Posts about New Urbanism
For years, Loudoun County was one of the nation's fastest growing counties and an instructive example of the downsides of sprawl. Meanwhile, it's a nationally recognized center for horse breeding and for its wineries. How can the county manage ongoing growth without losing its rural areas?
Running north-south from Point of Rocks to Aldie, US 15 bisects the county into developed and rural halves. Loudoun's eastern half is a rapidly developing area that made it the nation's wealthiest county and one of its fastest growing counties.
This area contains Dulles Airport, a large number of technology businesses, and increasing racial and socioeconomic diversity. Soon, Metro's Silver Line will extend to Loudoun County, taking workers to job centers like Reston and Tysons Corner.
In Loudoun's western half, small towns and villages like Purcellville and Waterford dot the landscape among miles of rolling countryside. However, extreme development pressures put this land essential to the agricultural economy at risk.
How can the county continue to grow in a more sustainable manner and reverse existing planning mistakes? This two-part series will look at what Loudoun General Plan recommends for the county's Suburban Policy Area, or SPA, in the east and the Rural Policy Area, or RPA, in the west.
Both halves of Loudoun face unique challenges and risks, but they must play to their strengths. Each half has a specific role to play in the county, but they can complement one another. Despite tension between the two areas, Loudoun's success stems from being able to successfully plan and manage both suburban and rural places.
Where growth is happening
Brambleton, one of many new planned communities in Loudoun County's eastern half. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.
The Suburban Policy Area (PDF) is predicted to absorb seventy five percent of all of Loudoun's growth in the near future. By 2020, the SPA will have a population density of about 2200 people per square mile, which is close to Fairfax's current county-wide density of around 2300 people per square mile.
Sprawl has blurred many of the borders between Loudoun neighborhoods. Shopping centers blend together and there's a distinct lack of a center in many of the communities. Recognizing this, the SPA plan recommends creating four distinct "towns" in the county's eastern half: Ashburn, Sterling, Potomac and Dulles.
The towns would be compact and have a mix of uses, allowing them to have distinct centers and a strong sense of community identity. Schools and community centers would go in places where they can be easily reached by foot or bicycle. A greenbelt would wrap around each town, providing physical separation between communities and creating a network of open space and trails. The county could use Transfers of Development Rights, or TDRs, to allow greater density at other sites to preserve the open spaces.
For decades, Loudoun has planned only for cars while ignoring all other transportation modes. It will be relatively easy to add "complete streets" to new developments, but it will take a lot of work to make current roads safer and more attractive for walking and biking, especially ones like Route 7 that are over 100 feet wide and have grade-separated interchanges.
Where is the transit?
These are all good ideas, but in order to make them happen, Loudoun will have to find a way to deal with both existing and future traffic congestion. This must include more comprehensive intra-county transit.
The county's general plan devotes a lot of space to widening roads and adding interchanges. However, there's hardly any mention of any sort of public transportation, outside of vague references to future Silver Line stations and the desire to build transit-oriented developments around them.
Right now, Loudoun County Transit runs commuter buses from park and ride lots in the county to downtown DC or Metro stations elsewhere in Northern Virginia. Virginia Regional Transit operates shuttles between neighborhoods and shopping centers, but only every forty-five minutes. Transfers between lines are few and far between.
Now that the county is committed to building the Silver Line, it must create a true transit network that not only connects communities to Metro but to each other. This would relieve congestion on many of Loudoun's roads and head off the desire to continually widen arterial roads. Loudoun needs transit sooner rather than later to handle what's already here and for future infill development.
Make it denser and give Loudoun an identity
Many people would say that what Loudoun needs to do is stop growing. That wouldn't help the county improve its communities or its traffic.
The county is urbanizing rapidly and must be able to pay for the costs of new services that more citizens require. Loudoun already has higher property taxes than Fairfax or Arlington, and the improvements to the transportation network will need to rely on carefully planned growth to maximize the county's investment. In order for Loudoun to hold on to its agricultural heritage, it must ensure that its developed areas are planned with excellence.
In part two, we'll talk about the Rural Policy Area.
While the real estate bust wracked much of the nation in recent years, the DC area escaped largely unscathed. However, one thing has changed: buyers want smaller homes, and builders are listening.
