Letter from "Wingnuttia"

Our post yesterday, “Taking on Smart Growth” prompted a lengthy exchange between the author and a very well informed critic. Despite our best efforts to communicate our point of view, ultimately the critic described our criticisms of new urbanism as coming from “Wingnuttia.” Rather than continue to argue the point on yesterday’s post, where these eight points of criticism are buried within one of the last of many comments, here they are:

The private yard – an endangered species,
thanks to “New Urbanist” social engineers.

Eight Criticisms of New Urbanism:


1 – It supports “urban service boundaries” that makes land outside the boundary very hard to develop, which artificially (and some would say catastrophically) raises the price of land. This makes homes less affordable.

2 – It emphasizes public space, expensively maintained by public entities and paid for by taxpayers, over private space.

3 – It makes war on the car, despite the fact that most people prefer cars and despite the fact that cars are on the verge of becoming totally green. It advocates zero freeway upgrades despite massive population growth, in order to force people into mass transit.

4 – It promotes infill in quiet, preexisting suburbs where neighbors should not have to see their low density lifestyle destroyed through imposition of “special planning areas” where literally 10x as many new units are on an acre compared to within the neighborhood at large.

5 – It places a premium on open space, but offers no criticism of land use even more inefficient than low density homes and ranchettes, such as irrigated, subsidized corn ethanol farms.

6 – It presumes that social problems will be alleviated through forcing everyone to live in ultra high density neighborhoods; it supports cramming affordable housing units into higher income neighborhoods, undermining the incentives that inspired people to work hard and earn their way into a higher income neighborhood.

7 – It maintains there is a shortage of open space and farmland, and at least in the USA, there is not. California is projected to add 13 million people to their population within the next 25 years. If you put all of those people into homes on 1 acre lots with households of 3.5 people, you would only use up 6,500 square miles – that will never happen, because many people prefer high density living. But if they were dispersed in this manner, 6,500 square miles is a small fraction of California’s 158,000 square miles. In the entire USA, only about 4% of the land is urbanized – not much at all.

8 – New Urbanism pretends they have the final answer; that their precepts are beyond debate. The new urbanists share this trait with the anthropogenic CO2 alarmists; they also tend to march in lockstep with the anthropogenic global warming crowd, and use AGW concerns as trump cards to roll over opposition to their plans and policies. In reality, the AGW issue is nuanced – example: European carbon offset credits created the global market for subsidized biodiesel, which is the direct cause of massive deforestation throughout Asia (want to talk about heat islands?) – and for everyone’s sake debate on AGW and New Urbanism should be welcomed, not ridiculed.

Are these criticisms valid? Do they have any merit whatsoever?


23 Responses to “Letter from "Wingnuttia"”
  1. Urban Green says:

    You’re really going to the dark side with a lot of these caricatures of New Urbanism. Does the traditional urban form of your average city — say Boston or Charleston, SC — do these extreme things that you charge? Does it make private yards an endangered species? (I live in the city and have planted two dozen trees and shrubs in my small yard, plus probably a hundred perennials.) Do Boson or Charleston make war on the car or force people to live a lifestyle against their wishes? Of course not and neither does New Urbanism, which is modeled very closely on the form of traditional cities and small towns. In fact, one of the few differences between old and new urbanism is that the new is more conscious of accommodating modern life, including the automobile. It strives to create a built environment that’s hospitable to pedestrians and transit users while also recognizing automobiles as part of life.

    Really, a lot of these criticism are straw men — New Urbanism is not based whatsoever on claims that we’re running out of land or that freeways need to be constricted to make auto travel inconvenient to force people into transit. The truth is that transportation systems that gather traffic from culs de sac and collectors and funnel them into arterials and freeways produce congestion on their own, even where freeways are widened endlessly. Look at Atlanta and Houston. The New Urbanism is about building high quality, enduring places that exist in harmony with nature. It’s about creating alternatives so strong that they become the popular choice. It’s about creating a level playing field, and realizing that offering communities only single-use zoning and typical exurban arterials is what’s coercive.

  2. Ed Ring says:

    In Sacramento County California the Board of Supervisors approves “special planning areas” where they can throw all zoning restrictions out the window. It is being copied by the City Councils in the cities in the region. They are going into established semi-rural neighborhoods and building 10 unit per acre mini-developments on every vacant lot they can, even if the homes in the same neighborhood are on 1/4 or 1/2 acre lots. It is bitterly resented by the people living in these neighborhoods, but they are doing it anyway. I call that the dark side. Over and over in these posts I’ve expressed no objection to high-density in the urban core, or in select new planned communities. But to remake neighborhoods where people have been for decades, filling them up with ultra high density infill, is completely wrong in my view.

