Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I'm Baaack! Let's Talk...Kotkin!

Well, I guess I might finally get back in the saddle and fire up this old blog again. When my home computer blew up, it took me a while to get a new one (I tried to get the old one fixed for a while, before finally giving it up). Then, I just lost the desire to pick it up again! It is rather demanding trying to keep up a blog, finding things to blog about, thinking what to say, etc. I know, whine whine whine, but hey, it's good therapy!

So what's got be ready to go again is a piece in MetropolisMag by Joel Kotkin on the "suburban village" concept that he's talked about before, and that I rather like (this will get my old friends, the Peak Oil guys, going again, I'm sure).

Kotkin derides "traditional" suburban development as unsustainable and wasteful, but he also recognizes that packing more density into existing urban cores isn't going to a) appeal to the vast majority, or b) provide enough housing for the expected 100 million additional people expected in the U.S. in the next forty or so years.

He advocates a series of suburban centers or villages, which makes a lot of sense to me. Find ways to densify and centralize in the suburbs and create an "archipelago" of new development. In our own area, this seems to be where Kennecott Land is heading with the long term plans for the west Salt Lake Valley and Oquirrh foothills.

This approach works well when you have a large blank slate to work with, like Kennecott land has. But how do you make this happen in someplace like southwest Salt Lake County, or west Utah County, where the land is not in the hands of one large owner, or under the control of one political entity?

Also, the idea that people will live and work in a particular center or village is a nice thought, but looking at how we live our lives today, it is more likely that we will live in one village and work in another, greatly complicating commute patterns and making effective transit difficult or impossible.

We need to keep exploring new ideas and work things out.

Great to be back, I think. We'll see if blogging is a release, or becomes a taskmaster again.


At 10:55 PM, Blogger burnt bacon said...


Glad you decided to re-open your blog. Planning issues in our area sorely need thoughtful discussion.

Your subject today is near and dear to my heart. How do you fix suburbia? You question how you fix existing suburbs. It’s being done currently in a number of areas. Big box America is giving us the opportunity. With the demise of last years entry of the big box lottery by this years entry, it leaves lot’s of possibilities. Randy Jackson in Orange County and Dover/Kohl on the east coast have several examples of creating (sub)urban villages out of now dark big boxes and out of date malls.

Redwood Road has multiple possibilities for this activity.

As for problems of working here and living there, they now have the opportunity they didn’t before as in the case of Davis County. Presently there isn’t much commercial activity for them to find employment in their suburban bedroom communities. The urban village formula now gives a community an access to anchor a transit hub that is convenient to not only the on-site resident but his suburban neighbors.

As for Peak Oil, look at the original City of Zion Plat concept. It’s larger yet narrow lots enable a community feel yet space to have a survival garden to cope with the loss of the 1500 mile salad. The COZP has many concepts which still have merit yet for some reason we have forgotten them or chose to ignore them.

At 10:59 PM, Blogger burnt bacon said...

The Urls got left off:

These examples show how it's done

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Utah Peaknik said...

Welcom back Wilf.

You bring up some good points burnt bacon. How DO we fix suburbia? I think existing suburbs could be fixed, but it would take a long time. It took a while for suburbia to get bad in the first place (Clearfield didn't become ugly in a day).

But there's already so much invested in poorly designed suburbia that getting rid of the original investment is no easy task. Consider a subdivision street from the 60s that has cookie-cutter, ugly, tan brick flat roof houses. As ugly as the homes may be, they're still worth something. How do you convince the homeowners to tear down the houses and replace them with homes that have a more elegant traditional design?

If I had the power and money, I'd buy up all of the property in a small suburban blight city (like Sunset) and demolish all of the ugly buildings. Then I would lay out an orderly grid system and design the city on a walkable, human scale with beautiful features, like a town square fronted on one side by a classical city hall building. The streets would all be lined with elm trees, and important streets would be punctuated with beautifully designed community buildings, such as churches and schools.

But wouldn't it be interesting to see what would happen if you could do that with a city like Sunset? It would make Sunset a desirable place to live and visit in the midst of an ugly stretch of suburbia.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger burnt bacon said...

The Sunsets of the world are fixable. Suisun proved that. You just need people with vision, leadership, determination and a good RDA law.

Suisun is a little town in the northern Bay area that in the early ninties was voted the worst place to live. It was full of crack houses, a derilict oil refinery, a polluted harbor and no prospects. Look at it today:

There are several other communities that have done it, i.e, Hercules, Larkspur, Brea, Cathedral City, etc. Thge question is why is this not happening in Utah? No vision? No leadership, No determination? I know our RDA law is not as good as theirs, but what is it?

At 11:17 AM, Blogger vagabond said...

burnt bacon hit it right on the head.

I just don't think we can continue to grow as we have. Look at countries like England who have continued to grow reasonably with very high densities yet have a great deal of their countryside unspoiled and open. At some point we have to admit that we need to wean ourselves from oil and live where we work and get most or more of our goods and services locally, including food.

The next time oil spirals us to more than $3 per gallon, you'll see people once again think about alternative ways to live, work and travel. The current temporary lull in oil prices should not give us a false sense of security; but it does.

I, unfortunately do not live near my work but will eventually have to move closer once gas gets so expensive that it makes no sense to continue what I am currently doing. So, I admit, I continue to be part of the congestion/sprawl problem. I suppose that until I stop being a hypocrite my blog entries will be somewhat discounted but at least I recognize there is a problem, right?

I do think village type communities are an effective way to combat sprawl. And yes, I do think sprawl is bad and don't buy the arguments that in some ways it is good.