The homes in each photo were built at Maple Lawn, a New Urbanist planned community north of Burtonsville in Howard County, by local builder Miller & Smith. The bottom photo is of the Foxhall model, which they sold between 2005 and 2007. (Miller & Smith tends to name their homes after urban neighborhoods or themes.) It measured about 3,400 square feet, not counting the basement, and it sold for upwards of $800,000.
Here's how Miller & Smith described it on their website:
The Foxhall Collection features 10' high ceilings, a gracious two-story entry foyer, formal living room and dining room with butler's pantry, spacious great room, 21st century kitchen and sunny breakfast room. Tucked away, the hobby/tech room makes an excellent study or children's homework area. Outside, enjoy your own private courtyard - perfect for entertaining! Upstairs, there is a sumptuous master suite with sitting room and luxury bath: plus 3 more bedrooms. Expansion options include finished lower level and bonus room. Over 3,400 sq ft of living space for today's active families!The top photo is of the Fells Point and Gramercy Park models, which are for sale now. These homes have about 2,300 and 2,800 square feet, respectively, not including the basement. And they're much cheaper, each selling for less than $600,000.
From the descriptions, you can see how the interiors of each house have changed:
Fells Point: An open floorplan connects the great room and dining room to a fabulous kitchen with Infinity Island. Upstairs there's a dreamy master suite with luxury features including two walk-in closets.Six years ago, Miller & Smith emphasized the Foxhall's two-story foyer and formal living and dining rooms, spaces that look good but are rarely used and require extra maintenance. Today, they stress the "openness" of the Fells Point and Gramercy Park.
Gramercy Park: A dramatic, open design with a stylish kitchen including an Infinity Island and the opportunity for a plenty of natural light. A separate dining room and study complete the main level.
Visiting the models of both houses last weekend, I was surprised to find almost no walls on the ground floor. The Gramercy Park has a formal dining room but no living room, while the Fells Point has neither. The master bathroom, which architectural critic Witold Rybczynski once called "America's latest status symbol," is reduced to a sink, toilet and shower.
These houses are 1/3 smaller and 1/4 cheaper than what was built before, but the hardwood floors and granite countertops are still there. Buyers can save money and reduce their energy use, but without sacrificing comfort or luxury.
Part of the trend may be coming from younger buyers, who just don't want or care about all that extra space. Nancy, the sales agent I met at the model house, pointed out that her visitors include a lot of older couples seeking to downsize from a larger home, but the ones who actually buy are young families. The current buzz is about young singles wanting in-town apartments, but when they outgrow the studio, the interest in smaller homes may persist.
That said, buyers are willing to give up space within their home for amenities outside of it. A study from real estate consultants RCLCO found that buyers will sacrifice a larger house to have a shorter commute. Maple Lawn puts residents within close reach of schools, shops and even jobs. You don't need a movie theatre in your house when there's stuff to do outside. And when your house faces a common green, you can make do with a smaller yard, which in turn makes the house more affordable.
Maple Lawn's not perfect. These are still large houses; my parents live in an 1,800-square-foot house that comfortably fits a family of 4. The neighborhood's layout isn't totally ideal for walking, and it displaced working farmland in an area with no transit where residents will have to drive to leave the community. And it's 3 miles from an existing town where 70% of the stores are empty.
However, it shows that buyers will sacrifice space to live in even a semi-walkable neighborhood with amenities close at hand. That's a good sign for places that are already walkable or are trying to become so.
Over the last couple of years the state government of Virginia has been rolling out a land use planning category for localities known as Urban Development Areas (UDAs), where higher density development can be concentrated.
The concept started off slowly in 2007 with HB 3202 as an advisory element to be placed in the Comprehensive Plans of "high growth" localities, but UDAs have gradually been weaved into everything from stormwater regulations to street design requirements over the last year.
The Development and Land Use Tools Subcommittee, known as the Athey-Vogel group, last week released a proposal for stronger UDAs and a loan fund to sweeten the pot. Considering the media has pretty much ignored this process (I can't find any story, actually), it seems like a worthwhile endeavor to pay attention to where this initiative may be going.
