Monday, November 9, 2009

Street Design and Safety...

The Congress for New Urbanism recently wrapped up its annual transportation conference--this year in Portland, Oregon.

You can read more about the event and several of the initiatives here.

One of the most pressing issues in this area is how street designs affect pedestrian and vehicular safety.  For instance, in Montgomery, prior to the city's adoption of the SmartCode, most new subdivisions required wide streets, including in residential areas.  The problem with wide streets is that, even with lower posted speed limits, the effective design speed is so high that many drivers find themselves hurtling through the neighborhood at an unsafe speed without realizing how fast they are really going.

Add into the equation short houses with very deep setbacks and its hard to accurately sense your speed by comparing it to the surrounding building envelope. 

Fortunately, the CNU is working with a host of transportation groups and agencies to legalize context-appropriate street types.  In a nutshell, this means narrow streets and short blocks in pedestrian areas that intuitively reduce a vehicle's speed, while leaving the wide roads out in the interstate areas where pedestrians are neither intended nor permitted in many cases.

Along those lines, ask yourself this:  does your city legally allow 20-24 foot wide two-way streets

In many jurisdictions the answer is no.  That's an unfortunate (and, oftentimes, dangerous) answer if pedestrians are permitted anywhere near the street.  Especially when you consider the success of a place like Professor Cook's stomping grounds in Charleston.  Many of the streets on the Peninsula are narrow--very narrow

Yet, they are still safe in many respects.  Indeed, great value (monetarily, culturally, historically, aesthetically, you name it) is placed on property located in the part of Charleston that has the narrowest streets. 

--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.

November 9, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Paging the Local Codes Inspector in China...

The reason for paging the inspector?

It's real simple.  Check out this image and explanation at the Global Economic Analysis blog.

Pretty startling, eh?  I mean, really.  An entire 12 building simply falling over.  I've seen some bad Lincoln Log designs but never such a stark example of real-life Jenga.

Which leads me to think about the state of land use/building code inspections here in the U.S.  In particular, are any readers aware of something even closely similar to the above debacle?

If so, please post in the comments and, if you'd like, feel free to email image links to me at  I'll post links to the best examples later this month.

--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.

November 9, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Education, Wealth, and Land Use

Professor Edward Glaeser of Harvard posted recently on the New York Times' Economix Blog about the connections between investments in education 100 years ago with income levels in 2009.  Click here to read "Education Last Century, and Economic Growth Today."  It is not surprising to learn that countries that invested aggressively in education in 1900 tend to be the wealthiest today, whereas those that did not tend to be the poorest.  The study also indicates that people who work or live in close proximity to other skilled people tend to earn more, too.  To the extent that sprawl interrupts this pattern, affordable housing and "smart growth" could provide an antidote.

Will Cook, Charleston School of Law

November 8, 2009 in Sprawl | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Preserving New York

Although many people think of New York City as a place that never looks back, it has managed to retain a wealth of architectural evidence from the past, even as it has experienced significant losses.  In his book Preserving New York:  Winning the Right to Protect a City's Landmarks (2008), Anthony Wood describes New York's historic preservation legacy, one that goes far beyond the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Penn Central.  (Historic preservation aficionados know this case as the first to uphold historic preservation as a valid public policy; most others associate it with the regulatory takings test the Court established there.)  Describing an overlooked period in the development of the preservation movement in New York--1913 to 1965--Wood gives insight into the origins of the City's Landmarks Law.  This nationally recognized law, Wood demonstrates, didn't spring into being merely because of the destruction of Pennsylvania Station, but also resulted from the culmination of the efforts of forgotten civic leaders on behalf of a wide range of equally important historic properties.  Their work lives on in the rich and varied city we appreciate today and in the laws that protect it. 

Will Cook, Charleston School of Law

November 8, 2009 in Historic Preservation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Pilgrims & Land Use

If you missed Nathaniel Philbeck's NYT bestseller from 2006, Mayflower, November is a good time to check it out as we approach Thanksgiving 2009.  Philbeck gives new insight into the question, "How did American begin?"  Of interest to land use types, among other issues, are Philbeck's accounts of town planning and land management practices.  In regards to town planning, Philbeck describes the military origins of Plymouth's design:  "Miles Standish apears to have had a hand in determining the layout of the town.  At lectures on military engineering at the University of Leiden, soldiers could learn from the Dutch army's chief engineer that the most easily defended settlement pattern consisted of a street with parallel alleys and a cross street.  The Pilgrims created a similar design that included two rows of houses 'for safety.'"  Philbeck, at 84.  Only seven houses, however, were constructed the first year; the others included four buildings for common use.  Id.  The common greensward and adjacent church combination associated with New England did not develop until later.

Moreover, the terrain around these primitive structures did not resemble the dark, thick, primeval forest one typically imagines.  Philbeck explains:  "For centuries, the Indians had been burning the landscape on a seasonal basis, a form of land management that created surprisingly open forests, where a person might easily walk or even ride a horse amid the trees.  The constant burning created stands of huge white pine trees that common grew to over 100 feet tall, with some trees reaching 250 in height as as many as 5 feet in diameter.  Black and read oaks were also common, as well as chestnuts, hickories, birches, and hemlocks.  In swampy areas, where standing water protected the trees from fire, grew white oaks, alders, willows, and red maples.  But there were also large portions of southern New England that were completely devoid of trees [because of burning]."  Id. at 87. 

Will Cook, Charleston School of Law

November 8, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)