Tuesday, May 02, 2006

NPR In Full Retro-Lefty Mode, II

One constant of urban studies since at least the late Sixties has been the attitude of hostility towards the suburbs. Whatever was wrong with anything--pollution, falling tax rates, highway congestion, you name it--was the fault of those selfish suburbanites, and it was the job of urban planners to sweep them back into the anthill. Libs never seemed to stop and consider their own part in having made cities undesirable places to live, to people with the means to escape. Confiscatory taxation, de facto de-criminalization of crime, public services run as jobs programs for constituents--people voted with their wheels, and the after-effects are still felt today.

So here is an NPR piece on soaring gas prices. It's the suburbs' fault, and the solution, according to this Berkeley urban studies professor, is to re-urbanize the suburbs. He gets quite dreamy-eyed about the prospect, actually:

GONYEA: When you describe people living in greater concentration around rail lines or around public transit options, and how there is an emerging trend, perhaps, toward that in some places, is it in some ways a 21st century version of what the country was like before the age of the automobile, when the train was the main way to get around?

Mr. CERVERO: Exactly. You know, the only way people could really get around, for the most part, over longer distances was to take street cars and inter-urban electric trains. Accordingly, the city adjusted. The city evolved around those train stations, and what you found around most train depots and stations were retail shops and offices, two to three to four story buildings right clustered around the stations. Then you would find the higher density housing in a three to four story walkup apartments, and then four or five blocks away you would find the detached, higher quality housing. Plus you would find a lot of civic squares, schools, playgrounds and so forth.

So this, in many ways, is trying to bring us back to a good century ago, how we designed and built cities where we had landscapes which were far less reliant on cars and much more transit-oriented forms of development.

In brief, you'd cram the peasants back in their place, like it was before all that vulgar automotive freedom came along.

Oh, and catch this statistical inversion:

GONYEA: We see some new developments that try to be created with all of that in mind, but for the vast majority of places, we would have to evolve into that from something that's very different from what you're describing now.

Mr. CERVERO: Most studies suggest that there's probably upwards of 20 to 25 percent of the niche market of American households potentially that would be very receptive to living in these kind of walkable neighborhoods, clustered within a, you know, a mile or so of a train station or transit station; granted, in big metropolitan areas, but nonetheless, a substantial share of future households, which could then take advantage of public transit and accordingly put less of the stress and the demand on expanding our highway system.

So, it's a cluster of factors, I think, that are giving rise to more and more market demand to living in these kinds of neighborhoods.

Emphasis added. A similar instance of the same phenomenon is noted by Andrew over at Bound By Gravity.

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