The purpose of UDAs is not only to allow the concentration of growth in certain areas (thus relieving the pressure on others) but also to guide the design of such areas to ensure they are livable and attractive environments. The legislation explicitly calls for "new urbanism and traditional-neighborhood design."
The essential criteria are spelled out clearly: pedestrian-friendly road design, interconnection of streets, preservation of natural areas, mixed-use neighborhoods, reduction of front and side setbacks, among other things. Minimum densities are set by floor-to-area ratio for commercial and dwelling-units-per-acre for residential development.
Last week's proposed changes double the density requirements for all localities with populations greater than 50,000 to "eight single-family residences, 12 townhouses, or 24 apartments, condominium units, or cooperative units per acre" and "an authorized floor area ratio of at least 0.8 per acre for commercial development." Additionally, some portion of the UDA needs to be designated as a "receiving area," in case the locality decides to create a Transfer of Development Rights system in the future to help concentrate growth.
Being a part of the Comprehensive Plan, UDAs have no regulatory power in and of themselves. However, a number of carrots are emerging from across the spectrum of state agencies that may give counties an incentive to take UDAs seriously. The Department of Conservation and Recreation has been updating the regulations for stormwater management throughout the state, and the most recent proposed changes take UDAs into account.
Localities would be allowed to set more lenient runoff requirements in UDAs then they would be allowed to in rural areas, and if a developer wants to pay for off-site mitigation instead of reducing impervious surfaces on site, it would be cheaper to do so in UDAs than outside of them ($15,000 instead $23,900 per pound of phosphorous). These provisions have been added in response to many Virginia environmental groups who have recognized the water quality benefits associated with denser living arrangements.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has also aligned their updated Secondary Street Acceptance Requirements with UDAs. These changes are intended to make new local streets better connected, less congested, and friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists. The VDOT requirements are split into compact, suburban, and rural area types, with new streets in the compact tier having the highest level of connectivity and pedestrian accommodations.
This opens the crucial question of where exactly these different area types are located. By designating a UDA, a county automatically accepts the compact tier of requirements for the area. This reinforces the stated goal of "pedestrian-friendly road design" and helps the state lower its long-term maintenance costs. VDOT has even offered a set of grants to communities to assist them in revising zoning codes to be more aligned with the goals of UDAs.
Finally, UDAs are being positioned to receive a larger share of federal and state infrastructure spending in the future. From last weeks draft revision:
"To the extent possible, federal, state and local transportation, housing, and water and sewer facility, economic development, and other public infrastructure funding shall be directed to the urban development area."To start to make good on this objective, Delegates Jill Vogel and Clay Athey, both Republicans from the the north Shenandoah valley, have proposed a Virginia Infrastructure in Urban Development Areas Loan Fund. If this is approved and funded, it could help local governments invest in the roads, water facilities, and wastewater treatment necessary to encourage focused development.
As Aesop reminded us, slow and steady wins the race. Maryland came out of the gates early with a very public Smart Growth push but has recently been criticized for a lack of substance behind the message. The Virginia reforms are unfolding one by one without the branding campaign and national exposure, but taken together they show a remarkably coherent direction converging from a variety of angles.
UDAs are being justified with the hard-headed language of cost effectiveness that local governments are accustomed to, and Republicans, as well as Democrats, have been key players in moving them forward. A huge amount of public input has been sought, with representation from both development and environmentalist stakeholders, and it is apparently being listened to.
Passing through the D.C. metro area after New Year's, we decided to visit two classic planned communities in the Maryland suburbs: Greenbelt and Kentlands.
Greenbelt's central business area, built in rounded International Style.
Both were planned and built from the ground up and both contain around 2,000 households. Otherwise, they could not be more different.
One was entirely created by the federal government, the other by private developers. One was born in the depth of the Great Depression, the other during boom years of the American economy. One has a current average home sale price of around $160,000, the other $800,000. One is exclusively modernist in style, the other highly traditional both in planning and architecture.
Anyone who seeks to pigeonhole planning into one ideological camp or the other may want to take a look at these two very different models. While there are certainly arguments to be made either for or against each of these, it seems pretty clear to me that they fit into different economic niches and lifestyle preferences. The overall metro area is that much richer for having both of them.
