Sunday, April 30, 2006

Big Push for Transit

Lots in the news in recent days about accelerating the expansion of rail transit along the Wasatch Front. The Deseret News ran a major series of stories on it today (see also here and here.) Much of this is part of an effort by transportation pundits to raise the awareness of the need to increase transportation investment if we are to keep our region viable. This means not only roads, but transit as well.

The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce is undertaking a substantial program to encourage increased investment in transportation, even calling for the raising of taxes to fund the TRAX expansion lines ahead of schedule. The Salt Lake County Council is moving in that direction as well, looking favorably toward putting the question of raising property taxes for TRAX expansion on the ballot this November.

While most of the recent action is taking place in Salt Lake County, there is also action in Davis and Weber Counties. The commuter rail line is currently under construction and due to be complete in 2008. The settlement of the Legacy Highway lawsuit late last year also included a provision that UDOT commit a couple of million dollars for feasibility and environmental studies for expansion of TRAX into south Davis County. This study, I understand, will get underway in earnest by fall of this year. Only Utah County, which has not yet committed for the additional one-quarter cent sales tax for transit as Salt Lake, Weber and Davis Counties did in 2000, is not seeing much action on rail transit (though there has been discussion about leasing the Union Pacific rail line to run a sort of commuter rail from Provo to Salt Lake when reconstruction of I-15 in Utah County begins in a few years.)

Is all this attention to expansion of rail transit worth it? Will it really help make our region a better place to live? One of the key items in Envision Utah's Quality Growth Strategy is expansion of transit. The idea is that making communities more open to walking and transit and lessening dependence on cars will improve quality of life.

Numerous studies show, however, that even substantial increases in transit capacity will do little to reduce traffic congestion. Anthony Downs, one of the most level-headed (in my opinion) writers on transportation policy, says that there is virtually nothing we can do that is acceptable to the public to reduce congestion substantially, even aggresively building additional transit. He does say that "improving and expanding the nation's public transit systems and upgrading their image are worthwhile goals that deserve significant effort and intensive promotion." Why?

If transit is not going to make much of a dent in regional mobility, what's the point?

In Davis County a few years ago, public officials undertook a concerted effort to prioritize our transporation needs. Legacy Highway came out number one, expansion of I-15 next, and expansion of transit third, with a number of other strategies following that. These were the big three, however. Why would we rank transit so high? Much had to to do with our recognition that once Legacy was built and I-15 expanded, there will be very little more we can do to add significantly to our road capacity because of land constraints (there just ain't gonna be any more room in the neck of the hourglass through Farmington/Centerville.) Transit will be needed to supplement that capacity. Also, transit is a good option to have available for people when they just plain don't want to, or can't, drive.

Look at most major metropolitan areas around the world that are vital and leaders in the world economy -- they virtually all have large transit systems. It's as Anthony Downs says, economic prosperity creates congestion because there is so much going on -- it's a sign of economic health. Transit is needed as a travel option in those regions. It's part of what we will need to do here in Zion if we are to become important players in the world economy, and keep up the quality of life for our residents, both present and future.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

County Land Use and Radioactive Waste

In the spirit of the call by Utah Policy Daily to "blog swarm" about radioactive waste storage today and tomorrow, I'm offering some information about what has been amended into the LUDMA in recent years regarding this issue.

In the counties section of the LUDMA, there is a requirement that counties, as part of their general plan, "include specific provisions related to any areas within ... a county, which are proposed for the siting of a storage facility or transfer facility for the placement of high-level nuclear waste or greater than class C radioactive waste ... ." There are a number of requirements for issues that must be considered, and then the code states, "A county may, in lieu of complying with Subsection (3)(a), adopt an ordinance indicating that all proposals for the siting of a storage facility ... wholly or partially within the county are rejected. A county may adopt the ordinance ... at any time."

Then, in a move to encourage counties to do so free from legal threat, Section 17-27a-409 states, "If a county is challenged in a court of law regarding its decision to deny siting of a storage or transfer facility for the placement of high-level nuclear waste... the state shall indemnify, defend, and hold the county harmless from any claims or damages, including court costs and attorney fees that are assessed as a result of the county's action... ."