  3. Bill Dennis says:

    Ed-
    The critiques you have listed (and many more) are ones that I have heard over the past 15 years. For every critique you have listed, you can find someone else who critisizes New Urbanism from the opposite side. But the only document that New Urbanists have agreed upon is the basic principles described in the Charter of the New Urbanism – http://www.cnu.org/charter- a document that was signed by 400 people in 1996 in Charleston. If you have a question about what New Urbanism stands for, this is a good place to start. Of course individual interpretation of these principles (often by people who claim to be New Urbanist and have NOT read the Charter) can be a problem.
    I think you will find that the principles allow for great latitude and emphasizes local control and decision-making. The other tool that is in wide use and is not specifically mentioned in the Charter is the idea of the rural-to-urban Transect of human habitation – http://dpz.com/transect.aspx. This can be simplified as ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place.’ Existing zoning tries to do this by gross use separations – new form-based zoning looks at paring like with like in terms of lot size and form, with generally more lattitude about use. Typically, when I have worked on a SmartCode) http://www.smartcodecentral.org/) existing single family stays exactly that. More options are given for multi-family (typically allowing some mixed-use) and the most for retail and commercial (which tend to be along corridors but back up to single family).
    If you could show exactly which projects and where you are talking about for the inappropriate densities, I might (as well as other New Urbanists) might agree that it is not appropriate, or at least be able to point out where they have gone wrong.
    I hope your experience with these projects don’t sour you on the usefulness of New Urbanism – it is just a tool, and one that you have available to wield in strengthening your neighborhood and town.

  4. I work with the New Urbanist open-source model zoning code, the SmartCodeI work with the New Urbanist open-source model zoning code, the SmartCode, available for free download to all municipalities here:
    http://www.smartcodecentral.org/ I would like to address the eight criticisms Ed Ring has written, based specifically on what is in the SmartCode.

    1 – “It supports “urban service boundaries” that makes land outside the boundary very hard to develop, which artificially (and some would say catastrophically) raises the price of land. This makes homes less affordable.”

    The SmartCode and New Urbanism in general does not support “urban service boundaries,” rather it allocates the size and intensity of communities based on the environmental sensitivity or agricultural usefulness of the land, and on availability of existing infrastructure. You may have hamlets almost anywhere except protected habitats, but your regional centers should be assigned to existing thoroughfares and transit. Regardless of the size or intensity of the community, it must be planned according to one or more pedestrian sheds, so that walking is one of the transportation options for at least some of your daily needs, and so that children, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor are not dependent on those who drive.

    2 – “It emphasizes public space, expensively maintained by public entities and paid for by taxpayers, over private space.”

    It regulates both. The street is conceived as a public space and designed for comfort and safety of pedestrians and bicyclists as well as the car. New Urbanists have been designing “complete streets” for over two decades. Private space is regulated by lot size, building type (NOT style), frontage type, etc. so that walkability, safety, and diverse options in living arrangements are enabled. There are large and small lots, large and small houses, and mixes of uses within the overall neighborhood.

    3 – “It makes war on the car, despite the fact that most people prefer cars and despite the fact that cars are on the verge of becoming totally green. It advocates zero freeway upgrades despite massive population growth, in order to force people into mass transit.”

    No, it does not make war on the car. It accommodates the car in a way that does not continue the degradation of the public realm we have seen for 60 years. Parking and thoroughfares are given at least 15 pages in the SmartCode and its Modules, but parking *location* and holistic street design are critical because thoughtless parking location and overwide, high-speed streets have destroyed the public realm. Regarding “freeway upgrades,” I forget who said this, but “Widening a road to accommodate more traffic is like a fat man loosening his belt so he can eat more.” The key to alleviating congestion is providing networks of connected streets like those in traditional neighborhoods and cities. The network is to the city as the wetlands are to the coasts – absorptive, so there is no flood in any one place. (By the way, “green” cars wouldn’t do a thing to reduce driving – they would encourage more sprawl and traffic accidents and dependence on drivers and more highway and parking infrastructure, i.e, more impervious surface.

    4 – “It promotes infill in quiet, preexisting suburbs where neighbors should not see their low density lifestyle destroyed by “special planning” areas where literally 10x as many new units are on an acre compared to within the neighborhood at large.”