Our first stop was in Greenbelt, Maryland, the largest of the three garden-city inspired towns built during Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Agricultural economist Rexford Guy Tugwell convinced the president that settling a displaced rural population into new towns outside of major cities was more preferable to a back-to-the-land approach, and the U.S. Redevelopment Administration was created for him. While Tugwell originally conceived of 3,000 distinct mostly self-sufficient communities around the country, congressional wrangling, legal battles, and a ticking clock whittled this down to just three. Greenbelt, with the help of avid personal support from Eleanor Roosevelt, was the most complete.
One of many playgrounds tucked between apartments and townhomes.
The town is designed in a crescent shape around a central community and business area, which is within walking distance of all dwellings. Many of the businesses are still functioning as community co-ops, although the federal government has long since left the picture. On the cold Saturday we visited, the New Deal Cafe and the Co-op grocery store seemed to be doing brisk business. The Community Center, originally the town school, contains a whole floor of artist studios, gathering places for seniors, an adjacent library, a gymnasium, and a small museum. We got the impression that this still serves as the communal heart of the town.
Pedestrian underpasses are used to connect this central area with the trail systems weaving throughout the superblocks of surrounding residences. The planners were certainly intent on strictly separating cars from people. Although there is an obvious symmetry and geometric orderliness to the plan, the abundant use of green space and scattered trees still gives it an informal feel. True to the name, natural amenities were an integral part of the plan.
The Community Center feels like an art deco college campus.
Although much of the green belt that originally surrounded the town has been sliced up with major highways or sold off for development, the amount of unprogrammed green space is still unusually high for the area.
The nuclear family was the essential building block of the design, not to mention the overall experiment in New Deal social engineering. Almost all of the original residents were young families (this was clearly intentional, since only 900 of 5,000 applicants were admitted). Small playgrounds are located all over, but one gets the sense that the entire town is built as a comprehensive playground for children. The size of the homes was allotted according to family size; apartments for married couples with infants that could be traded up for townhouses as the family grew.
Cars and pedestrians, never the twain shall meet.
Today, the community gives every impression of being incredibly multi-generational. The same goes for racial diversity. Blacks were, sadly, excluded from the first government settlement, but now comprise around 40% of the population. Given the affordable housing options, there is also a reasonably broad range of income levels in the town. Large signs now welcome visitors into the "inclusive community" of Greenbelt.
According to historian Peter Hall, this globally unique experiment in federal planning collapsed under the weight of an ensuing public outcry against socialism. Sure enough, some of the inspirational engravings lining the community center do give off a downright Soviet vibe, even if they are depicting the U.S. Constitution. According to Hall, "There is a slight irony in that it all happened in the United States, which is almost the last country anyone would expect it to happen. And there, it is hardly surprising that it failed."
Although the initial experiment did undoubtedly fail and many of the design decisions were deliberately anti-urban, in many ways the contemporary Greenbelt community seems to have matured into a more complex, if less ideologically pure, expression of some of its original ideals.
Building to the sidewalk encloses the street and caters to the pedestrian.
The Kentlands neighborhood is well known among planners and architects as the first true example of New Urbanism in the United States. The entire development follows a colonial style of architecture, reminiscent of Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria, although that, in and of itself, is hardly unusual for contemporary residential development. What set Kentlands apart from the other subdivisions surrounding it is the incorporation of traditional town elements such as a connected street grid, narrow streets, minimal setback and yard sizes, ample sidewalks, a mix of uses (at least in some cases), and scale to encourage walking. Anyone who's read more than two posts on this blog should be pretty familiar with these concepts.
I recall one time hearing Andres Duany, whose architecture firm was behind Kentlands, explain that a neighborhoods need to stew in its juices for a while like a good soup before it reaches its fullest design expression.
A colonial style is clearly evident throughout the neighborhood.
Kentlands has had over 20 years to grow into itself and the maturation shows. Even in the winter, well-placed trees create a perfect natural accent to the fairly dense residential areas. Residents over time start to settle in and lend a place their own character while still staying within the initially conceived order. We were surprised to stumble upon both a Jewish Synagogue and a Mormon church tucked between the homes.