Pretty strong statement in the state code about storage of nuclear waste. All as it relates to the land use process, as well.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The New "Pragmatism"

A recent post on the Planetizen website by Joel Kotkin talks about "What Is the New Suburbanism." I've blogged on Kotkin's stuff before, in part because I think it is a pretty straightforward recognition of how the world is and how we can realistically tweak it and make it a little better.

Kotkin acknowledges the trend or "desire" of the majority of people to live a suburban lifestyle, and tries to find ways to improve the kinds of communities that are built. Along the way, he gets some pretty strong criticism from some who believe urban planning should be focused more toward turning inward to the central core and limiting "sprawl" outward.

Like in all things, there is some good in both viewpoints, but I tend to lean a little more toward Kotkin's ideas, maybe because I've spent my entire career as a planner working in suburban communities, but also because you just have to look at the numbers to know where the most growth is in most metropolitan areas. I don't believe it's due to some vast conspiracy of developers, oil industry and government to make that happen -- I really think most people like living in the suburbs. As with anything, there are some problems with it, and we need to find ways to solve those problems.

Short of some major catastrophe (what that would be, I don't know -- maybe Google Peak Oil who comments on this site a lot is right that if oil prices keep doing what they're doing, that will be the "catastrophe"), I don't see things changing all that much for a long time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Monopoly: The Sprawl Version

This has got to be one of the best planning-related cartoons I've seen in a long time. Pretty clever, captures all the elements of the knock on sprawl in one concise frame!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Redoing Subdivisions

Last Wednesday, Neil Lindberg and I attended a meeting at the UAC Management Conference with most of the county recorders from around the state. The topic of the meeting was the changes made to land use law in the last legislative session. As we talked through the topic, it became painfully obvious that there are some real problems in the LUDMA and other codes related to subdivisions, which allows for (or even causes) some differences in practice in various county recorders' offices.

One of the most obvious that we spent some time talking about was the process for "exempt" subdivisions. While a plat is not required, just about everything else is, which raised the question of what's the point of even having the exemption? Some were also confusing exempt subdivisions (which is an optional process for local governments) with divisions of land that are defined as not being subdivisions.

And, of course, there was substantial discussion about who the enforcers of subdivision requirements are, with recorders making it clear again that they do not consider themselves that enforcer.

Two years ago when the effort was undertaken to redo the LUDMA and what eventually became SB60, the sections on subdivisions were left out because it just became too much to do all at once. After the discussion with the county recorders, and with others, it looks like something that needs to be done. We shall see what happens.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Paying More for TRAX

The business community asking for higher taxes? Did you think you'd ever see the day? Apparently that is exactly what is happening, as the Salt Lake Chamber starts a campaign to find more money to pay for transportation improvements, most notably for TRAX expansions.

The story today in the Trib notes that Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie says the planned transportation system needs to be built sooner, and is putting forward suggestions such as increased gas taxes on fuel, impact fees, property and sales tax increases and special district levies to get the job done.

While the story focuses in Salt Lake County, I talked with Lane Beattie today and he said their effort will really be throughout the Wasatch Front, and even statewide, as the transportation system is really a regional one, and workers and businessmen live throughout the region and need to get around, as well as the goods and services.

The Chamber plans to pursue this initiative aggressively, seeing it as vital investment in our infrastructure for sound future economic growth.

SATURDAY UPDATE: Today's editorial in the Trib supports the concept of accelerating construction of the four proposed TRAX expansions. Somehow we have to get on the radar an extension of TRAX into south Davis County, as well! At this point, there has only been a study for a future transit corridor. That study needs to move forward and be expanded.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

More on Washington County Plan

As the vision planning effort for Washington County is about to get underway, environmental groups are taking an active stand in opposition to the bill proposed by Sen. Bennett and Rep. Matheson for federal land use in the county. Both SUWA and the Utah Sierra Club proclaim that they are not happy with the bill, and ask people from around the country to express their opposition.

The Sierra Club does at least acknowledge the start of the local visioning plan, saying, "Some credit adheres to the impulse to plan for growth that everyone foresees. Unfortunately this proposed legislation would make growth-related problems in Washington County even worse. Bennett consulted with a fairly broad spectrum of land users and advocates, but the draft legislative language largely reflects the interests and preoccupations of the Washington County Commissioners."

