Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No surprise -- Florida most dangerous for pedestrians

Four Florida cities -- Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami -- rated the "Top 4" worst cities for pedestrians. The study by Transportation for America listed the 52 worst metropolitan areas for pedestrian safety, creating a "Pedestrian Danger Index" based upon pedestrian deaths and the percentage of the population that walks to work.  As Florida has boomed during the automobile era, these rankings should not surprise.

Atlanta ranks 11th on the list, which is also not much of a surprise.  Fortunately, Atlanta and its surrounding communities have realized the problem posed by our car-based infrastructure and culture and are taking steps to change our car-dependent ways.  Yesterday a committee of mayors and council members from across the Atlanta region voted unanimously to approve a $6.14 billion list of transportation projects, many of which are for transit projects rather than new roadways.  This is a first step in a long process that will include a voter referendum to raise a 1% sales tax to fund the regional projects, and the list is likely to ultimately change.

However, yesterday's meeting is important in two respects.  First, the Atlanta area has finally realized that the solution to its transportation problems lies in a regional effort with a regional transportation plan.  Yes, some giving and taking will occur, as it did yesterday.  And yes, some projects will not be built in favor of others.  But a comprehensive, regional plan is the only way to ensure that the Atlanta area's transportation network is viewed as a whole rather than on the typical ad-hoc basis it has been handled in the past.

Second, the fact that just slightly more than half of the projects approved yesterday were transit related is a big step, both for Atlanta and the region as a whole.  There are still detractors, but counties outside Fulton and Dekalb seem to have come to the realization that transit is necessary for long-term growth.  Even Cobb County, long a vocal opponent to MARTA's expansion into the county, now actually WANTS transit.

Much work is needed, and the voter approval of a sales tax to fund infrastructure, much of which is in Atlanta, may be a difficult sell.  But yesterday's compromise is a very positive sign.  Hopefully the leaders of the region can continue to work together to craft a vision and a future for transit in Atlanta that will rival those of transit leading cities worldwide.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Is Walkability Reaching a Tipping Point?

Am I premature, or does it appear that the desire for dense, urban, walkable communities is reaching a tipping point of sorts?  It appears that there are more quality developments planned or being delivered which take the pedestrian and transit into consideration.  It also appears that more press is being devoted to these urban infill projects, further adding to the walkable cause.

In recent weeks, several studies have shown the additional benefits of living and working in dense, walkable communities.  The results of these studies are not surprising to those of us who have advocated for such development for years.  But, the benefits are starting to be discussed in the mainstream.  From having positive financial benefits to trusting one's neighbors more and participating in civic activities more often, studies are showing attributes of walkable, urban lifestyles other than the typical benefits of reduced pollution and gas use.

Even in Atlanta, long a car-centric city, we are seeing recent developments along this line.  The Beltline continues to develop, with a new park opening this weekend.  Recent announcements to develop areas of midtown with dense, walkable projects continue to come, with an announcement today for a new building by Selig and Daniel at its 12th & Midtown project.  These dense, walkable projects are increasing becoming the de facto new development projects in Atlanta and throughout the country.

Could it be that we are starting to see a tipping point here?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Observational Urbanism

There is a great opinion piece in the New Urban News I just received by Robert Steuteville (not yet available online apparently). In it, Steuteville makes the case that Jane Jacobs and new urbanists such as Andres Duany share what he describes as "observational urbanism," meaning an observing and measuring in detail of the surrounding community in order to provide clues to continued development. Jacobs keenly observed her Greenwich Village neighborhood and the ballet that was urban life in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk observed the small cities and towns, structures, houses, streets and neighborhoods of the Gulf south that appealed to them prior to planning Seaside.

Much can be determined by practicing observational urbanism. Parts of my neighborhood in the Buckhead section of Atlanta were built prior to World War II and parts after the war. With my non-planner background even I can determine which parts of the neighborhood work well from an urbanist perspective, and which don't work quite as well. The area built prior to the war has sidewalks, short setbacks, narrow lots, few garages and a close proximity to the commercial areas on Peachtree and Piedmont. The parts of the neighborhood built after World War II have no sidewalks, much deeper setbacks with wider lots, primarily one-car garages and are more difficult to walk (although the neighborhood is still very walkable by Atlanta standards, and I live in the "newer" area).

There are cues and patterns in all areas for what works now and has worked well and what has not. We don't have to reinvent the wheel or copy blindly from other areas to make urbanism that works everywhere.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The American Dream is Dead

The “American Dream” as we have known it for decades is dead. The stable job, the house in the suburbs, the white picket fence, the two car garage with 2.5 kids – that dream is gone, maybe never to be seen again.

A combination of the recession, the housing bust, years of continued sprawl, high gas prices, an uncertain job market and the ever-changing demographics of the United States have changed our collective priorities. The “American Dream” of the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and even ‘90s has died, replaced with a “New American Dream.”

The New American Dream centers around ideals, not material possessions. Americans have realized that happiness and personal fulfillment come not from a house in the suburbs with a certain number of cars and a dollar amount in the bank account. Instead, happiness comes from the ability to chart one’s own course – to lead lives as we wish to lead them, to do the things we wish to do and to express ourselves and our personalities as we wish.

In a way, the New American Dream is a return to the original ideals of America. The New American Dream marks a return to the individualism which shaped this country in its early years. Yet it is firmly rooted in the 21st century with its emphasis on social networking and its epicenter in vibrant, urban communities.

The American dream is dead. Long live the American dream.

It's Been a While

It has been almost one year since my last post on this blog. While I have been negligent in my blog posting duties, I have not given up on walkability -- in Atlanta or elsewhere. In fact, I bought a commuter bike about a month ago, often riding it the ~0.8 miles from my house to my office on days when I don't walk.

I'll be back with more posts. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @scottcullen72.

Thanks as always for reading.