I'm aware of criticisms lodged against places like Kentlands. In fact, being immersed in academia for the time being, I'm very aware of these criticisms. Kentlands was built on a greenfield on the fringes of a metropolitan area with little access to transit. Although the variety of housing options is quite diverse - this is something the neighborhood does well - moderate to lower-income households are still mostly priced out. Marxist geographer David Harvey may have been a little hyperbolic when he declared that it "builds an image of community and a rhetoric of place-based civic pride and consciousness for those who do not need it, while abandoning those that do to their 'underclass' fate."
A vertical mix of uses is challenging to pull off.
When you consider the context, it seems forgivable that the physical form of one development is unable to achieve large-scale social upheaval or the unraveling of regional agglomeration economies. The commercial center of Kentlands actually folds into a conventional regional shopping plaza with giant parking lots lurking behind, which speaks to the current economic realities that still needed to be considered to make it viable in the marketplace. The proper comparison to Kentlands is what would have been there otherwise, not a theoretical utopia or even New Urbanist ideals themselves. Any real world positive and lasting change has to be incremental.
It's also not hard to imagine some of the more trenchant criticisms dissipating in time. The Shady Grove Metro station is only a 4 mile bus ride away. A little tweak in the price points of automobile travel may facilitate a more transit-oriented adaptation in the future. And housing stock typically becomes more affordable in time, which may take the edge off of claims to exclusivity. In a fast-changing world it can be tough to remember that well-built places will last for a century or more. They can only truly be judged in view of the entirety of their lifespans.
Cross-posted at Discovering Urbanism.
Could developing large parking lots help suburban churches fund improvements? Grenfell Architecture designed this plan to help a parish create a more beautiful church using solid New Urbanist principles and traditional Virginia architecture.
The church occupies typically sprawling suburban lot, surrounded by seas of asphalt and low-rise buildings. However, while I was working at Grenfell Architecture, we tried to look at the project in a radical way. We came up with a plan to fix the disorganized sprawl of parking lots and low-rise buildings to create a new neighborhood and to truly make this church the center of a community.
The primary focus was to design a new church that better reflected the liturgical reforms of the past few years within the Catholic church. Since many parishes have only limited resources, we explored how a phased development could help turn this parish from asphalt-dominated auto-centric sprawl into to a walkable mixed-use neighborhood.
Both parishioners and priests alike have given this plan almost universally positive reviews. The pastor of this church has seen the plans and is amenable to the idea, but it does not represent any actual plans to construct this project.
1. This is the current site condition. The area is disorganized and chaotic, dominated by parking. There is little in terms of good outdoor space, and the buildings do not create any ensemble in any way.
2. The first step is to create a system of streets. This begins to organize the area into a block structure. The streets are designed for on-street parking, amazingly providing an equal number of parking spots diffused about the site.
Note too that the connections allow for this neighborhood to become a center for adjoining neighborhoods.
3. Now that there's enough parking, the large parking lot facing the street can become a row of commercial shops with apartments above. The corner would be anchored by a neighborhood-size grocery store, and other small shops such as florists, coffee shops, or service businesses could occupy the rest. The apartments above see their first residents in anywhere from 10 to 20 apartments. These apartments would be ideal for elderly or younger couples who might not be able to afford larger homes.
4. The first set of 20 townhouses are built upon empty parking lots. Alleys behind the townhouses provide access to one- or two-car garages. These are geared towards families with children who might attend the local school.
5. After selling or leasing properties, the parish would now be able to afford to build a new three-story school. The school would contain the same area for classes, but having a taller profile provides a more compact footprint.
Up to this point, the only demolition that has occurred was to remove parking lots. Already the campus has been improved tremendously.
6. Now having built a new school, the old school could come down, allowing for the construction of 28 new townhouses and another small section of commercial storefronts and apartments. The townhouses each feature the same rear-facing garages and small yards behind.
7. Now the school could complete the reconstruction with a rear wing containing a gymnasium. This would create a pleasant interior courtyard. The courtyard also allows for light to reach all classrooms of the school.
8. Having completed all of the residential components, the parish could now use the funding from the residential sales and commercial rents to help build a new church. The new church here might incorporate a small historic chapel as part of the complex of the church, sacristy and rectory for the parish. The existing rectory would be removed, but the pastor could reside in an apartment or one of the townhomes while the new rectory is being built.