To a degree, there does seem to be a little bit of a question about whether the cart is before the horse here, when a bill has been proposed before the proclaimed visioning process even gets started -- but by the same token, much has been made of the fact that a number of interest groups were brought together over an extended period of time to help craft the bill as it is. While the environmental groups claim they were never seriously invited to be part of that bill-crafting, the bill sponsors say that they were invited but did not like where things were headed so they quit coming.

The experience that environmental groups have in dealing with federal legislation is well-known and clear -- they know that process and how to influence it very well. How they will fare in a broader, Envision Utah-type visioning effort will be interesting to watch.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Reverse Legislation on Trails Acquisition?

Recent story in the DesNews about the latest in the ongoing saga between Dr. Gibby and Mapleton City for acquisition of a right-of-way for the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. This dispute was the reason a bill passed in the last legislative session taking away from state and local government the ability to acquire land for trails and recreational pathways.

The ironic fact is that the passage of the bill will have no effect on this particular situation, because it cannot be applied retroactively. So a change was made in the state code for one particular situation, which the bill won't do anything to help with, anyway.

So the question now becomes, should an attempt be mounted to get the law changed back in the next legislative session? No doubt, there is substantial sentiment to do so. Stay tuned, we'll see what happens.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sutherland President Responds, Knocks "Quality Growth"

Wow. Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero responds to criticism of Randal O'Toole's study on the costs of smart growth (see previous blog entry) with a rather strident opinion piece published in this morning's DesNews. Where to begin to respond?

Mr. Mero implies that a move toward quality growth strategies would circumvent the free-choice pattern of development we now have when he says, "Every totalitarian scheme is based on efficiency -- do what we say, when we say it, and you will have a tremendous quality of life." Well, how does Mr. Mero think the zoning and development regulations we currently have in place came about -- primarily through the free-market? In fact, part of the problem we have with development today is that government regulations are too strict -- do not allow the different styles of development that are advocated by quality growth and that some developers would like to pursue. There is nothing sacred or particularly free-market about the style of development that goes on today -- much of it was established by regulation a number of years ago. Part of the quality growth strategy is to loosen up regulation -- something Mr. Mero openly supports.

Aside from the "character assault" Mr. Mero engages in when he says things like "quality growth advocates persuade and then parade well-known community and business leaders to represent its public face. There is no socialist quite like a capitalist one...," he implies government collusion to "aggresively...pursue 'green' agendas." I would suggest Mr. Mero take a look at the kinds of things that are being actively advocated by organizations like the Urban Land Institute, which is made up predominantly of private-sector developers. The developments these folks are working on generally encompass things that are part of the quality growth "agenda," and they are calling for a loosening of regulations to allow them to happen.

Mr. Mero says, "Has a Utah city or county council been involved with policies limiting the number of building permits because a community is growing too fast?" as part of his support for the idea that quality growth is meant primarily as a way to restrict development and growth. My own experience over the years has been that there have been attempts by a few local governments over the years to actually restrict the rate of growth, but in most cases communities try to find ways to accomodate it in the best way they can. And often such accomodation causes outcries from citizens that the elected officials are in the back pocket of the developers, letting them do whatever they want.

What is wrong with a community that is besieged by a sudden rapid surge in growth and that is unprepared for its infrastructure and community character to accomodate such growth, to call a short time out to get its act together before the flood gates are opened? Usually that is the case, as these towns impose temporary moriatoriums on growth so they can better respond. Most cities accomodate the "free-market" demand for growth, whether they are ready or not. Would Mr. Mero have communities accept such growth without any plan or preparation?

"A local government's interest in housing policy should focus on health and safety. The marketplace primarily should be relied upon to determine decisions about where we live and how we live," Mr. Mero says. Sometimes that health and safety concern means a community must limit or stop growth temporarily while its water facilities or sewage treatment capacity is expanded to accomodate that growth. And if development can be tweaked to reduce the cost of that overall infrastructure to all the taxpayers, is that bad?

My experience with quality growth, at least in Utah, is that it is primarily about influencing the style of development, not stopping it, and not causing it to be more expensive. Sometimes homes in those kinds of development are more expensive, but generally because those developments are more desireable and hence the price is bid up by the free market.

No doubt, Mr. Mero's column will likely generate some interesting discussion in the next few weeks.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Broader Plan for Washington County

Story in the DesNews Tuesday indicates that Washington County commissioners signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nature Conservancy, the Oquirrh Institute and Envision Utah to develop a vision plan for the fast-growing southwestern county.

