Sunday, February 3, 2013

“Neighborhood” Options

I kind of wish that I had written this.
There are a handful of ways in which you can tell FILL IN THE BLANK is still just a small town on the cusp of being a big city. Restaurants that close at 9 p.m. and don’t open on Sundays is one. Another is the attitude many FILL IN THE BLANK'S RESIDENTS have toward parking.
Parking has been a constant topic of discussion – and outrage for some – lately. Neighbors seem to spring into action over the idea of a café or bar around the corner, lamenting that they don’t want cars parked on their streets. Others think the City of FILL IN THE BLANK should provide free parking downtown and in destination areas like FILL IN THE LOCATION . I think everyone should just get over it.
FILL IN THE BLANK is a developing city thanks to the unique personalities and businesses that are already here (and have been developing here for decades) and to the encouragement of the state and local government. People like FILL IN THE BLANK for its weather, its local businesses and its quirkiness. People moving to this city are helping improve this city.
I find in this writer a somewhat kindred spirit. Someone who feels about cities in the same way that I do. Reading farther, it just gets better.

She talks about the new and exciting restaurants which have opened and the many recent arrivals who are bringing increased vibrancy to her city's scene. And who can leave out the rise of the creative classes which throng to exciting places.

I think that she really strikes a chord when she says of the attitudes of the established locals;
I want to enjoy all FILL IN THE BLANK has to offer, but not within walking distance of my house.”
Is this not the attitude we see in the many comments against what some could call the natural evolution of a city? Apparently it is not just our city, because it is happening elsewhere. Many forms of NIMBYism are alive and well all across America.
A vibrant, diverse and creative city doesn’t have a single “business district” – that model of city planning, where a large central business district is surrounded by housing developments, is a failed idea that creates car dependency, pockets of crime and overweight people.
Don't you just want to shout this from the top of the Lexington Financial Building (Big Blue, to a lot of us)? This wildly suburban attitude may be just the thing that is keeping us from reaching that next step up the city evolutionary ladder.

Multiple or distributed business districts can, and should be, more than extended shopping corridors along the primary thoroughfares leading onto or out of town and large commercial centers. It is the presence of these distributed business districts which helps to describe real neighborhoods. In order for non-residential uses to consider anything other than the extended corridors or centers, the impact of traffic and parking is always discussed, - no argued.

Increasing levels of traffic are indicators of the vitality of an area but are usually also looked at as markers to the diminished safety of a residential section. I choose to believe that the quietest streets are not always the safest and not all traffic activity is vehicular. A cul-de-sac far from a commercial district can be as lonely as living on the moon.

Parking, on the other hand, really only becomes a major headache when the activity or retail endeavor has to draw clientele from more that a comfortable walking distance. Unfortunately for many people, that comfortable distance is growing shorter every year. Turns out people are not very good at conceiving of the distances they walk with any accuracy, according to Kevin Krizek, a planning and civil engineering professor at the University of Colorado. An evening walk to the corner pub or bistro-like dining is something our suburbanites may never know.

A solution to the traffic and parking questions could, or I think should, be more “neighborhood” options. The more “neighborhood” options in an area, away from major, busy traffic corridors, the greater likelihood of people living within that “comfortable distance” of those multiple options to ditch automobile and walk. Voila, cleaner air, healthier people and a more vibrant neighborhood and city.

Some of us are old enough to remember when there were more of these “neighborhood” options and they were located in a somewhat organic manner. They did seem to just grow there, “naturally”, neither forced nor constrained.

Did the strong survive? Did the survivors adapt? Both are good evolution questions but the real question is: Why have more of them not sprouted in our newer neighborhoods? That would take us back to the topics of traffic and parking. While the older “neighborhood” options got along without one or the other, any new ones will be required to have both. Maybe these could be classified as a GMO strain of local retail, but they have definitely been rejected.

So, does anyone recognize the city about which my kindred spirit writes? It surprised me to see that it is also a State University city with many college students. It is a center of politics and economics and if you would like to read more of her work, Stephanie Myers can tell you all about Getting Around the city of Austin, Texas.

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