    I don’t know what’s going on in the places you reference, but the SmartCode (and NU in general) employs transect-based planning that does not support development that is out of context with its immediate surroundings.

    5 – “It places a premium on open space, but offers no criticism of land use even more inefficient than low density homes and ranchettes, such as irrigated, subsidized corn ethanol farms.”

    You are free to prohibit that use on Table 12 when you customize the model code.

    6 – “It presumes that social problems will be alleviated through forcing everyone to live in ultra high density neighborhoods; it supports cramming affordable housing units into higher income neighborhoods, undermining the incentives that inspired people to work hard and earn their way into a higher income neighborhood.”

    I don’t actually understand this criticism. It sounds like you mean you wouldn’t want your children or parents to be able to afford to live in the same neighborhood you do.

    7 – “It maintains there is a shortage of open space and farmland, and at least in the USA, there is not.”

    New Urbanism never maintains any such thing. One of the NU leaders routinely reminds us that 95% of America is considered “undeveloped.” Greenfield development is part of our toolkit, but it must be in the form mentioned above, i.e., planned with pedestrian sheds, to reduce overall driving and impervious surface.

    8 -” New Urbanism pretends they have the final answer; that their precepts are beyond debate. … for everyone’s sake debate on AGW and New Urbanism should be welcomed, not ridiculed.”

    Informed debate is always welcomed. I’ve never seen a group that loved debate more than the New Urbanists.

    “And if trees are the solution, mandate them. ”

    They are mandated, because they are essential environmentally and urbanistically. See Section 5.11 for the private frontage and Section 3.7 and Tables 4A, 4B, and 6 and Module 4C for the public frontage.

    Sandy Sorlien

  5. Ed Ring says:

    Sandy – thank you for your thoughtful comments – here are some responses:

    In general one problem is New Urbanism and Smart Growth (I’d love to see an informed statement comparing and contrasting these two schools of thought) are part of a larger coalition – unwittingly or not. As a result, many principles are taken to extremes that may not be true to the original ideas of New Urbanism.

    Environmentalists, for example, consider every scrap of land vital habitat, so ultra high density becomes a precondition for any development. Public officials never saw a park or public space that couldn’t be bigger, at the expense of private property. Public entities, who are virtually all insolvent because of lavish pension obligations for their unionized workforces, demand building fees to help their financial condition which in-turn makes home prices that are already artificially high due to environmentalist restrictions on the supply of land, higher still.

    (1) So your comment on “environmental sensitivity and agricultural usefulness” may sound benign, but in the real world – or at least in California, pardon me – all land is environmentally sensitive and agriculturally useful. And urban service boundaries are the result – particularly since restricting urban growth raises the price of housing which in turn raises the property tax revenues to support the public sector.

    (2) Your comment regarding regulating public and private space may also be well-intentioned, but has been hijacked by communalists, who think we all have to live and play in public spaces instead of having yards. It is hijacked by leftists who resent anyone owning property. It is hijacked by environmentalists who apparently actually believe if you have a big yard you have a bigger “carbon footprint.”

    (3) In practice, once again, environmentalists hate the car, and they are using New Urbanist and Smart Growth precepts to further their war on the car. And perhaps in principle New Urbanism balances the needs of the car and the bikes/pedestrians, but in practice we are trying to design the car out of existance – a ridiculously utopian, elitist, totally impractical goal. I reject utterly your comparison to building new roads to a fat man loosening his belt to only get fatter. California has 40 million people (nearly) living in a state with a freeway system designed for 20 million people. Cars are going green, and they are also going smart and safe, meaning they will drive themselves (old folks), and people will walk away from crashes (which will almost never happen with smart features such as collision avoidance systems). This will happen within a generation. Busses are useful for mass transit – they use the same conveyances. It is incredibly short-sighted to deny the need for more freeways. And we’ll just have to disagree regarding parking garages in the backyard. It is a ridiculous waste of space, and the only reason they were in the backyard in the old days is because before that, the carriage house was back there, which needed to be next to the stable. Running a driveway all the way to the back of a lot – talk about wasteful impervious surfaces! And who wants to see headlights and hear car engines in the backyard?

    (4) Infill of high-density into low-density neighborhoods is happening via “special planning area” designations all over California. It is perhaps the most eggregious of all impacts from the “Smart Growth” crowd. It is a crime. I don’t want a 14 unit cluster home on the vacant lot in a rural neighborhood with 50 year old homes on half-acres. Nobody does except for this cabal – environmentalists, public officials, and the new urbanists. It is coercive in the extreme. To the people it affects in these low density neighborhoods, it destroys everything they have worked for – everything they have.