This step is the logical follow-up to the bill announced earlier by Sen. Bob Bennett and Rep. Jim Matheson with regard to planning for the federal lands in the county.

With the St. George and Hurricane areas growing like they are, a "vision" of an alternative way to grow is sorely needed. Kudos to the local officials and groups involved, and good luck! It will be an adventure going through the process.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Alpine Council Chooses "Wisely"

Story in the Daily Herald today about the Alpine City Council reversing the planning commission's decision to deny approval for a charter school. Attorney Dave Church helped them understand what they could legally do, given the parameters of the state code regarding charter schools and the role that they were playing in essentially an administrative action.

The Herald said, "city attorney David Church told council members again and again that the Planning Commission's decision had been illegal" because recent changes to the state code require local governments to allow charter schools in any zone. There is not a lot of discretion left for communities to exercise.

As happens in most emotionally charged matters like this one, residents "filled not only the council chambers but the entire hallway outside, express(ing) their displeasure by booing, hissing and repeatedly interrupting the meeting with catcalls and angry comments."

I don't know how we go about it, but somehow we must help citizens learn about and understand the distinction between administrative and legislative actions. We also need to help elected officials and planning commissioners understand, as was probably what was needed when the planning commission made the decision they did.

I generally think we do a disservice to the public when we advertise and hold "public hearings" on administrative matters, things like site plans and conditional use permits. While the public can bring forward information that perhaps the staff of the land use authority wasn't aware of, more often the public comes and expresses their "opinions" of "feelings" on the matter, which is not something that can be a basis for an administrative decision.

The solution for the residents of Alpine who do not want charter schools in their neighborhoods is to get the state law changed. Until that happens, there isn't much else that can be done. Kudos to Dave Church for his work.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More On the "Price" of Quality Growth

Excellent opinion editorial in the DesNews this morning from Pamela Atkinson, Chair of the Coalition for Utah's Future, which sponsors Envision Utah. It was written in response to the recent press release by the Sutherland Institute about a study by Randal O'Toole (co-sponsored by several other conservative state organizations from around the country) citing the "costs" of smart growth (see the immediate previous blog entry, which is on this topic).

Pamela does an excellent job in describing the biggest flaw in the study as it relates to Utah, saying, "But the Sutherland study is not credible, objective research. The study went wrong when it compared Utah's quality growth efforts to mandatory 'smart growth' regulations -- such as urban growth boundaries, population growth caps, and open space mandates -- imposed in some communities outside Utah. The study concluded that these mandatory growth policies were increasing the housing costs in those areas. Then, incredibly, it made the leap that since Utah is pursuing quality growth principles, the same costs apply here.

"First of all, we are not aware of any mandatory growth regulations in Utah similar to those criticized in the report. Nor has Envision Utah ever advocated such policies. ... The irony is that current zoning regulations often prevent the sort of housing development that Envision Utah promotes, investors would like to build, and which would allow the free market to provide affordable housing options." Just the point in made before, proving that planners and local officials come under criticism from both the free-marketers and the smart-growthers.

Then Pamela states something I wholly agree with -- "The study also fails to adequately address the primary drivers of housing price acceleration -- population growth, strong economic activity, limited developable land and favorable quality of life -- all of which are operating in Utah to increase housing costs." At a level, I would argue, that far overshadows the kinds of factors the report blames for increasing costs. And all those factors are -- surprise! -- free market forces.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Damned If You Do, and Damned if you Don't...

Story in this morning's Trib about a Sutherland Institute report saying that "smart growth" adds to the cost of housing in Utah. Interesting how this was presented, because I pulled the actual study itself off the web about a week ago. The study author is Randall O'Toole, a well-known conservative economist who is generally anti-planning and anti-government. The study was apparently funded in part by ten similar state-level organizations, including the Sutherland Institute here in Utah.

The Sutherland Institute's press release quotes Institute President Paul T. Mero saying, "Randal O'Toole has labored hard to make a simple point: government regulations significantly increase the cost of Utah homes. It turns out that so-called 'smart growth' planning isn't very smart after all."

So here's where the "Damned if you do..." part comes in. O'Toole and Sutherland are saying smart growth planning and regulation drives up the cost of housing. Yet critics of sprawl also say that sprawl is expensive and is caused by... government regulation! In this case, the regulation that maintains low-density, large lots, spread across the countryside. I guess government is to blame for it all, both ways.

