Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sprawl Wins, Again

Posted by PicasaMuch of the intelligensia in the United States comes from New York City. There is a movement that has been getting a lot of press called "New Urbanism". This philosophy says that much of what we are doing with suburbs is incorrect, and that we ought to rethink core assumptions that split commerce and housing (i.e. zoning) and build more compact, environmentally correct developments closer to cities in order to utilize existing transportation infrastructure.

As someone who lives in a high rise in a densely populated area of Chicago and walks to work as well as to pick up groceries and other essentials (see my exciting Saturday night here), I am somewhat inclined to like a lot of the ideas in this philosophy.

However, I also know something that these New Urbanism people don't know... that, in the main, they are getting their butt kicked by plain ol' SPRAWL.

If you drive out of Chicago in any direction corn fields are being turned into immense developments. With VERY few exceptions, these developments ignore ALL of the core principles of "New Urbanism". They have cul-de-sacs, they are residential only, and EVERYONE drives. You can't even consider not driving everywhere in these developments, the kids don't even walk to school. They are further and further from the city center, meaning that you have to drive to work for an unbelievable amount of time each day, kicking up fossil fuel fumes along the way. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can take the train, but train lines are not near most of these developments, so it is either drive or be unemployed. Likely, your job will be in the suburbs anyways, so even if you were near a train, you couldn't get to your job via mass transit anyways.

What I don't like about "New Urbanism" or similar types of philosophies is that they disregard the motives of WHY people move to places like this. In this way, they are similar to socialism where someone "smarter" than you is helping you to make a better decision. People move out 1) to find affordable housing (the city and nearby areas are EXTREMELY expensive) 2) to find schools for their kids that are paid for with their property taxes (you need to pay for both property taxes AND school fees in the city in the vast majority of cases) 3) to find a yard for kids to play in and feel safe.

New Urbanism can't fix any of these 3 items. The safety issue is just that in the city you are cheek to jowl with the types of people that would be arrested the SECOND that they stepped in most "nice" suburbs - the loose nuts, the homeless, the poor, etc... And the schools are basically un-fixable, at least if you want your kid to go to college or something like that (there are a few exceptions, of course) and the prices are SKY HIGH.

New Urbanism can make some of these new subdivisions better, if both sides compromise. There could be more parks, and schools could be built in the subdivisions. "Real" streets could be used, instead of cul-de-sacs. Some retail could be built in the subdivision, so that you wouldn't have to drive EVERYWHERE. And some of the locations could be built closer to each other so it is more compact and thus accessible (try walking through the cul-de-sac maze...).

But, likely there will be no compromise, and we will have die-hard philosophers on one side and the market, in the form of sprawl, on the other.

Sprawl will win by a landslide...


Frank Borger said...

Walworth county is beyond the boonies to the point that there were 0 Democratic candidates for any county office in the latest election.

When I look out our picture window, I see corn fields across the road. But that 141 acres is for sale, and it won't be long before there are housing developments.

However, I welcome the lack of public transportation, the sprawl, the cull-de-sacs etc. It keeps out the bums and the punks. the real gimmies of the world don't like to go beyond the bus or the el.

When we existed in Chicago we had our back yard chained shut, a dog with a reputation as a biter, and we still got ripped off. One year the 1st murder of the year occurred 2 doors down the alley. I got tired of living like that, which is why I commuted around 70 miles each way to Milwaukee or Madison for the last 9 years.

Yea, I can't walk to the corner eatery for a burito, but I don't get accosted by some panhandler on the way either.

CZ said...

I moved from the Chicago area (lived in the gitty city limits in the mid 70's) to the wooded Indiana countryside 15 years ago for the reasons Frank points out. Plus (not in order):

It's a red state and a staunch republican county.
It's quiet
Nearby hunting opportunities
It's clean and fresh
No traffic congestion
I own a conceal-carry permit
Abundant wildlife
Good schools
Burning leaves in the fall
Affordable housing with acreage
Tradesmen show up on time, do a good job and don't rip you off
No panhandlers or other urban human debris
Fresh herbs, veggies and sweet corn from the garden
Less taxation
I can pee outside and not get thrown in jail
Cheap smokes and booze

But the #1 reason I like living in the country is...Naked outdoor hot tub parties

Seriously. I still do business downtown so I get the best of urban and rustic living. And I can always drive to the city for a fine dining experience or visit a toney martini bar.

Will it last forever? Probably not but I will be dead before I find out.

Carl from Chicago said...

Hey, don't get me wrong, I like the country.

There would be nothing wrong with the new sprawl picking up a bit of the "new urbanism". Maybe have a store in the subdivision, or even a tavern, for gods sakes. And make the road a damn square, I always get lost in the cul-de-sacs.

But, unlikely to happen, so it is what it is.

Jonathan said...

City, suburbs, whatever. Should be your choice where you live. I don't like the attitude of the "planners" who think of themselves not as service providers who have to please customers but instead as gods who get to tell other people how to live. I think the problem is perpetuated by urban-studies depts at universities. A lot of their constituency is govt agencies that hire their graduates. Not to mention leftist intellectual control-freaks who are constantly pissed off because most people don't want to live in urban beehives or commute to work by train.