    (5) Your are too glib regarding the problem with open space being considered sacred by the environmentalist – smart growth – public officials – new urbanist crowd. In practice we are seeing combinations of fire safety, sewage ordinances, eminent domain, wildlife protection, flood control, and hosts of other regulations literally depopulating many rural areas, while the mantra is to pack 80 million newcomers expected in the USA in the next 50 years into the footprint of existing cities. It is an awful scenario.

    (6) First of all, mandating affordable housing after you made housing unaffordable is the wrong approach. Reform the public sector so public employees get social security and medicare at age 65 like the rest of us. This, along with repealing the laws requiring public entities to hire union contractors to build infrastructure, would not only pull building fees down to earth since public entities would be solvent again, but would have the salutory effect of adding 40 million voters to the ranks of those who have to live with social security and medicare and add their voices (and votes) to the movement for reform of those systems to make them more secure and solvent. Similarly, reform environmentalism, probably through court action and citizen’s initiatives passed into law, and open up land again for development, lowering land prices. Mandated affordable housing is methadone. Reforming the public sector and the environmental movement is the cure.

    (7) New Urbanists may not explicitly maintain there is a shortage of open space, but their fellow travelers do. But the math doesn’t hold up. There is plenty of land for urban expansion – including freeways. If you took the myth that land is scarce out of the equation, you could easily design cities with plenty of room for pedestrians, bikes, and cars.

    (8) I’m glad you think debate is good, but from the tone of some of the commenters, you may not be typical. Again, when you add to the chorus the environmentalists and the public sector lobby, what may be debateable principles for the purists among you becomes gospel to those with an agenda.

  6. The premise of New Urbanism is social engineering – we will all live in compact neighborhoods and be friendly with our neighbors chatting on the sidewalk and from our front porches… too bad we cannot interview the neighbors before they move in…

    Here are some key points – there are no New Urban neighborhoods that are both affordable and non-subsidized – none.

    The amount of impervious surface in a typical New urban neighborhood is shameful and why it is touted as environmentally sound is beyond me – just look at the examples all over the internet – concrete and rooftop – hardly any “green”.

    The grid? How about the MNDOT study showing 32 impact points at 4 way intersections – 9 at Tee intersections, the fact that 51% of pedestrians get killed at intersections (NTSB), the fact that if you can separate pedestrians and vehicles accidents will be reduced (World Health Org studies), the fact that the amount of start stop accelerate will waste more fuel than efficient and safer more suburban design (if done right).

    The fact that intermixing a wide range of housing values tends to devalue expensive housing (comp’s) – oop’s that’s right there are no “affordable” non subsidized homes!

    How about the New Urbanism that failed – where are those articles? Clover Ridge in Chaska Minnesota or the Ramsey Town Center come to mind. As blighted urban cores get redeveloped into Gentrified New Urban meccas for the wealthy (mostly single, emply nesters, and gays) how did that make the displaced poor have a better life? Hey – where are the studies and articles how their lives have improved?

    Finally I grew up in New Urbanism – Detroit. We call people who sit on their front porches there – targets.

    When will we get some common sense back to land planning and city planning? I understand why New Urbanism got so strong – as there were not other solutions, so it is politically advantageous to hold onto something – but today there are new options for design – ones that make far more sense.

  7. Ed Ring says:

    Anyone who doubts the gentleman knows what he is talking about should visit the Rich Harrison Design Studio (http://www.rhsdplanning.com) website. Thank you Rich, for your informed comments.

  8. Julia XA says:

    I don’t think New Urbanism proposes to “force” people into high density developments. Rather, I think it proposes to offer another choice in built-form.

    Granted there are NU/Smart Growth enthusiasts who tend towards totalitarianism … just as the previous iteration of urban planners had a stranglehold on 1950-60′s suburban land use patterns.

    Perhaps it is just a trait of urban planners, no matter their cause du jour, to want to impose a single vision through zoning and land use laws. But I don’t see the NU/Smart Growth urban planners as any greater zealots than the previous lot of urban planners.

    Ultimatly, what consumers need is a choice in the kind of communities they wish to live. The marketplace will decide what form is most popular, or perhaps it will be a draw.

    To be against New Urbanism on grounds of “force” is hypocritical. We’ve had force (lack of choice) for 50-60 years. New ways of land planning should be encouraged as a welcome additions, creating more choice in the marketplace.