Dan Lofgren, a long-time developer and also chair of the Utah Quality Growth Commission, says the kinds of restrictions O'Toole cites in his study as causing increases in housing costs are methods that are not generally employed in Utah, such as growth boundaries, extensive design requirements, and extensive acquisition of open space with tax funds. "If he can't point to the cause (in Utah), how can he point to the effect?" Lofgren said.

O'Toole's methodology for calcualting the smart growth penalty is also very subjective, at least from my standpoint. Take a look at the study itself and see what you think. Again, to me, the "truth," such as it is, lies somewhere in the middle between the two sides.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Take Care in Turning Down Charter School

A couple of stories in the Trib and the Daily Herald in last couple of days about Alpine considering a permit for a charter school in their community caught my eye, particularly since I have been so involved in putting together presentations in the last week for a couple of planning & zoning workshops. The issue seems to revolve around a common problem -- what can reasonably be done in an administrative action (vs. a legislative one). Clearly, most residents, and even planning commissioners and councilmembers don't understand the distinction.

According to the Herald, the Planning Commission earlier this week considered and then turned down a site plan application for a charter school. I don't know what Alpine's ordinance requires, but public and charter schools, under state law, are permitted uses in all zones in a city or county. So really the only way to turn one down is to find some really egregious problem that they may create or that may be a danger for them.

Lots of public comment was given in the meeting in opposition to the school, most of it probably "public clamor;" in other words, a lot of opinion with no real evidence presented. In an adminstrative actions, decisions must be based on substantial evidence, not on simply supposition or opinion. Some factual basis for approving or denying an application must be given. As is common in meetings like this, it sounds like a lot of opinion was given, but not much in the way of facts. The stories do not say what information was given by staff about the application.

It looks like the denial was based at least in part something one of the planning commissioners quoted from the state code: "the school site shall not be located in an area where there is a history or high possibility of flooding." That could indeed be a requirement that could be the basis for turning down an application.

I have, however, been looking high and low in the state code for this statement, and have been unable to find it. Does anyone know where this is to be found? If it is not there, I fear that Alpine may be skating on thin ice with regard to their denial of the application.

Once again, we need to make sure our planning commissioner and elected officials clearly understand what they can and can't do in administrative actions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

And Now...For Something Completely Different

Every once in a while, its helpful to step back and listen to the pure feedback that comes when plain people are ticked about something and all their true feelings come out.

Such was the case yesterday after a massive traffic jam was caused early in the morning when a couple of Port-A-Potties fell off a truck on southbound I-15 in North Salt Lake.

On the KSL News website, comments are allowed on their stories. The story about the Port-A-Pottie back-up (pun intended!) generated, to date, 97 comments, that ranged the whole gamut from poor drivers to urban planning.

Some of the more fun and interesting comments:

"I just got to work after sitting in traffic for nearly two hours. This is just one more example of how Davis County is desperately in need of alternative routes into SLC."

"I work in SLC, and live in SLC, and it took me 2 min. to get to work. What a concept!" -- Jason

"Great idea, Jason...everyone that works downtown should move downtown. Just close up Davis County, Tooele County, and any suburbs south of 2100 South. The only people that live there will be the ones that work at the grocery store and gas stations out there...oh, but then they won't really need those grocery stores and gas stations because the people using them would already live downtown. Instead of building alternate roads, lets just build massive skyscrapers to house everyone in Utah within a 2 mile radius. Why didn't anyone think of that before!"

"Some times people HAVE to work in their company's corporate offices which just happen to be downtown. That's just the way it has to work. So let's all move Downtown. Where would you recommend we all live?"

"So you're saying Tooele and Davis county can't support their own population? So you demand transportation, retail and shopping that you cant afford in your hometown? Makes sense. For road rage."

"If everyone that commuted into SLC for work suddenly didn't have to, there is a great chance that you would be out of a job. You obviously haven't a clue as to how much money commuters bring into SLC every day, for without us. you would be paying a lot more in taxes..."

"I live in North Ogden and commute to Murray. I was an hour and 1/2 in the commute today. I choose not to live in SLC or SL County. We do not need Legacy, it will be outdated when built. We need to continue with and expand mass transit. We do not need more pavement. We need to get out of the box and think past the moment. I will be happy to let someone else do the driving."

