Welcome to The Place Space (TPS): A new urbanist ideas blog about transportation, accessibility, and public spaces. Founded in December of 2019, we wanted to highlight the potential of cities to be better organized, more livable, and accessible for all people.
We look forward to covering a variety of cities and plans on this blog. However, for our first post, we felt it is imperative to begin with a discussion on new urbanism and why it’s important to the future of cities.
The founding principle for ideas on this blog traces back to the term new urbanism. Because the phrase new urbanism gets used – and sometimes overused – in many urban planning discussions, we wanted to define the phrase ourselves.
New Urbanism is the idea that cities should be built for people, not cars.
Dense urban cores, walkable and bikeable streets, ground floor retail and restaurants below housing, and reliable public transportation are all goals set out by the new urbanist movement. It is the antithesis to typical development patterns in the United States since the 1940’s, which encouraged single family housing on the periphery of cities, freeways often built through low income communities, reliance on car ownership, and urban cores consisting of a mall surrounded by thousands of parking spaces.
Why is new urbanism desirable? I like driving to the mall!
Everyone has their own personal preferences, but building suburban-style cities is an unsustainable practice. Building them requires more land per-person, which is tough to find in many regions, particularly in California. They also require more resources: pipes to distribute water and sewage, power lines which lose electricity based on distance traveled, and bigger roads to accommodate more single occupancy vehicle trips. Moreover, the revenue from creating all of the infrastructure for suburban development often doesn’t cover the full construction and maintenance costs.
Even the best planned and most cost-effective suburbs inherently have accessibility issues – for those who don’t own or can’t drive a car. Because of Euclidean zoning, the practice of separating homes from other land uses like shops and restaurants, distances between homes and destinations are often too far to walk. When they aren’t too far, sidewalks and bike lanes are often not provided. Therefore, most people are required to drive to every destination, which creates more traffic and traps children, the elderly, the disabled, and low income folks at home.
So you just want to live in a city before cars were invented?
Sort of! Although new technologies have made city life much more enjoyable since the early 1900s. Just to name a few…
- Sewage systems and non-equestrian modes of transport have vastly improved the health (and smell) of urban areas.
- Zoning heavy polluting industries away from urban cores has improved air quality where people live.
- Amenities for residents have made dense living easier, such as heating and air conditioning, refrigeration, and electric lighting.
- Urban design guidelines have promoted both public and private open spaces, although more can certainly be achieved.
That said, many elements of pre-car cities are fundamental to the idea of new urbanism. A big emphasis of the movement is making cities at a human scale.
This means places like grocery stores, medical clinics, schools, etc. should be within walking distance (less than one mile) of where people live and work. It also means cities don’t necessarily need huge skyscrapers to create these livable spaces. Depending on the neighborhood context, buildings can be anywhere from three to 20+ stories so long as they accommodate multiple land uses with an active ground floor space.
But what about my nice quiet suburb?
Realistically, suburbs aren’t going anywhere in the near future, and that’s ok! But we (in the US) need to create more dense urban areas to accommodate growth, build more housing, combat climate change, and make places accessible for everyone. That won’t be an easy transition, but it is necessary to ensure that future generations get to enjoy great and accessible urban places.
What does The Place Space do?
The Place Space is simply an ideas blog, where Dawson and others can create practical and/or fanciful ideas to achieve the goals of new urbanism. Whether that’s proposing a new bike lane, or radically redesigning a transit network, we hope to inspire changes from the ground up to help make cities work for everyone.
Each post will take on a new idea or challenge, analyze the present day conditions, and propose ideas to transform the object or space into something better. The post will be rated on a scale of 1, 2, or 3 based on the following points:
- Implementation Difficulty – Easy as pie to straight rocket science
- Photoshop Skilz – “Graphic design is my passion” to art museum worthy
- Outrage Meter – “I’d like to raise a concern about…” to “You’ll be hearing from MY LAWYER”
We’re excited to get started on this journey and see where this blog goes. We hope you enjoy and get inspired to make positive changes to your own community.