  9. Ed Ring says:

    Well then the market should be the decider. Absolutely. Your comments about the tyrannical predilictions of public planners – this generation or the last – is most interesting. Here my private property & free market biases take firm hold. Indeed, the market can adapt far more quickly than entrenched bureaucrats, to the greater good.

  10. Ed,
    If you want people to take your arguments at all seriously, you really shouldn’t post images and captions like the ones you have on these New Urbanism threads. The snout house aerial you are calling New Urbanism is not New Urbanism. The caption saying New Urbanism bans the private yard is quite untrue. If you want to call us “social engineers” that’s your opinion, but the other two items are not opinions; they’re wrong. I suggest you read our codes.
    Sandy

  11. About being “forced”…

    First of all, there has been much good done by the New Urbanism movement:

    a. An awareness of the importance of a pedestrian system that is usable with destinations so people may actually want to walk…

    b. Upping the architectural elements – The front porch will NOT be used as much as the literature, but the architecture adds warmth to the streetscape – nobody can argue that.

    c. For us northerers 15 years ago the suburban council members thought 15,000 sq.ft. was too small – the New Urban movement has influenced these areas to accept lots much smaller – in the south most areas already have tiny itsy bitsy lots with little area – so that’s not an issue.

    OK – enough of the praise… Nobody forces people to buy into New Urbanism – UNLESS that is regulations demand only that design pattern. When I got three neighborhoods approved in Turlock, Calif. the young city planning staff hated my deisgns because we did not follow the tight urban grid they demanded. When the Council unanimously approved my coved designs – they actually publically repromanded staff for requesting a “project” instead of these beautiful neighborhoods. Staff does not vote – luckily. But in Austin, Texas the New Urban tight grid did become law… that is the danger – now choice is no longer an option. Imagine if 30 years ago some regulator said Basic or CPM will become the only operating system that computer operating systems can be based upon – ALL of our lives would be drastically different today. Government has no place in the design technique limiting of any product if safety is not an issue – especially the way future neighborhoods, communities, and cities will grow.

    Rick Harrison

  12. Ed Ring says:

    Patrick: Thank you for your email. Actually we do understand the tradeoffs between suburbs and infill with respect to CO2 quite well, reference our interactive spreadsheet “Suburban Sprawl & CO2

    We also are well aware that cars still have environmental impacts other than CO2, which by the way, we don’t believe has nearly the potential impact the CO2 alarmists claim. In fact, we believe CO2 alarmism is condoned and encouraged by powerful special interests who benefit from the hysteria and attendant, ill-conceived policies, read “Carbon Fundamentalism” for our latest take on this:

    It is true today’s parallel hybrid cars have more embodied energy and require more elaborate recycling compared to conventional cars. But series hybrid cars – and, for that matter, modern clean high-mileage diesels – are less complex than conventional vehicles. The idea that we can never build a totally green car is incredibly short-sighted, as are any policies based on such a flawed notion. Read posts in our “Green Cars” category for all kinds of encouraging reports. And in any case I reject the malthusian assumptions that underlie these concerns. I believe in the power of the free market, the power of innovation, and I believe we will always have abundant land and resources if we don’t stifle markets or innovation. And for that I have been banished to “Wingnuttia,” where I proudly reside with a clear conscience.

    One of the fallacies I would suggest informs your reasoning is the “either/or” dichotomy. Either we do high-density infill or we do suburban sprawl. Either cars are green or cars will never be green. I believe that many people, maybe even most people, prefer high density living arrangements. But I passionately disagree with the notion we have to artificially engineer high density communities through coercive mandates. In my opinion, environmentalists, urban planners, and public employee unions have made housing unaffordable to ordinary workers. They are now using the “global warming” scaremongering to consolidate their power even futher. I think this tragedy was completely avoidable, and I don’t think the environment is any better off as a result.

  13. Patrick says:

    If you drive a car the exhaust reaches the upper atmosphere, alters the climate, and harms those who choose to not engage in your destructive behavior. Even if you don’t believe in AGW the other particulate matter has been proven to increase asthma and lung cancer risks. Driving a car is therefore very much a public health issue. You have a right to do whatever you want until you start to threaten my well being. Sorry, but you are completely wrong when you say that cars are on the verge of being completely green. In fact, increased VMT from continued sprawl will offset any reductions in auto emissions. To fully understand why you are mistaken when it comes to “green cars” I suggest you learn about the EROEI of the available alternatives, and compare them to conventional crude. BTW at the present rate of increase a gallon of gasoline will be $30 in 10 years (it was $10/barrel 10 years ago, now it is near $100/barrel) Just something to think about. Look up peak oil for more on that point. You also seem to have a very poor understanding of the total energy use of low density sprawl versus urbanism, so I included a link to that as well. It’s not about taking away your freedom, it’s about providing for your needs in a world where energy is much, much more expensive. New urbanism gives people the choice of living in a mixed-use, walkable environment while still accommodating single family homes and the car. Suburban sprawl gives people only one choice.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120190455899936509.html

