Urban Living in the 21st Century

(image of Vancouver from Flickr user Unkdumptruck)

The former planning director for Vancouver, Larry Beasley, will be speaking at Oak Cliff’s Methodist Hospital, in the Hitt Auditorium on January 19, 2009. Space is limited, so be sure to get there early. More details here.

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Three Simple Rules for Walkability

David Sucher’s book, City Comforts, focuses on three simple steps that cities can work towards to create a walkable environment. Above is an image of the back cover which he freely allows copy of to educate the public.

Further details, and a more thorough break down with examples of the rules can be found in the following PDF.

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Building for People over Cars

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Post-War city planning focused on the automobile, and moving people as quickly through a community as possible. The classic American Strip Mall (pictured above), was a direct response to these new design cues. Retailers moved businesses further away from the street, adding larger parking lots, heightening the “moat-effect” of the road. Multi-Use developments, or those allowing people to live, work and play in close proximity, were deemed illegal in favor of a series of separate zonings creating sprawling auto-oriented developments. Oak Cliff was not immune to this new wave of building. The ripple effects have been a fragmentation of our community, building places that not only feel unsafe for people, but are void of all street life.

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In the 1980’s, efforts by groups promoting “New Urbanism” were developed to help move cities back to the way they were originally built…for people first. The economic effects have shown overwhelming success. Merchants who originally protested the removal of parking spaces and thinning of streets, have been quick to reverse course, due to the increase in business.

When focusing efforts on reviving Oak Cliff to be a people-friendly destination, the streets must be considered first. Architecture, and landscaping also hold high regard in designing cities, but the foundation always begins with the roads. If these are built incorrectly, there is little hope to correct through facades, lighting and foliage. A major problem in moving forward is that city planners have not been accustomed to building for people. Reversing course seems counter-intuitive, and the idea that people will return to a pedestrian friendly lifestyle foreign. But in case after case, cities around the world are successfully adopting “Road Diets“, or initiatives focused on balancing streets called “Complete Streets”. To date, there are over 20,000 road diets being planned in cities across the country. In order to maintain livability, and promote a healthy, safe, walking environment, we must entrust our civic leaders to assist in in promoting similar efforts in our community.

If you’re interested in learning more about New Urbanism in our area, sign up for the North Texas Congress for New Urbanism. Admission is open to the public. If you’d like to offer assistance in promoting pedestrian friendly development in Oak Cliff, become a member of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce.

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Examples of Four and Five Story Urbanism

The following are examples of images of 4 and 5 story mixed-use buildings in Europe and Latin America. We’re using these as an example, because similar models in the US are typically built with larger streets in mind (for the automobile), which spaces them out farther, and leads to what you see in places that have attempted urbanism, but failed. Our point is that, given a better context with streets built more for people rather than cars, the buildings will not seem out of place or overbearing. In fact, they make the spaces they surround more desirable for people to gather:

An important point to note here is that we typically focus our efforts on architects, buildings, and zoning, and completely overlook the streets. The reality is, developers will build accommodating structures, that naturally fit the streets they sit beside. If you build an 8 lane road, you’ll get a Wal-Mart because the infrastructure allows for this. If you build a 2 or 4 lane road, you create a more organic, people friendly environment.

The last point to focus on is that we tend to build our infrastructure to help cars move faster
and more efficiently through areas. Congestion is deemed a bad thing. This only leads to sprawl, as we build the roads larger and spread the population farther out. Conversely, no one can imagine widening a street like McKinney Avenue into 6 lanes. It would tear the fiber of the area down, and the people friendly nature of the street would go away. Though the street is narrow, it still accommodates many cars, a trolley, and is dense with retail. We must begin focusing our efforts on the streets, and to not continue building the way we did beginning in the 1950’s. This was the era we removed our streetcars, created separate zoning, and broke apart our communities.

Now imagine all of these building being only 2 and 3 stories, with wide streets. The density would be gone, which would make the retailers leave, and you’d be left with a traditional car-centric suburb.

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