"I too live in Ogden and choose to, and yes we need another freeway, because if you're on the bus, on I-15 you ain't movin' when it's closed. So whether you use transit or not you are stuck!!! Can you see the irony? One way in and one way out, when that way is closed, not even buses get thru!!"

"Not everyone can live in Salt Lake City, next to their place of employment. Salt Lake City does not have the capacity to house everyone who works downtown. Not to mention the cost of living in the city is outrageous. To get a decent priced house in Salt Lake County and work downtown still requires a commute. The real choice is whether someone wants to live in the suburbs of a huge city where getting anything done takes a ridiculous amount of time, or live in the suburb of a smaller city where there is room for everyone, even during peak hours."

"I would feel better if there were some redundant systems for getting into/out of Davis County. A West Davis highway ("Legacy" is a stupid name!), heavy commuter rail, and better bus service are all needed. The only other option is to keep people from moving here and having kids. I agree with you on one thing: Davis County drivers are pretty bad!"

"I don't think that it's only Davis County drivers that are bad, it's a state wide problem, drive to Provo/Orem area some time."

"I, too, live in Davis County. I am getting tired of this being a Salt Lake County versus Davis County issue. You people in Salt Lake County who feel that Davis County should basically go away, try walking (or driving in this case) in our shoes. ... Yes, we need another route, for occasions like this when the freeway does get shut down. Another route besides the little, rinky-dink Main Street, that CANNOT handle freeway-volume traffic. We also need more and better mass transit. I know that the more people that ride mass transit, the less cars will ultimately be on the freeway. ... I also echo the comments of people who choose not to live in the Salt Lake area. It may not be cost effective, or not everybody in the household works in Salt Lake. I grew up in Davis County, and prefer Davis County over the Salt Lake area. Does that mean I should be banned from seeking employment in Salt Lake? No. Does it mean I should have to give up everything, and have to buy a more expensive house...? No. Please quit demonizing us in Davis/Weber Counties for choosing where we want to live."

"I think the bottom line to the problem is the fact that there are simply too many people... each person having to have a car, a huge house, etc. Over-population is going to do the world in. 12 billion people are expected within our lifetime. So just be ready for things to get worse."

And there's lots more. It's always helpful to take a few minutes and listen to what the people we are planning for have to say. They're not as unknowledgable about this stuff as we sometimes think!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Suburbs: Good or Bad? The Debate Continues

The growing debate about whether suburbs are good or bad (or maybe they just are, with some good and bad) continues with a couple reports in the last couple of weeks.

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story on March 24 called "A New Wave of Scholars Challenges Common Assumptions about Sprawl and Urban Growth." Several different recent books and authors are reviewed, including Bruegmann's Sprawl: A Compact History, and a book about African-Americans in suburbia by Anrew Wiese.

The debate is summed up well in a passage from the article, which says, "Academic and popular attitudes have, on this subject, fed off one another. Since the 1970's and the rise of the environmental movement, a coalition of forces -- not just environmentalists but also planners and preservationists and concerned citizens -- has taken (Lewis) Mumford's image of American Beauty uniformity and linked it to the worst kind of sprawl in a powerful negative-spin campaign. ... Only a developer could love a landscape the (anti-suburbia) authors describe as 'soulless subdivisions, residential communities utterly lacking in communal life; strip shopping centers, big box chain stores, and artificially festive malls set within barren seas of parking; antiseptic office parks, ghost towns after 6 p.m., and mile upon mile of clogged collector roads, the only fabric tying our disassociated lives back together."

Bruegmann criticizes these suburban critics, saying, "To me, that's the problem with most writing about cities. People go out and say, 'Here's what I like.' And the corollary to that is usually, 'This is what cities ought to be.' Urban historians, he feels, have tended to share certain tastes common to a Northeastern city-dwelling elite, and so have been too hasty to dismiss vernacular aesthetics and choices."

"Critics like Yale's Ms. Hayden argue that Mr. Bruegmann places too much weight on the market and on individual choices while ignoring the impact of federal subsidies for highways and development and the role of so-called growth machines, lobbies made up of financiers and builders. She emphasizes that 'it's very important to know that there have been many subsidies for green-field development, ... which have subsidized one set of consumer choices and constrained others.'