9. Now that the parish has a new church and chapel, the old church is demolished to complete the plan. A new set of storefront buildings would create an orderly town square. Stores, coffee shops, and both school and church functions on the green would activate the square.
Between this commercial block a parking lot would be created to serve the commercial as well as the apartments built above. Using the topography, a parking structure could also be built behind, doubling the parking.
However, since this neighborhood center would be home to almost 75 families, the community would hopefully not need so much parking. The families would be close to school, church and shopping, as well as possibly work. A local bus line could running to Metro along the main road. would encourage less auto use by residents.
Having the church as the center of the community makes it not just a place where people go on Sundays, but a visible and active part of their lives, giving residents something shared that brings them together as a real community. This principle is easily applied to followers of any faith, allowing for their own faith to be shared by their neighbors, and to provide visible witness to neighbors as well.
In "Eyes That Do Not See," Le Corbusier noted that airplane designers were unable to achieve heavier-than air flight until they understood the underlying issues of aeronautics
Reburbia was a design competition where designers were invited to remodel, reuse, redevelop, and restructure the landscape of suburban development. Sponsored by Inhabitat and Dwell, the contest presented 20 finalists and a number of other notable entries for public viewing. Although they've already announced winners, the issues that appear in the submissions deserve more discussion. These open competitions are like fashion shows, where the offerings exist as inspiration for other designers more than practical solutions. Some of the ideas tossed around here might make their way into an abandoned mall, but the ideas that grow out of Reburbia are more important. As architects, planners, and citizens look for solution, we have to keep in mind what the problems are to judge any given solution.
Declaring that the suburbs need to be re-burbed begs the question of how much, and which kinds, of suburban development are unsustainable, undesirable, or inefficient. Following that line of thought, designers need to consider whether mitigation of costs can solve an issue, whether simply pulling out unfair subsidies would help, or whether a total revamp has to occur. The projects in Reburbia revolved around a handful of issues that are unique to automobile-dependent sprawl, as well as others that all cities face. The entrants posed their problems around land use, energy waste, sustainable energy production, loss of natural habitats, low density, unappealing or unwalkable street design, transportation inefficiency, water runoff, and the legal mandates for development.
Now, almost every project tries to mitigate energy use, reducing the physical presence of artificial structures, peppering in some windmills, employing natural ventilation, solar power, gardens, and mentioning low-energy transit. The majority of designers are on the same page when it comes to sustainable energy, small footprints, and greenery. Other areas lack a consensus on the solution, but there is room for diversity in the wide spread of issues.
The best entries recognize that flexibility will be crucial to retrofitting. The solutions work in multiple contexts. In particular, "Entrepreneurbia" simply does away with most zoning laws, which mandate low-density monocultures. The scheme would let communities and economies develop in a natural way before even considering expensive redevelopment. Careful deregulation would drastically improve the lives of residents, especially the poor, by letting individuals respond community needs with little startup funding. Often living in older suburban areas without cars, low-income suburbanites are stuck walking long distances to shops and transit, suffering from cities built for cars.
For adding new density to old areas, another strong project develops the sensible and practical idea of marginal infill buildings as a "Urban Sprawl Repair Kit." These would replace front-oriented parking lots with street retail and new mixed uses. Although the general idea is nothing new, the project forms the beginning of a pattern book for retrofitting various typologies of suburban buildings, a big step toward common practice. Surgical infill development and reuse will play a significant part of any schemes to remake the suburbs. At the same time, infill development would not make sense if simply demolishing and building anew is more profitable. Looking forward, the scheme's renderings for residential construction are the most promising, where single family homes, which are longer-term investments, simply become more street-oriented and attractive.
A number of entries approach issues surrounding the high-energy agriculture that is crucial to modern society. One, a winner, converts big box stores into greenhouse farm-stores, where shoppers get much closer to the source of food, reducing energy expenditures for getting fresh vegetables, even in the winter. A similar urban agriculture scheme employs aeroponic gardens above parking lots, taking advantage of all the otherwise wasted sun and rain. The details of both of these projects may not be truly practical, but applications might find practical use in marginal land, as seen in "Regenerative Suburban Median," which combines a road diet with a community garden, great for fixing those wide suburban streets. On a related note, this project, which parodies suburbs by comparing them to feedlots, is hilarious.
