Monday, March 3, 2008

Why aren’t you walking and shopping in our newly designed downtown?

   A goal of many land use laws for the central city is to make our cities look like they did before 1950 … or like many European cities still do –- a mixture of commerce and residences, few parking lots, and retail at the street level –- all of which will encourage people to walk.  But even this seemingly simple policy sometimes is hard to achieve in practice.  One story from New York shows that a growing number of residents in even this ultra-dense city make a commute to the suburbs   
Seattle    Another problem may be the scale of modern structures.   This opinion column from Seattle’s Stranger newspaper criticizes the enormity of new city-encouraged residential towers in the city.  Because the buildings often take up an entire block, they impose a psychological barrier to pedestrianism, the argument goes.  Retail in such a large building doesn’t prosper as it might in a block with a variety of structures, the author seems to suggest.  But then again, many blocks in Paris were successfully “developed” in a uniform (monotonous?) style in the mid-19th Hausmann reconstruction, and remain inviting to walkers and shoppers.  Perhaps laws need to require even more and varied retail at the street level.  And perhaps the habits of Americans to avoid walking are harder to break than we thought …

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