    http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/gcindex.html

    http://www.growingsensibly.org/cmapdfs/Comparing%20High%20and%20Low%20Resedential%20Density%20-%20Life%20Cycly%20Analysis%20of%20Energy%20Use%20and%20Greenhouse%20Gas%20Emmissions.pdf

  14. Patrick says:

    “But I passionately disagree with the notion we have to artificially engineer high density communities through coercive mandates.”

    I completely agree here. What you seem to be missing is that urban sprawl itself is the result of a set of coercive mandantes. Urban sprawl is not the result of natural human tendencies, it exists through intensive land use regulations. The historic cores, the parts of cities that people like to go to, would be illegal to build under modern zoning codes. Prior to anti-urban zoning laws cities were built to a pattern that very closely resembles new urbanism. By all means, let’s go the free market route. A developer is going to try to make as much money as possible. Without strict anti-urban zoning laws limiting density, a developer will opt to build as many housing units as environmental laws would allow. This means a developer would build as tall and dense as their budget and environmental constraints allowed them to, since they could sell many more housing units this way. Without parking requirements requiring a developer to build 2 parking spaces per unit, they would choose not to, especially if mass transit were available. If all subsidies for both roads and transit were removed and they were forced to compete based upon profitability, than transit would be the clear winner if both vehicles were filled to capacity. A single lane of highway can move around 2,000 cars per hour per lane without experiencing
    traffic jams. A single lane of light rail can move 25,000 people. It’s a fact that the per capita energy use of someone using mass transit is much lower than someone in a single occupancy vehicle. What that translates to is the ability to move more people at a lower cost, thus making more money.

    Even if you disagree with the 95% of scientists who agree that global warming is real, are you going to deny the fact that car exhaust contributes to lung cancer and asthma risks? It’s a public health issue. We’ve banned smoking in public places, but there is no minimum safe distance for car exhaust. Some companies previously involved with denying the link between smoking and lung cancer are now in the business of protecting the interests of auto, oil, and sprawl building companies by denying the link between our oil use and climate change.
    The Reason Foundation is one good example.

    The issue of alternative fuels and EROEI translates into higher transportation prices, no matter what combination of alternatives are used. Peak oil means these alternatives will not come online fast enough to make a difference anyway. If they were coming online fast enough they would be displacing demand for oil and gas prices would not be going up, which they are.

  15. Ed Ring says:

    Patrick: Of course car exhaust is harmful. But how harmful, and what is the trend? Before we had catalytic converters, car exhaust was deadly. Now most pollution from cars, in absolute terms, only comes from the small percentage of old “gross polluters” on the road. Buy them up – or wait for them to fade away. Pollution from new cars is negligible by comparison. And the all-electric and series hybrid electric cars will lower automotive pollution by another order of magnitude.

    As for your support of market forces – I would think this principle, combined with your belief that we are headed for even higher – much higher – energy prices, would make you rest assured we will have cleaner, more efficient cars than ever within a decade or two.

    That you agree we could scrap the coercive zoning mandates and end up with smarter growth is a breath of fresh air. As for me, I just want to be able to afford a private yard big enough for a garden and a few trees. When rationing of water, energy and land makes the aspiration to have something so simple and life affirming the province of only the very wealthy, we are on the wrong track. The market can deliver abundance – the government should make sure it’s clean, and otherwise get out of the way. This obsession with CO2 has stacked the deck, and more of us should question the motives of rational institutions whose elites have looked at this carefully and still condone the alarmism.

  16. Patrick says:

    “As for me, I just want to be able to afford a private yard big enough for a garden and a few trees.”

    You can definately have that in many new urbanist developments. You should check out the smartcode, it is a transect based code with different levels of “intensity” ranging from rural to urban. The difference is that the minimum *allowable* density is 10 units per acre which is the minimum needed to support transit service. This is not to say that 10 units per acre would be the minimum that could be built, but that if a developer wished he could be build up to 10 units per acre. If a developer wished to build homes on 1/2 acre lots he could still do so if he pleased. I live on a lot that is 1/20th an acre and I have a back and front yard with several trees and room for a garden while still having some room left over for a dog to run around.