Taking a purely environmental angle, several entries removed the human impact on land, erasing the houses and the driveways to restore the prior pastoral use. For certain exurbs, this approach (such as in "ParkUrbia") may prove appropriate, but the concept of simply adding more land is just a reiteration of any number of extreme decentralizations that encouraged sprawl, but were never as beautiful as the drawings showed. "ParkUrbia," for example, looks a lot like Le Corbusier's 1924 vision of almost-rural villas, a misleading example that helped to valorize suburban development. Others simply let nature take over the abandoned and foreclosed subdivisions. "Frog's Dream," the Grand Prize winner, avenges lost wetlands in just such a way.
However, most of the solutions that brought back parkland, when they weren't just criticisms of suburbia, fell into old tropes in their attempt to limit the impact. The second most popular submission, "T-Tree," is a variant of Moshe Safdie's Expo '67 or Metabolist modular housing, only more elaborate both of which never caught on, due to their inflexibility and great cost. Other designs like "Radial Erect-Urbia," "1909 Theory Redux," and "'Burbs Redux" all simply concentrate the buildings vertically in megastructures reminiscent of Archigram's Walking and Plug-in Cities, concepts that pose the problem of land use and consumption in ironic terms.
But even in their silliness, these concept sketches serve as reminders that homeownership, privacy, and green space strongly appeal to many people. As the blog mammoth noted in their commentary on the competition, simply dismissing these desires out of hand, demolishing neighborhoods, and expecting families to move into the T-Tree's tiny apartments is counterproductive and vindictive. As Jane Jacobs noted in Death and Life, the planners who tore up the West Village disdained the traditional crooked cityscape, but never considered whether the actual inhabitants liked it. If people wish to live in the suburbs, it's not our right to coerce them. If urbanists hope to move any substantial population of the suburbs, they will have to making cities appealing to suburbanites. Those key desires for privacy, ownership, and greenery need to be part of any solution that increases density along with walkability.
The approach will require some suburbs to get denser, others to get freer, and others to shrink. Some may even need to just burn. However, total upheaval of the suburbs will come only at the nozzle of a gas pump. Any solution that claims to have all the answers, or proposes a total reconstruction of society, misunderstands the fundamental problems and the degree to which a planner can fix them. Reburban towns and cities need to be not only more sustainable than suburbs, but also greener than cities are now.
Other interesting entries: Bon Voyage brings the convenience of the strip mall to you; Brick Habitats is a real-life solution for greening up walls; Links Farm replaces golf courses with farmland; and the C3 Initiative tries to make subdivisions self-sustaining.
Cross-posted at ЦARЬchitect.
recent MWCOG survey discovered that one-third of residents of DC, Arlington and Alexandria take transit to work, and ten percent walk. Region-wide, five percent take transit and seven percent walk.
Chinatown National Park: The Post looks at the shrinking Chinatown, where rising rents are pushing out Chinese businesses (via BeyondDC). One idea: create a "gateway" in the triangular park at Massachusetts, I, 5th and 6th. The biggest obstacle: money. The second biggest obstacle: like so many of our little parks, the National Park Service controls the land.
More than a slap on the wrist: Maryland is considering a law to allow prosecuting negligent drivers who kill other people as a misdemeanor when their actions don't quite qualify as vehicular manslaughter. Today, the police can only give those drivers a traffic ticket. In New York, a truck driver killed two children last week, but the driver faces no penalties. AAA's Lon Anderson actually agrees: "It's high time that we make murder behind the wheel something more than reckless driving where you can just write a check and walk away."
We told Rybczynski: Rob Goodspeed wrote a thoughtful critique of architect Witold Rybczynski's Last Harvest, about a New Urbanist community in Pennsylvania. While fascinating in its account of the technical and political obstacles and tradeoffs, according to Goodspeed, it misses the influence that federal housing and transportation policies pushed development into distant auto-dependent exurbs like this one. Rybczynski is a member of the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, which approves projects in Georgetown and around federal parkland in DC.
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