At 7:12 AM, Blogger Wilf said...

Thanks, guys, it's nice to be back. Interesting stuff you all are posting. The "reinvention" of the suburbs is really something we need to keep talking about and come up with new and different ideas.

I really like the idea of the suburban villages, as I've said, but they are not without problems of their own. Given the nature of the Wasatch Front metro area (long and narrow), a "chain" of suburban villages could well be connected by transit lines. It would be realitively easier for us to do than, say Kansas City, where there is no edge to the urban area -- you can keep going in every direction indefinitely, which then multiplies the problem of how to serve with transit.

Keep going, let's hear more ideas!

At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take exception to sinply accepting "b) provide enough housing for the expected 100 million additional people expected in the U.S. in the next forty or so years."

The primary challenge to us nationally and certainly an integral part of planning is working towards a zero population growth. For every increment of population growth, we have a corresponding decrease in quality of life whether it is spreading out over more and more land by commercial and residential development, larger and more frequent infrastructure to handle the throngs of people or the ravishing of our natural resources to satisfy the ever growing number of consumers. We owe it to our future generations to start to control this now.

We currently have an average of approximately 2.2 children per couple; almost zero growth now. Immigration is the single largest contributor to our population growth and needs to be seriously curtailed. Once in the country, it is immigrants who often do not honor the 2 children per couple arithmetic needed to stabilize our accelerating and self defeating growth. Yes, we can go back in and redesign and rebuild existing suburban environments but this can not possibly make sense while we scramble to provide more and more housing for a rapidly increasing population.


At 10:58 AM, Blogger burnt bacon said...

Urban villages and TOD are a great start but when you plan your community around new technology,and communications capabilities as well as transit you are now changing the paradigm. Take a look at the Riverdale, Illinois E-village concept:

In the information age why are we still traveling down concrete and asphalt highways? What is happening with Utopia?

With energy decent staring us in the face, we need communities that are both walkable and communications enabled. Look at the big box business model. Lots of stuff under brick and mortar roof in a central location, cheap as possible because of cheap asian labor, transported thousands of miles, requiring us to travel to them (up to 15 miles). Now look at the alternative: A cyber big box, we can shop for our cheap stuff at home. Instead of us traveling, the stuff comes to us by an inmproved parcel system. It also levels the playing field because small producers can now compete locally because of the lower transportation costs. This results in better and a wider range of choices.

We are only limited by our own visions of the future.

Good rox brings up some good points. Last week I took a drive through eastern and central Utah. What I saw was the remains of Brigham Youngs colonization efforts, i,e, a community every fifty miles (travel limits of the 19th century). In each case these towns had higher elevation that population. As I was traveling through beautiful San Pete
County, I was very impresssed with each of the dozen or so communities. I also noted that the population of each could double and there would still not be a congestion nor infrastucture problems. How many such places do we have in the state? Hundreds! Why are we planning to put all our growth along the Wasatch ?Front (and St. George). Why is there not an economic development program to shift our population growth to these other areas.

Does size matter? At what point do we hit the law of marginal utility. When does the size of a community start to reverse the quality of life. The COZP set limits on community size. I can see the merits in this. Do you really want to live in an area where every square inch of ground is developed. Mountain to Mountain? Back valley to desert? Ugh!!!!

At 5:58 PM, Blogger Wilf said...

I always find it interesting when people say, as Burnt Bacon does, why not just move economic development into rural areas, where they need it and can handle the people? If it made sense for business to locate there, don't you think they'd do it?

Most businesses need access to trained and mobile pools of labor -- rural areas do not provide that. Also, businesses benefit from locating near each other where they play of the energy and vitality of the market and population. Businesses generally cannot survive in rural areas. We cannot simply say to them, "Locate there, and be happy!" Read Jane Jacobs' "Cities and the Wealth of Nations," she really seems to have a good handle on how economies work.

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Wooly said...

I want to reply to the comments made by goodrox earlier.

I agree that a lot of the problems of planning smart can be greatly diminished with zero population growth. But I don't think we need to have it at zero. I think we can live with a low sustainable rate. Without international immigration we are close to zero anyway, like you pointed out. As a nation we need to curtail the immigration to a very low rate.

But as a state, we have a different problem. Even if Utah has nearly zero pop growth from within (fat chance), people may still want to move here at unsustainable rates. That is the biggest problem, in my opinion. Utah will never have zero inherent growth, but we could probably live with what inherent growth there is if we could slow the immigration rate into Utah to a trickle.

Utah is a desirebale location these days. Whereas rural areas in the northeast have been nearly abandoned (upstate NY, VT, and NH), people want to come here. It's the immigration to urban and suburban areas that has fueled the problem. And some regions, like ours, are seeing a rush of move ins. We have plenty of land in our state and nation, but economics demands we live closer. I hate cities, but my training demands I live in at least a little one, Logan, UT. Unless you know of many rural molecular biology/biochemistry openings?

What I wish we could do is to keep so many people from coming here. But I don't think the Constitution allows us any ways to do that. Perhaps there are things we can do to greatly discorouge it though?

Now I know this will sound crazy, but what about inventing new communities? Instead of adding yet another biotech company to SLC, what if we tried to make a small city (50,000) in a rural area, where other companies can operate? Especially here in the west there is plenty of land (though not water). What about a state buying and designating a swath of land, like in northern Nevada. They build the infrastructure, and encourage a broad spectrum of companies there. If done on its own it would take generations, but if it was state backed and funded, perhaps you could create new hubs for people to live. It would decrease the number of people who would otherwise be in another city, like SLC. Just an undeveloped thought of mine.



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