    I’m afraid that without modern zoning codes developments of 1/2 acre lots would be very scarce as a developer would make much more money with denser developments. It is precisely the coercive suburban zoning codes in place that have perpetuated sprawl and made denser, mixed-use communities illegal to build. Now, all of this is not to say that some developers would still choose to build lower-density developments under the smartcode; but if the density restrictions were done away with you would get a lot more density, not less. I think codes should regulate things like minimum square footage per person, lot sizes, setbacks, etc in order to maintain safety & comfort. This is pretty much what the smartcode is all about-regulating form while letting the *type* of building be determined by the developer (i.e. supply/demand). The smartcode is around 50 pages or so, while conventional zoning codes are often hundreds of pages due to all the regulations that need to be in place to enforce a suburban environment.

    The 10 unit per acre limit gives developers the option of building up to 10 units per acre. Since this is also the density required to operate a transit service with a frequency of 30 minutes between vehicles, it also gives developers the option of building transit-oriented communities, and gives consumers the choice of living in them. If a developer still wished to build less densely they would be allowed to do so, and people would be free to live there if they wanted.

    The peak oil issue to me is more significant than the C02 issue, if only due to the timeframes. The adverse effects of global warming are on a 50 year time scale whereas peak oil is likely occuring right now (hence the ever increasing gas prices). Let’s just say for now that what you are claiming about green cars is not consistent with what I have read regarding the issue. As I understand it, the green energy required for these vehicles will not be available at the same scale as oil. In other words we will have hydrogen cars but the cost of the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline will be higher than what we are paying today. So far it seems that we are in a race of rising energy prices vs. technological innovation. Some believe that technology will ultimately win the race, but so far it is losing (and therefore we have higher energy prices, not lower). When I say technology I mean the use of machines to attempt to maintain unsustainable behaviors. Technology also means the application of knowledge, so the smartcode itself could be viewed as a technology in that light.

  17. Patrick says:

    I should also mention that urban sprawl is what drives up the cost of housing within the city. By artificially limiting the number of housing units that can be built in a given area the supply is artificially restricted. 100 people may want to live in an area where only 50 units get built, raising the price of those units compared to the surrounding areas. The reason why property in the central city is more expensive than that outside the city is because the demand for housing in the city is much higher. *Any* restriction on density ultimately is a restriction on supply, and prevents the developer from responding to the demand. When demand exceeds supply, higher prices are the result.

  18. Patrick says:

    Also, a report was recently released by the EPA showing that children living within 1/4 mile of a highway have twice the risk of developing asthma. As a result many local governments are considering laws banning the construction of schools within a certain distance, or banning residential construction within a certain distance, etc.

    They only use modern cars in China (well, the vast majority). Athletes who come to china develop asthma after going for a run and breathing the air. Since the olympics are going to be held there they had to determine what the safe level of particulate matter was. After determining this, the Chinese government banned cars for a week and measured the particulate levels. The levels were below their targets, meaning the banning of cars for just a short time was more than sufficient to reduce air pollution to breathable levels. This suggests that cars, even modern ones, play a significant role in affecting the quality of the air we breathe.

  19. Patrick says:

    “As for me, I just want to be able to afford a private yard big enough for a garden and a few trees. When rationing of water, energy and land makes the aspiration to have something so simple and life affirming the province of only the very wealthy, we are on the wrong track.”

    This is a matter of aesthetics and is therefore subjective/opinion. Some people find a big yard life affirming while some find the hustle and bustle of Manhattan to be life affirming. Lower density housing costs more because it requires more materials and energy to be used per capita. You have to pay more in order to get more. The questions of social justice that this raises would require a separate and much lengthier conversation.

  20. Ed Ring says:

    Patrick: I’m thrilled you are rising to this level of participation. But I don’t think we’re going to have a meeting of the minds. How you manage to squeeze a “front yard, back yard, garden and several trees” – plus a home, presumably – onto 2,200 square feet is unimaginable to me.

    Moreover, in California – and I think this trend is rolling out to the rest of the USA – developers are being forced to put 10+ homes on an acre. In my opinion most of these developments are hideous. People are piled on top of each other. You’d be far better off in a high-rise.

