Monday, October 18, 2010

Dumb Growth in the Age of New Urbanism

I was very fortunate to be able to participate in a three day class in Detroit put on by the National Transit Institute on Land use and Transportation. My educational background is in Urban Planning, which is generally viewed as land use planning. My professional experience is in transportation planning which is seen as a "specialty" type of planning. While the course didn't really introduce me to any new concepts it has had a profound effect on how I view my profession, and by extension, my job.

I won't bore you with many details of the training because the concepts are fairly well documented, complete streets (designing roads for all users) transit oriented development (concentrating development in areas that are served by transit and provide convenient access to necessities) and the benefits of pedestrian scaled development vs. the long term detriments and unsustainability of auto scaled development, et cetera. It is fascinating stuff. The details, however, are not what this post is about. A simple google search will yield great information on these topics. This post, rather, is a result of my shock that we continue to develop communities in dumb ways despite what we know. In the urban planning profession, these are not new concepts yet we have "progressive" places that continue to develop in ways that turn our communities into eyesores.

I live in a township immediately south of the City of Ann Arbor, perhaps the most progressive township, in the area. The township supervisor has a Doctoral degree in Urban Planning (yes, they do have those) and the community is in the final stages of approving a new Master Plan, the document which is supposed to guide the inevitable growth in the area. I looked online to see the upcoming developments in the community on the Economic Success webpage and was absolutely appalled to see the most recent development approval pictured below.

Auto scaled Development

It's auto-oriented, set far back from a two lane road, and probably has too much parking. Flip the development, put the building in front of the parking and you practically transform the entire area.

What is so frustrating is that this, along with another recently approved development would look totally different, in a good way, if the new Master Plan concepts and the resulting zoning ordinances were used. Instead we are stuck with development that looks terrible and continues the failed policies and concepts of the past as we wait a few short months before our long range plan becomes active.

Time to move back to the city!

More to come...

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