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Link Round-Up: Walkable, Dense, Smart, and Livable Streets and Cities
Amanda Reed, 16 Aug 10

There's been a smattering of news stories recently about walkable, dense, smart and livable communities that I thought were worth compiling and sharing...

  • San Juan to Ban Cars, Make "Walkable City"
    David Soto has an article up at Planetizen discussing the City of San Juan's recently unveiled plan to make its oldest district, Isleta, more livable and walkable:

    Banning automobiles from Old San Juan and adding a light rail system are the first and most important steps, followed by the revitalization of old neighborhoods, an emphasis on public spaces and walkability and new mixed-use developments. The plan affects Isleta, which is composed of Puerta de Tierra and the more well-known and touristy Old San Juan, and the Convention Center District.

    Many have tried, but failed, to pedestrianize Old San Juan. This time however the plan is endorsed by the state permits agency, which means there may be little reason not to move forward with it...

    A mess of onramps and fast lanes will be replaced with a more streamlined
    design to create a more inviting and memorable gateway to Isleta. (via Planetizen)

  • Density Pays
    Roger Valdez shares some tax data from Sarasota County, Florida that gives weight to the argument that dense mixed-use development actually brings in more tax revenue than a suburban mall. He then wonders why, along with all the other benefits of density, it is "still seen as controversial by some elected officials in our regions?"

    In the end, I think land use debates are not about costs and benefits; they’re really about change. If people are happy about where they live, they will tend to be suspicious of things that might change their neighborhood, even if there are evidence-based assurances that the change will make things even better. For some people, the good of the present outweighs the possible better of the future.

    (via Sightline Daily)

  • How to Make Smart Growth Affordable
    Jonathan Hiskes at Grist looks at "how mortgage lenders could help make walkable urban homes more attainable by offering location-efficient mortgages"...and how to make place-based mortgages happen:

    With a conventional mortgage, a lender assesses a borrower's ability to repay by comparing a household's expected housing costs to its income (and considering factors such as credit score). But that misses a big chunk of expenses: transportation spending, which accounts for 19 percent of a household's budget, on average.

    Location-efficient mortgages add the costs of owning, maintaining, and insuring cars to the equation. They rely on the pioneering work of Chicago's Center for Neighborhood Technology, which is seeking to modernize thinking about housing affordability with its Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, which measures the "true cost" of housing (its web app is fun to explore).

    The kind of housing we’ve been building. Photo: Scorpians and Centaurs via Flickr (via Grist)

  • What Does American Exceptionalism Mean For Livable Streets?
    Noah Kazis at Streetsblog looks at Barbara McCann's exploration into what European cities like Copenhagen have to teach the "Complete Streets" movement in the United States (McCann is the Executive Director of the Complete Streets Coalition), beyond raised cycle-tracks: or two cycle-tracks does not a Copenhagen make. There's nowhere in this country even close to the cutting edge of livable streets. So McCann's question seems apt: Just how much can the United States learn from other countries?

    Whatever your answer, it's worth considering the lesson McCann brought back from Copenhagen:
    "The lesson for most of the United States, then, is not to simply import a technique or two (although it is encouraging to see a few American cities trying it): it is to learn how to build the political consensus that roads serve purposes beyond automobile travel."

    Whether an American city makes itself more livable cycle-track by cycle-track or in another form altogether, the most important piece of infrastructure is our ability to organize.

    (via Complete Streets Brochure: Common Features and Benefits)

    Related stories in the Worldchanging archives:

    • Principle 14: Density, Compact Communities and Smart Growth: "Urban density is major element in the picture of a bright green future. Compact homes, closely situated, make a drastic difference in the all-around efficiency of a city, from energy to transportation to shopping for basic necessities. They also make it easy to skip driving and take transit or walk, which decreases pollution and improves physical health. Finally, they foster the creation of supportive community networks in which resources can be better shared and everyone feels safer."
    • My Other Car is a Bright Green City: "Today's cars are costly, dangerous and an ecological nightmare. What if the solution to the problems they create, though, has more to do with where we live than what we drive?"
    • Image of the Day: Walkable Communities: "Walkable communities are the no-brainer, urban design solution of the decade. But couching things in lofty design terms can make a simple idea -- like a pleasant stroll past your favorite coffee shop on the way to work -- sound like a New Age-y cause of the week. This video from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) makes a clear, succinct case that's easy to understand."
    • Graphic Series: Earthly Ideas, 20-Minute Neighborhoods: "This week's cartoon describes 20-Minute Neighborhoods. This term for walkable communities, which has often been used by urban planners, gained a lot of attention in Oregon last summer as city officials discussed the next version of the Portland Plan. We think it's great to see city planners actively pursuing this connected, mixed-use model of development, which enables and encourages residents to walk or bike rather than drive. Living near basic amenities like grocery stores not only makes everyday errands much easier; it can also make you healthier."
    • Deep Walkability: "Walkability is clearly critical to bright green cities. You can't advocate for car-free or car-sharing lives if people need cars to get around, and the enticement to walk is key to making density wonderful, to providing realistic transit options, to making smaller greener homes compelling and to growing the kind of digitally-suffused walksheds that post-ownership ideas seem to demand. So knowing how to define "walkable" is important."
    • Walkable Neighborhoods Key to Stable Real Estate Says New NRDC Report: "Big, red 'For Sale' signs flapping in the wind are the tumble weeds of the 21 century. Signaling emptiness and recent catastrophe, these markers of market disaster are said to have proliferated because of predatory lending and lax standards. But a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows another cause of the rapid foreclosure rate: car dependency...Looking at data from more than 40,000 mortgages throughout Chicago, San Francisco and Jacksonville, Fla., the researchers behind the Location Efficiency and Mortgage Default report found that the rate of mortgage foreclosure actually decreased in neighborhoods that were more compact, walkable and connected to public transportation (after accounting for important factors like income). "
    • Is Smart Growth Risky?: "the idea that smart growth played a role in the housing bust almost certainly made it on to some anti-smart growth talking points list. The American debate over sprawl is as full of nonsense studies justifying suburban development and deregulation (the sprawl lobby and climate deniers share some commonalities), and smart growth has already been blamed for causing the housing meltdown in far-right circles...There's nothing wrong with questioning a proposed solution. Often widely-accepted solutions deserve critical attention, but in highly politicized debates like this one, contrarian claims demand extra scrutiny and careful reporting."
    • Abogo: Abode + Go = Beta Web App to Calculate Your Transportation Costs: "This spring, the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology made a big policy splash when they released the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index. CNT's work -- including a nifty mapping tool -- made it easy to see that "affordable" housing wasn't so affordable when it's located in car-dependent areas that come saddled with high but under appreciated transportation costs...Over at Grist, Jonathan Hiskes reports that CNT has turned their data into a consumer-friendly web app called Abogo (a portmanteau of "abode" plus "go"). With Abogo, currently in beta form, you enter an address and it spits out the average monthly transportation costs you can expect to pay, and how that compares to the regional average. You can also look at a neighborhood, city or region and look at how it stacks up..."

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this is why i like urban area

Posted by: Evan Duran on 16 Aug 10

Thank you for this post. As an American now having lived in Europe for over 20 years I have become accustomed to the "nearness" of everything and the accompanying noise it brings. My kids have either walked or taken the city bus to school as long as they can remember. I can bike into town in less than 15 minutes along sign-posted cycle routes. All is not ideal but having just returned from an American suburbia extended holiday it is nice to just watch the car sit in the drive here.

Posted by: Andrew Maher on 18 Aug 10

What a great idea. I am inspired by the thought cities that are 'walkable' will come to exist. Some may exist right now, but in Seoul, Korea, where I live, traffic is a nightmare.

Posted by: Tony Yoon on 18 Aug 10

However, the thought 'walkable city' may need some time to become used to, since even if cities are compact and the building close-enough, many people are accustomed to driving cars for a short distance.

Posted by: Tony Yoon on 18 Aug 10

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