"Mr. Bruegmann shrugs off those objections: 'I don't need to find great conspiracies or greedy developers to explain why suburbia happened. It happened in the United States, as it is happening around the globe, because many people, when offered a choice, have chosen to live at low densities, often in single-family houses.' Complaints like Ms. Hayden's, he says, are 'an excellent example of the kind of New Urban history practiced by Kenneth Jackson and other that I am trying to overturn.'"

Some interesting stuff, important because it helps to give a framework to the kind of planning we may be trying to do -- urban centered or suburban oriented. It's hard for some planners to plan to make suburbs better places if, in their hearts, they believe the "truth" is that we should be aiming to put most people back into the urban core. Given the levels of growth we are currrently experiencing and that are projected for the future, how could that ever be?

Another story in The Slatin Report on March 24, aptly named "The Sprawl Brawl," continues the discussion. More speifically, I was struck by this passage in the story:

"This comes as no surprise to Robert Bruegmann, in whose view urban dispersal is a natural and inevitable phenomenon as society become more affluent. Sprawl, he says, is largely the result of people in the middle class and, more recently, even the working class and immigrants getting what once was only available to the wealthy: a single family house in a neighborhood that is cleaner, greener and safer. What is more, this desire is universal. 'Polls consistently confirm that most Europeans, like most Americans, and indeed most people worldwide, would prefer to live in a single family house on their own piece of land rather than in apartment buildings,' Bruegmann wrote in his book. ... As Europeans became more affluent in the last decades of the twentieth century, the consequences of this desire became even more visible. European cities experiences a precipitous decline in population densities in the historic core, a quickening of the pace of suburban and exurban development, a sharp rise in automobile ownership and use, and the proliferation of subdivisions of single-family houses and surburban shopping centers. American tourists (including visiting planners) spend most of their time in historic city centers and are unaware that most Europeans, just like Americans, live in low-density auto-oriented suburbs and shop in shopping malls and big box stores."

This is pretty much true to my own experience. I was born in Germany not long after the end of World War II. My parents, who had joined the LDS Church, desired to leave the old homeland and come to Utah. They did so when I was only 6 months old. My mother had grown up in an apartment building in a medium-sized German city, while my father's home (and the place where I had been born) was more rural, on the outskirts of a small city. After living in a couple of small apartments near downtown Salt Lake, when their economic circumstances allowed, they bought a small home on a small lot in a tight, dense neighborhood just north of Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. Many of our families friends did the same or lived in the old brownstone apartments scattered around near downtown Salt Lake City.

Shortly after I graduated from high school, my parents had saved enough and improved enough that they then moved to their ideal -- a house on a one-acre lot in South Jordan. Here they had room to garden to their hearts content, and have room to build a large barn and workshop for my Dad. Interestingly enough, as our family friends also improved their economic condition, they took similar actions. It's hard for me to believe that this movement out of the city center to the suburbs was due to a "conspiracy" of developers and government officials to subsidize this kind of growth. For them, it was always their desire.

When I finally went back to Germany to visit the old "Vaterland" in 1990, I expected to see mostly a situation where most people lived in those wonderful urban neighborhoods in the old cities, with lots of public transit and neighborhood market places that my parents had told me about and I had read about. It was a very different situation I found.

My uncle, who had been living in the old family homestead where I had been born, had sold the house as suburbanization grew out to meet him. The house was to be removed because the city needed to build an overpass over the rail tracks at that location because of the increasing frequency of trains carrying commuters into Frankfurt. My uncle took his share of the money from the sale of the homestead, and built himself a wonderful new house in a new subdivision in a small community now a suburb of Frankfurt. There was a rail station a few blocks away, but everyone in the subdivision generally had two or three cars. The autobahns leading into Frankfurt were jammed with commuters every morning and evening, despite the fact that those frequent commuter trains were readily available at nearby stations.

I thought, "This looks just like back home! But they don't have the home mortgage subsidies and highway building programs that we have back home. In fact, transit is still big here. Why is this happening?" The conclusion I drew? Affluence and desire. As soon as people have the money, regardless of whether they live in Europe or America or wherever, they like the lifestyle offered in typical suburban neighborhoods.

I've rambled on long enough. I guess the point of all this is, we as planners need to recognize what people desire and how they want to live, not what we think or other "experts" think about how they ought to live, and make those situations as good as possible. Instead of constantly castigating suburban living (there is plenty about urban living that is not great, either), we should find ways to make it better.