecasts


In a September 2009 paper The Market for Smart Growth, market researchers at Robert Charles Lesser & Co. reported strong market demand for housing in new urban communities. In a number of U.S. cities, their consumer surveys found at least one-third of the market prefers new urbanism, transit-oriented development, and urban and suburban infill communities:

Proprietary consumer research conducted by Robert Charles Lesser & Co. LLC (RCLCo) in various U.S. real estate markets has consistently found that about a third of respondents, given the option, would seriously consider New Urbanist communities and housing products in selecting a new home. The majority of the RCLCo studies were conducted for builders and developers as input to planning new smart growth developments. … An examination of the survey evidence relative to consumer housing preferences in the context of demographic projections demonstrates that the size of the market for dense walkable communities is increasing. (emphasis added)

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A story about record train ridership in the UK includes this impressive graphic:

second_rail_revolution.jpg
Image credit: The Independent

The chart is based on the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) booklet The Billion Passenger Railway. The booklet features several articles — including one that forecasts that the competitiveness of 21st century cities will depend on their high speed rail links. Andrew Curry reports from September 2083:

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“The Interoperation” is a short story by Bruce Sterling, award-winning science fiction author and futurist. Sterling has always been one of the most canny and entertaining prognosticators of architectural futures, and this latest work does not disappoint. “The Interoperation” deftly and fondly sends up starchitecture, obsolescence, digitization, networking and the vagaries of fame. It explores the design process more deeply than his previous fiction. Like most works by Sterling, the story is shambling, episodic and lacking in coherent structure.

While Sterling has in the past been skeptical of Peak Oil and Kunstler’s Long Emergency thesis in particular, note that “The Interoperation” is set firmly in an imagined post-Peak Oil era. Travel is mostly by bike and train; cross country trips are rare; recycling is a pillar of the economy; and sustainability saturates business practices thoroughly.

A few excerpts are below the fold.

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Conventional wisdom holds that the U.S. is too spread out for workable mass transportation except in a few high-density cities. Urban planning expert Anthony Downs offers this explanation:

But in 2000, at least two thirds of all residents of U.S. urbanized areas lived in settlements with densities of under 4,000 persons per square mile. Those densities are too low for public transit to be effective. Hence their residents are compelled to rely on private vehicles for almost all of their travel, including trips during peak hours.

Traffic: Why It’s Getting Worse, What Government Can Do

Is that accurate? It all depends on statistics and assumptions, both of which are endlessly susceptible to manipulation. For instance, Downs uses “settlements” as the geographic unit of analysis and calculates how many Americans live below a certain density threshold.

That’s one approach, but there are many different approaches. We could use other geographic units and find out the average density in each of them.

Geographic Unit Population Population
% of U.S.
Land Area
(sq mi)
Land Area
% of U.S.
United States 281,421,906 100 3,537,438 100
Metropolitan Areas 225,981,679 80.3 705,790 20
Urbanized Area 192,323,824 68.3 72,022 2

Source: U.S. Census 2000

Looking at the entire United States, what impresses is the vastness and diversity of the land. It’s the America of spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties; of trackless tundra, sizzling deserts and rocky badlands.

But look at the urbanized area of the nation and a different picture emerges. Sixty-eight percent of Americans live on just 2 percent of the U.S. land area. Seen in this light, the large majority of the U.S. population is remarkably concentrated on the land. What implication does this have for population density?

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In a Sarasota Herald Tribune article titled “Trend could spell trouble for malls,” the appropriately-named Devona Walker writes a lede that makes you go “Hmmm…”

The American mall, with its department store anchors, culinarily challenged food courts, concrete shells and native denizen, “the mall rat,” is becoming an endangered species.

One anchor mall is being built in 2007 and none are planned for 2008.

What is being built in massive quantities are “off-the-mall” retail and urban-friendly, largely upscale, open-air lifestyle and mixed-use retail centers.

Yes, the trend is old news by now. Still, I was unaware that it had reached the terminal point. Instead of endangered species, a better term (at least as regards new construction) may be extinct.

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As the U.N. observes, 2007 is a turning point in global history. For the first time in the history of humankind, the majority of people are city dwellers.

A New York Times profile of visionary Stewart Brand describes his view of a rapidly urbanizing world:

He now looks at the rapidly growing megacities of the third world not as a crisis but as good news: as villagers move to town, they find new opportunities and leave behind farms that can revert to forests and nature preserves. Instead of worrying about population growth, he’s afraid birth rates are declining too quickly, leaving future societies with a shortage of young people.

Indeed there is good news and new opportunities; and yes, some of the abandoned hinterlands are regenerating their natural vegetation. However, there is far too much misery and suffering in the global urbanization trend to unreservedly label it as beneficial.

Some of the numbers are fairly well known and covered in publications like the U.N.’s The Challenge of Slums (2003). There are a billion slum dwellers in the world, trying to cope with increasing rates of unemployment, malnutrition, disease and illiteracy. That’s one third of all city dwellers worldwide.

The problems of sanitation and shelter are familiar, but an entirely different type of scourge is making surprising advances in developing nations: traffic crashes. In fact, over the next thirteen years, traffic crashes will become the third-biggest death/disease factor worldwide.

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This is part 3 of a series. See also IntroductionHistorical BackgroundNeighborhood WalkingNeighborhood CrimeVehicle Miles and TrafficCrash Safety

Disconnected street networks were the default, entrenched pattern of development in post-WWII America. However, by the early 1960s a backlash had arisen in opposition to the conventional planning wisdom. This countermovement snowballed through the 60s and 70s, and by the 1980s the issue had filtered into the architectural profession and scholarly research.

Part II of this series described how disconnected street patterns became ubiquitous in U.S., with the mandate in particular coming from the Federal Housing Administration. By 1941, over 200 cities had instituted subdivision regulations that encouraged disconnected street patterns.

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There’s a lot of confusion and skepticism about what Americans really want in a neighborhood. The conventional “American Dream” has, for more than a century, been an house with an acre or so of land in the idyllic suburbs. A lot of Americans still desire that dream — but what percentage, and under what conditions? And will the majority want that dream in the future, or are cultural shifts in the offing? Let’s look at some surveys and projections about the market for neighborhood types.

Current Demand

Several surveys of market preferences have found that a solid majority want large, detached homes, while at the same time there is substantial support for walkability and proximity to mixed use. A 2002 National Association of Homebuilders survey found that a majority wants big, low-cost, spread-out houses, but also that 25 to 35 percent wants destinations within walking distance, sidewalks, workplaces closer to home, and infill in the center city or inner suburbs.

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