Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Canada - A Suburban Nation

The Globe and Mail has a decent article today on suburbanization in Canada. Like its southern neighbor, Canadian suburbs are becoming more diverse and densely populated.

Like many mainstream journalists, however, Jill Mahoney trumpets New Urbanism developments as a growing antidote to suburban sprawl. While there are numerous new urbanist developments--such as Cornell in Markham or East Clayton in BC--they remain the exception and are not adequately linked to regional planning.

Citation: Jill Mahoney, Suburban Myths Demolished," The Globe and Mail, 31 July 2006, p. A4.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The New Urbanism Comes to the Carribbean

Courtesy of the Cayman Compass, it appears that the global conquest of the New Urbanism planning paradigm is proceeding quite nicely.

In a speech last week in the Grand Cayman capital of George Town, Dart Realty CEO, James Lammers, discussed the company's new masterplan project, called Camana Bay, which is currently under construction in the British protectorate.

Built on the typical new urbanist model, Camana Bay is themed as a place where "life blossoms." I am curious as to who the market is for the community. The Cayman Islands, in addition to being the site for shell corporations to dodge US tax laws, is also a popular tourist resort. Given an average per capita GDP of $32,000 (US), I am not sure if the locals are the target for this development.

Perhaps Dart is envisioning another Seaside-type of development? Or maybe Camana Bay is just a convenient way to ship profits made through Dart Realty's parent company, US plastics manufacturer Dart Container, to an offshore entity as way to avoid taxes.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Nimby and Brzezinski?

Today's Washington Post reports on negotiations between suburban Virginia's Fairfax county and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's former National Security Adviser over a plan by the county to put in a sidewalk in front of his home on 1061 Spring Hill Road in McClean.

According to the article Brzezinski has been less than enthusiastic about the plan, failing to negotiate on terms for a sidewalk easement. Having lived in Fairfax County for almost 30 years, he undoubtedly has seen the sleepy farming county grow over the past couple of decades into a sprawling behemoth.

Like other suburbanites, Brzezinski exhibits the classic NIMBY attitude toward growth. Commenting on the McMansions that have sprouted all over this prosperous county, the Post quotes Brzezinski as saying that they are "reflective of cultural pretension and pomposity" and "make the whole area look like a joke, a Disneyland imitation of the European aristocracy, without the land."

Brzezinski probably has a point; however, his reactionary stance is not helping a concerted--if overdue--effort to increase mobility options in the county. As the map shows, Brzezinski's property is near the corner of Spring Hill and Old Dominion Dr.--a thoroughfare with retail shopping possibilities--which the county wants to link through a pedestrian corridor as part of its countywide trails plan.

Let's hope that Brzezinski's intransigence subsides long enough to realize that increasing pedestrian connectivity is an important step towards smart growth and will like increase the livability (and property values) of his home and neighborhood.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

More Urban Craziness from South Korea

The Taipei Times and the KBS World Radio are reporting on the grand opening of Puju Camp in the shadows of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea.

Puju Camp is the latest in the Geyonggi English Village program that is expanding across the northern province.

Like the New Songdo City, being constructed in the southern part of the country, Puju is designed to be an English-language enclave. Unlike New Songdo--which is envisioned as an international entrepreneurial zone--Puju Camp is an educational and recreational site.

Designed as an alternative to sending South Korean youth abroad to learn English, Puju Camp provides the theme of the English-speaking city within the country. It is supposed to obviate what Gyeonggi province Governor Sohn Hak-kyu calls the "'Goose Father' phenomenon" whereby people leave the country to study and never return.

The Chinese news service, Xinhua, reports that Puju sports a reproduction of Stonehenge, English castles, and a "mini train."

Puju Camp seems to be further evidence of the immanent themeing of the entire globe and the elevation of the hyper-real as urbanism's animating force.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Density as an Antidote to Obesity?

According to the Vancouver Sun, SmartGrowth BC has released a study by UBC's Larry Frank that suggests:
Each quartile increase in residential density corresponds with a 23-per-cent increase in the odds of walking for non-work travel, according to a recent Seattle study quoted in the report.

We have covered this connection before, but it is always important to point out new data.

SmartGrowthBC doesn't appear to have the report on their website so I don't know if Clark deals with this, but it is important to point out that density must be accompanied by mixed land use in order to engender a less sedentary lifestyle. As some defenders of dominant patterns of suburbanization point out, suburban density has increased over the past decade. I would not expect this to correlate, however, with active living behaviors since little has been done in reducing mixed-use zoning codes.

Perhaps some of the new research coming out of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Active Living by Design program will shed more light on the relationship between health and the urban form.

Economic Doldrums Hurt Affluent Suburbs

The Wall Street Journal has a good article today discussing the travails of the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills.

It seems the recent economic woes hurting the major automakers are "trickling down" to affect not only the normal class of victims--unionized workers--but are also causing the upper classes to feel the pinch.

Of course residents of Bloomfield Hills--a community whose annual household income is in excess of $150,000--probably have more resources to deal with economic uncertgainty than the average auto worker.

What is interesting from the standpoint of metropolitan development, however, is the regional impact of economic monocultures and to demonstrate the fact that the persistent economic anemia that has affected the US economy since 2001 is causing changes in behavior among the upper-middle classes.

I would expect that this will undoubtedly be an issue in many of the competitive suburban Congressional seats during next November's election.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Geriatric Commune Built in California

The New York Times today has an interesting article on a cohousing project in Davis, California developed by and for a group of retirees. The small development, called Glacier Circle, features a series of townhomes and a "common house" that allows for gathering and socializing. The idea behind this development is to enhance social networks that are often in a state of uncertainty for many seniors.

Employing a modified "superblock" layout--the development is part of a movement challenging the modernist impulse to institutionalize the elderly and to resist the rather vacuous "lifestyle communities" that dominate the upper-class retirement landscape.

One issue that does not get addressed in the Times article is the fact that the segmentation of urban function that characterizes post-War North American suburban development has been profoundly anti-elderly. While Glacier Circle further advances that project, it is important to note that vibrant social networks and the compact urban form that marks pre-War cities offer a great deal of autonomy for seniors. In a city, the proximity of shopping, social activity, and multiple transportation options can enhance the quality of life for people as their physical mobility declines.

Social isolation still exists in urban areas--as Eric Klinenberg has demonstrated in his treatment of patterns of elderly mortality during Chicago's 1995 heat wave--but more concern with the particular needs and interests of historically-underrepresented populations such as the elderly or children can provide inspiration for more sensible general planning policies.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Washington, DC Bus System--An Example of Transportation Injustice

The Washington Post has an excellent article on the woes of the city's Metrobus system. Unlike the city's subway system which is relatively efficient, clean, and reliable, the bus system is exactly the opposite.

Buses are difficult to run efficiently due to the fact that they generally don't have a dedicated right-of-way, making them susceptible to traffic congestion patterns. They are also usually used by the most economically marginalized people in US urban areas due to the general lack of investment given to public transit.

In DC these structural issues seem to be compounded by poor management and lack of investment in analyzing the system's performance. The article is well worth reading for an example of the deplorable consequences of a system that combines poor administration with minimal resources.