All day, I read blogs and studies citing the importance of progressive planning policy. These articles discuss all the benefits of creating developments that are walkable and “New Urbanist” in nature.
I do not disagree with any of these statements or opinions. In fact, I agree with the vast majority of them. These are not the important articles, though. I think most people can agree that building sprawlburbs for the next 30 years does not make a lot of sense for many reasons.
But what should the alternatives be?
This is a valid question because I don’t think most people really know what they want. America has not built anything other than sprawl for a very long time. It’s important to start thinking about and discussing alternatives now before people get jaded with the entire debate (remember health care?).
By talking to people, I get a pretty good idea of what people want in the future (and right now). I see people wanting a hybrid of sorts: New Urbanism + the suburbs.
The kind of areas I visualize would be similar to the neighborhood I currently live in: mixed housing densities/incomes (single family on the inside of the block, higher density multifamily housing on the outside), with multiuse on the edges of the block (commercial, retail). My neighborhood also has 2 bus routes (north-south, east-west) that come every half-hour on the weekdays, along with bike routes throughout the neighborhood.
This kind of urban diversity provides many benefits to residents. While driving is still the favored transportation choice by the majority of neighborhood residents, the design of this neighborhood makes it easy for residents to walk, bike or take the bus. Therefore, many residents (including myself) choose to use alternative modes of transportation.
At the same time, it is not a choice but a necessity for many residents as a result of income levels. This point demonstrates how everything zoning related is interconnected: since my neighborhood has a diversity of transportation choices, it supports a variety of income levels.
The main point here is that automobile dependency is not freedom: it is oppression. A diversity of transportation choices supports a diversity of lifestyles. It is easy to create places that are car accessible and not car dependent.
My neighborhood is proof of this ease of coexistence.