February 2007


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 was published a few years ago, but I just came across it recently. It is Close Encounters With Buildings, an article by Jan Gehl, Lotte Johansen Kaefer and Solvejg Reigstad. Gehl is one of the world’s leading urban designers and author of several books including the pathbreaking Life Between Buildings.

“Close Encounters With Buildings” provides an explanation and definition of pedestrian-scale facade design. It reviews several systems for understanding and classifying the characteristics of facades which can either enhance or diminish the attraction and liveliness of pedestrian space.

gehlschema.jpg

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This is part 5 of a series. See also IntroductionHistorical BackgroundLatter Half of the 20th CenturyNeighborhood WalkingVehicle Miles and TrafficCrash Safety

In America for a long while now, the conventional wisdom has been that isolation equals safety. In that viewpoint, one achieves maximum safety in a home that is hidden from public view, located on an isolated cul-de-sac, placed in a walled, gated community, and removed from the center city to the far exurban fringes of the metro area.

But does that model provide the best security in all situations? Or does designing for isolation sometimes provide an illusion of security?

Burglaries and street crime result from a nexus of factors, including demographics, individual psychology, and environment. Design plays a role as well. The conventional assumption is that greater isolation protects against crime, but researchers are finding that long, isolated cul de sacs with homes that are not visible from the street have higher crime rates. Crime researchers recommend breaks in the street network only under certain limited conditions.

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Two recent articles of note.

1. Buyers Value ‘Neighborly’ Housing, Study Finds
College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, University of Illinois
February 5, 2007

Chicagoans who buy new housing in low-income neighborhoods prefer homes that are integrated into the neighborhood and not isolated from it, according to a new report by University of Illinois at Chicago researchers.

Buyers are willing to pay 33 percent to 50 percent more for units in single-family or small multi-family buildings with entrances that face the street and parking that faces the alley, according to the report published in the Winter 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association. Buyers also favor relatively short setbacks from the street and construction materials similar to those used in neighboring buildings.

The working paper is available from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy: Does Urban Design Influence Property Values in High-Poverty Urban Neighborhoods?

2. Rethinking Suburbia
Style Weekly, Richmond VA
February 7 – 14, 2007

Neighborhoods that once held the suburban dreams of many have become havens for crime and the all-too-familiar problems of the inner city.

… It’s difficult for many to fathom that the old suburbs, even in their grimiest state, could somehow foster the kind of crime and dereliction that plagues the inner city, places like Gilpin and Mosby courts. But it’s already started.

Combined, Chesterfield and Henrico recorded 14 murders in 2006 and 23 murders in 2005, the biggest indicator that violent crime has moved in, albeit mild compared with the 83 murders in Richmond last year.

The signs of decline, however, are everywhere. In “Tomorrow’s Cities, Tomorrow’s Suburbs,” University of Virginia urban studies professors William Lucy and David Phillips argue that the older suburbs are actually far worse off than many inner cities for several reasons.

More information about “Tomorrow’s Cities, Tomorrow’s Suburbs,” including the table of contents and ordering info, is available from the American Planning Association.

About 30 urban planners, city officials, council members and developers traveled from Chico, CA to visit Hercules Waterfront District in January, 2007. They went there to experience in person the new urban development in the San Francisco suburbs and to gauge its strengths and weaknesses.

A reporter with a Chico newspaper traveled with the group, wrote two articles about the visit, and assembled a slideshow.

As they toured Hercules, officials considered how its lessons might apply to codes and development in Chico. A similar development is being proposed for Chico, as well as a city-wide zoning code that would make construction of such developments much easier.

hercules.jpg
Ground floor shops with residences above in Hercules Waterfront District, CA. Photo: Jenn Klein, Chico Enterprise-Record

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This is part 4 of a series. See also IntroductionHistorical BackgroundLatter Half of the 20th CenturyNeighborhood CrimeVehicle Miles and TrafficCrash Safety

A walkable neighborhood isn’t walkable unless it has a well-connected thoroughfare network. A well-connected network, composed of direct, convenient routes, is one of the key ingredients of walkability. Well-connected neighborhoods have a host of advantages for residents and for the greater community.

A large and growing collection of research is finding that street connectivity is associated with more walking, less driving, greater safety, less crime, better physical fitness, and fewer per capita emissions. This post reviews the research on neighborhood-scale relationships between connectivity and walking.

Connectivity on the neighborhood scale is about connectivity within neighborhoods. It’s about the routes and connections from building to building, from lot to lot, and from block to block. For more about the key ingredients of walkability, see the frequently asked questions page.

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