Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thoughts on suburbs and transit

Lexington has not planned for any kind of mass transit, nor have they insisted that mass transit be a consideration for any kind of land use decision. There has been no thought of inclusion of mass transit in any plan even though it has been 30 years. A planning pattern established in the 60's has continued right along with very little to distinguish this years subdivision from a 25 year old one save the size of the lots (smaller) and the size of the houses (larger).

Looking at sprawl and the effects of mass transit was made easier today when Overhead Wire posted a link to a 1976 report that was Part of an ASSESSMENT OF COMMUNITY PLANNING FOR MASS TRANSIT. It is not surprising that this report was done following the 1973 gas crisis and America was searching for ways to save fuel. In April of 1974 the Real Estate Research Corporation produced a report titled The Costs of-Sprawl. In their synopsis was this assessment:
Several conclusions and findings are made in this report.

The high density planned community consumed 40% less energy than the low density sprawl pattern. In annual terms this means 400 million BTU per dwelling unit in the low density sprawl pattern compared to about 210 million BTU per dwelling unit in the high density planned pattern. The high density planned community cost per residential unit was $21,000 compared to $49,000 per unit in low density sprawl pattern. This is for all community costs prorated. Water and air pollution are substantially less and water consumption less in the higher density pattern. With 52% less travel time required in the snore(? more) densely planned community, less accidents and other psychic benefits are described. Gas and electricity use ‘is a function of housing type and structural characteristics: no variation among planned and sprawl communities with the same housing mix is shown." But, ‘significant variation in consumption of gasoline occurs as a result of the differences among community types.. . ."

The report concludes that significant energy savings can be attained through greater use of mass transit.
Here we are 30 years later and it seems that we haven't learned a thing. In Lexington, we just keep on trying to use up the land that we set aside for growth and insist that we are going to hold the line.

From Planetizen, we find a piece by Neal Pierce who states the transit is the key to the development in metro areas, although he specifically is using the New York MTA as the example the same could be said for Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati. Retrofitting transit into a development pattern based on the automobile will be expensive but it can be done. The longer that we wait will only increase the cost. And his solution does not sound too dis-similar to the one that I sketched out here just the other day. As Mrs. Sweeper is fond of saying "Its way too late to get started now. We've already missed the train".

On a bit lighter note, the Modern Mechanix site had an interesting piece about suburbs and how they relly haven't changed over the years. It posts a story from the magazine, Ladies Circle, from the mid 60's about how one certain housewife declares that she hates the suburbs. It may have been a planted piece designed to slow the "white flight" of the period, but it reads cute. Maybe too cute. It does have a lot of the stereotypes about suburbs and our modern subdivisions today, about the blandness of the houses, the similarities of the opinions and the distances necessary to travel to accomplish a task.

I do find that the desires of a large number of people are to have like-minded friends, especially where they live, since they have so much diversity where they work. It even seems worse on another forum CityData, where more than a few are in real estate and/or from the well-to-do sections, many of them direct a prospective resident to the newer, pricier suburbs and failing that, to the pricier older sections of town. Any place else is "showing its age", "middle class", "undesirable" or worse.

Maybe it is the anonymity of the web that lets us believe that everyone else is just like me. But is that any different from going home, entering the house through the garage, spending the evening watching TV, going to bed and starting all over in the morning, just like everyone else. We are all equal, my neighbors are just like me--except for that odd nut out there.

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