Thursday, September 29, 2005

Utah a Hotbed of "New Suburbanism?"

It's been interesting being involved in the Wasatch Vision 2040 process now kind of coming to a culmination. It is, in reality, a taking off point -- taking off for the process of updating the metro area long-range transportation plan.

In the past, our region's MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations - the Wasatch Front Regional Council and Mountainlands Association of Governments) have compiled all the various general plans from communities in the region, and used them as the starting point in the process, setting the future land use. Often, as many planners know, those community general plans conflicted with each other, and there was not a lot of coordination between them. So what did that mean for our long-range transportation plans, being based on such discrepencies?

This time around, the MPOs are taking a new approach, seeking to get a better region-wide vision of what future land-use may be regionwide, then using that as the basis for setting up a regionwide transportation system to get us there. Radical, eh?

The Wasatch Vision 2040 process has resulted in a number of interesting ideas and conclusions, one of which is the notion that we may be better served by a series of activity nodes or centers dispersed throughout the region, rather than concentrating everything in one (or a few) central core. Thus, homes are closer to jobs and shopping, reducing the need for long commutes and extensive travel.

I've since discovered the writings of Joel Kotkin, who has really developed this theme. In a July 4 column in Forbes magazine, Kotkin wrote about how today, many of the world's largest and most influential corporations have located their headquarters and facilities not so much in the old traditional central cities, but in the suburban locations of major metropolitan areas. He cites examples such as Microsoft (Redmond, Washington), Intel (Santa Clara, California), IBM (Westchester County, New York), and Amgen (Thousand Oaks, California).

In a June 2005 article called "The New Suburbanism," Kotkin writes, "Rejecting the urbanist notion that clings to the primacy of the city center, the successful suburban village con coexist happily with neighboring single-family residences. It allows suburbs to...become something approximating a self-contained town. This phenomenon is part of what Randall Jackson, president of The Planning Center...calls 'new suburbanism.'"

"Promoters seek not a return to the dense urban paradigm of Jane Jacobs but instead the creation of an archipelago of villages connected not only by roads (and sometimes trains) but also by new communications technology. ... (T)he suburban village embraces the reality of dispersion and encourages less dependence on long-range commuting, including to the urban core."

Kotkin has come in for some attacks on his ideas by New Urbanists and Smart Growthers, but what he has to say makes a lot of sense to me. Particularly since it seems we are going more in his direction in what is coming out of Wasatch Vision 2040. Kotkin has even seen (perhaps prophetically, since the WV2040 proposal is not done yet) that for our region, when he wrote, "Suburban villages are either being built or proposed throughout the country. Massive new developments, replete with housing, shopping, and transit connections, have already been created throughout large parts of suburban Southern California, around Chicago, in Washington, D.C., and outside Salt Lake City." I can only think that he is referring to the Kennecott Land plans (see story in today's DesNews on this.)

More to come on this topic soon.


At 9:46 AM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

New Suburbanism will useful if it creates some realistic car-free or very car-light lifestyle options. IMHO the coming decade will be one of mass exodus away from auto dependent living situations as the economics of auto dependency become increasingly unworkable for most Utahns due the growing scarcity and rising costs of motor fuel.
I expect that rather than everyone moving to walkable suburban utopias, there will be a scramble to move into older neighborhoods with small easily heated homes and short walks to grocery stores and corridor bus and light rail routes.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger Former Centerville Citizen said...

That's why I'm so glad I live within four blocks of bus routes 55 and 70, the post office, my bank, city hall, my church, the grocery store, and other places.

At 8:02 PM, Blogger Bradley said...

"New Suburbanism" sounds a lot like early Mormon city planning with its one-square-mile mini-cities. I'm glad to see it making a resurgence!

I am grateful to live in the aging heart of a small community near a bus route that leads to and from my work, eliminating the need for the car on most days.

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