    In my opinion the smart growth lobby, with their obsession with high density and mass transit have carried the day – they won. The fact they aren’t satisfied and want more is frightening. I question nearly all of the studies and assumptions behind their reasoning, including resource scarcity, global warming, and “social justice.” And the piety that emanates from the smart growth lobby is disappointing, to put it mildly. Time will not permit me to respond to your many points, although I do appreciate that you are willing to share your thoughts. Most everything you’ve stated is addressed elsewhere on EcoWorld. Best wishes and don’t lose your passion.

  21. Patrick says:

    How you manage to squeeze a “front yard, back yard, garden and several trees” – plus a home, presumably – onto 2,200 square feet is unimaginable to me.

    I live in a 600 sq ft house with my girlfriend. Believe it or not I have trees and have to mow the yard occasionally. If I wanted to I could start a vegetable garden. The space is plenty for both of us. If you had 4 people per dwelling you could double the size of the lots and attain the same density without sacrificing any green space. 1200 sq ft x 3 stories = 3600 sq ft. This should be plenty of space for anyone. 20 people would live in a place that big in many countries. Given that the average family size is 2.5 people and shrinking, I see no need for dwellings larger than 3600 sq ft on average. The yards in this scenario would be ~2/3 of the plot or ~3000sq ft total. Plenty of room for trees, a garden, a pool, etc. So, just by taking advantage of the vertical dimension (3 story, narrow houses) you could provide very spacious houses with large yards, while still attaining a transit-supportive density.

    “Moreover, in California – and I think this trend is rolling out to the rest of the USA – developers are being forced to put 10+ homes on an acre. In my opinion most of these developments are hideous. People are piled on top of each other. You’d be far better off in a high-rise.”

    Given the choice most developers would build even more homes per acre as they would make more money that way. If you tell developers that they can build up to 10 units per acre than 99% of them will do so since it is more profitable. If you got rid of density restrictions altogether than developers would build as tall and dense as budget and environmental constraints allowed. A developer is not going to choose to build less densely unless coercive zoning codes require them to do so.

    I think you should just try to keep an open mind about these issues. I have read the criticisms of new urbanism and as of yet remain unconvinced by them. I would say that a lot of new urban projects fall far short of new urban principles, but that is usually the result of attempting to create a “comprimise” between new urban design principles and suburban principles. When the two are mixed, disaster results. Bear in mind that I am not a professional and am not involved with new urbanism, but I have done a lot of independent research regarding the issue. My interest in the issue comes purely from the point of view of a concerned citizen. I’m just sharing this with you because I believe your heart is in the right place, and that you have been misinformed regarding some of the issues. It’s been an interesting discussion. If you would like to discuss some of these things further, feel free to e-mail me: pmccleery5@yahoo.com.

  22. Kirsten says:

    It seems like the solution to less car traffic is to maximize telecommuting, not build dense environmentally unfriendly infill. Our local city council in Ventura wants to build 3-6 story mixed use urban canyons cutting off our 1-story 50 – 75 year old neighborhoods of cute old small houses from each other. If I wanted to live in New York city I’d move there. There are plenty of these new 3 story luxury condos on the market a year after being built, but they continue to break ground on new monolithic blocks of high density luxury condos. Not enough parking or green space. They count decks as open space. What about run-off? The city is looking at fines by the state for ocean pollution due to run-off, but they keep paving in the name of “new urbanism”.

    When Trader Joe’s or other smaller grocery stores tried to move in to downtown the city didn’t help solve their parking issues, so instead we are stuck with the big Vons chain. Wasn’t that an opportunity to practice what the development dept. new urbaners preach? A place for us to walk to! What a novel concept, provide a service people want to walk to without having to rebuild! If what the new urbaners preach is true the parking problem would have gone away.

    This isn’t the first community unfriendly decision they’ve made. The corridors that they want to turn into canyons used to have small auto lots. They city forced them all to move to a giant auto center along the freeway and they’ve been threatening imminent domain on the commercial property owners of the vacant lots ever since. The business left are slammed along with for not being fancy new fake facade buildings, but old 1-story with empty lots in between. What irks me most is that the city could care less what the people in the neighborhood want. They only care what they can do to attract reinvestment dollars, which means pushing out the current residents.

    This is just a thinly veiled open door for developers to maximize profits. Who needs a luxury condo? Try an 1100 sq. ft. 75 year old home with a porch and gardens. The new urbaners in this town are going to make my long term investment extinct. They are already allowing 3-story monstrosities to be built on top of the small old homes leaving 3 ft. strips around them. Green is what we need. We talk to the neighbors when we mow and garden! The new urbaner preachers sound like they’ve never lived in a neighborhood where they talk to their neighbors. It takes a community not a building.

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