Monday, May 18, 2009
Can American communities exist without cars? The New York Times published last week a “running commentary” on whether American towns can be successful that ban cars, or at least relegate them to outskirts. As assessed by expert contributors and hoi polloi commentators, some of the keys are an efficient public transportation system and mixed land use, in order to make tasks and travels easy without a car.
Here are my two cents: As shown by many of the citizen commentators, car-free living is not so unusual any more. Despite Witold Rybczynski’s odd assertion that “there are only six American downtown districts [two areas of NYC, Chi., SF, Boston, and his own Phila.] that are dense enough to support mass transit” (uh, ever been to Washington or Seattle or Portland, for example?), there are many American urban neighborhoods today that look like the Arlington, Va., picture at the NY Times site: dense, mixed-use land use with grocery shopping, apartments, nightlife, and mass transit to nearby offices. Even Tampa, Florida, near me, famously among America’s least-walkable cities, holds a Hyde Park District in which apartment and townhouse residents can shop for lettuce, sip coffee, hear a band, and walk or catch a bus to work without a car. Many do.
But Rybczynski and others are correct in suggesting that the key question is not whether car-free neighborhood can prosper—they clearly can – but whether a large percentage of Americans truly want to live in such neighborhoods. Car-free sectors are almost certainly going to be apartment, condo, and townhouse neighborhoods. It is much tougher to build a car-free community of single-family houses with yards. Accordingly, while many young urban professionals embrace a life of apartment-above-a-Starbuck’s-with a-Whole-Foods-down-the-block, it’s another for an American family with kids to do so. Unlike in Germany, a suburb in which the Times focuses, far fewer American families have accepted the car-free lifestyle. Many factors go into these decisions, including (and this is a point rarely mentioned by optimistic urbanists) dissatisfaction with urban public schools. Attitudes may be changing, but let’s recognize the limitations of the appeal of the car-free community …
[Comments must be approved and thus take some time to appear online.]
This blog is an Amazon affiliate. Help support Land Use Prof Blog by making purchases through Amazon links on this site at no cost to you.
- Deborah Curran on Field notes on navigating a POPO
- Stephen Miller on Commissioner's Corner: Should a Commissioner Be Permitted To Peak at a Google Maps View of a Project Site in a Quasi-Judicial Hearing?
- Ben Davy on Commissioner's Corner: Should a Commissioner Be Permitted To Peak at a Google Maps View of a Project Site in a Quasi-Judicial Hearing?
- Jesse Richardson on Commissioner's Corner: Should a Commissioner Be Permitted To Peak at a Google Maps View of a Project Site in a Quasi-Judicial Hearing?
- Stephen Miller on New Arkansas law requires local governments to pay for a "takings" where certain "regulatory programs" reduce FMV by at least 20 percent
- Shocking Allegations of Rough Justice at a P&Z Hearing in the Rural West: Environmental Activist Opposing Oil and Gas Project at Public Hearing Charged with Criminal Trespass and Spends Five Days in Isolation
- Cheever & Owley on Enhancing Conservation Options
- Planning for States and Nation-States in the U.S. and Europe
- New study highlights worker conditions in the sharing economy
- Audubon honors Women Greening Journalism