Thursday, February 5, 2009
In an entry in the New York Times this week, design writer Allison Arieff wrote for the second time on the topic of “saving the suburbs.” The first entry raised questions of what to do with new McMansion developments that have no buyers in a world less exuberant over exurbs. My guess is that not too many of these developments will be empty five years from now; who knows, maybe some California developments will house refugees from earthquakes, as some overbuilt Houston housing did after Hurricane Katrina.
In this week’s entry, Arieff discusses desires to retrofit suburbia for greater density, using of course new-urbanist ideals. I would have liked more emphasis on the essential role for rezoning, without which much retrofitting can’t occur. (But then, I’m a lawyer, not a designer.) She included a rendering of the community of Mashpee Commons on Cape Cod. The drawing makes the place look much like an old town in France or Denmark –- tall, steep-roofed townhouses clustered around greens and narrow streets. My big question about the rendering is –- and one can compare it to some photos of the actual place –- Where are the cars?
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Monday, February 2, 2009
It’s one thing simply to advocate for greater density and more public transportation; it’s another thing to make the tough policy choices that these land uses entail. I noticed that commentators Peter Katz and Walljasper annointed my old home county –- Montgomery County, Md. –- as the “most enlightened” suburb in the nation in a recent Utne Reader.
But here’s a story about a perhaps-not-so-enlightened side of Montgomery County. The state of Maryland is considering the creation of a new public transportation line to connect the busy downtown center of Bethesda, in affluent western Montgomery, with the less affluent communities, to the east, of Silver Spring (my old hometown) and Prince George’s County, which holds both the University of Maryland and a majority black and growing Latino population. Among the controversies that have plagued the “purple line” project (so dubbed because it would add to the variously colored lines of Washington’s metro system, which was not designed for suburb-to-suburb travel) are: (1) whether to use a light-rail or an express bus system (I have advocated the latter as far more cost-effective, while most public advocates have supported the more glamorous rail option, of course); (2) whether to run the line through a stretch of the popular rail-to-trail Capital Crescent Trail (other options appear too expensive for rail); and, finally, (3) whispers (okay, more than merely whispers) that affluent Bethesdans don’t like the idea of easterners having a quick access to their community.
Who knew that being “enlightened” was so complicated? …
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